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  • If you want to cut back your alcohol consumption or stop drinking alcohol altogether, tapering may help. Tapering is the process of gradually weaning off alcohol rather than quitting cold turkey.

    If you’re struggling with severe alcohol addiction, a medical detox program is your likely best option for tapering off alcohol safely. But if you still have control over your drinking and want to drink less, you may be able to self-taper.

    The alcohol withdrawal process can be dangerous and even life-threatening, so you should consult a healthcare professional or addiction treatment specialist before trying to wean yourself off alcohol.

    Here are some tips and strategies for how to taper off alcohol safely.

    Have A Strong Support System

    Don’t try to quit or reduce your drinking alone. It’s physically dangerous, and it may also cause emotional instability. Anxiety and depression are common alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Discussing these issues with a loved one can help you avoid relapse.

    More serious alcohol withdrawal symptoms may require medical attention. If you have a friend or family member who knows that you’re trying to taper off alcohol, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help. They can take you to the hospital or help you get medical support.

    Give your loved ones as much information as you can about your self-tapering strategy. Let them know your plan, your progress, and how withdrawals are going for you. 

    Make A Plan That Fits Your Needs

    Alcohol abuse affects how you feel and how you make decisions. It’s especially influential if you have an alcohol use disorder. Don’t try to reduce your alcohol intake based on what feels right. Make a plan when you’re sober and stick to it.

    An effective tapering schedule may include cutting out one drink at a time at regular intervals. It might help to set goals and reward yourself when you reach them.

    If you experience severe withdrawal symptoms while tapering off alcohol, adjust your plan. The goal of tapering is to make the withdrawal process safer and more bearable.

    Recognize Dangerous Withdrawal Symptoms

    Before you begin tapering off alcohol, learn about alcohol withdrawal symptoms. That way you can know what’s normal and what is dangerous so you can ask for help. 

    Educate your loved ones on dangerous symptoms, too, so they can look out for you and get you medical attention if you need it.

    Psychological Symptoms

    Psychological symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

    • fatigue
    • irritability
    • mood swings
    • anxiety
    • depression
    • confusion
    • nightmares

    Physical Symptoms

    Physical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

    • headaches
    • nausea
    • vomiting
    • rapid heart rate
    • dilated pupils
    • clammy skin
    • sweating
    • insomnia
    • lack of appetite
    • shakiness or tremors

    Severe Symptoms

    All of these withdrawal symptoms are common during acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Some of them can lead to more serious issues. For example, depression could cause suicidal thoughts, and eating poorly can weaken your immune system.

    About 10 percent of people experience more severe symptoms, such as fever, fast breathing, and heavy sweating. More than five percent have seizures.

    Delirium Tremens

    The most dangerous alcohol withdrawal symptom is a condition called delirium tremens. It’s characterized by:

    • fever
    • agitation
    • strong confusion
    • seizures
    • visual hallucinations
    • tactile hallucinations

    Delirium tremens (DTs) can begin 48 hours after your last drink and last up to five days. Between five and 25 percent of people with DTs don’t survive.

    This condition most often occurs when someone who has long-term alcohol dependence stops drinking cold turkey. But if heavy drinkers cut back on their average number of drinks too quickly, they may be at risk of life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. 

    That’s why it’s vital to have support while tapering off alcohol.

    Consider Medically Assisted Detox

    Medically assisted detoxification (detox) is an inpatient program that keeps you stabilized during alcohol withdrawals. Staffed by medical professionals, these programs offer 24-hour monitoring so you always have support if any complications arise. 

    Medical Supervision & Support

    Monitoring in medical detox includes checking your blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature, and other bodily functions. 

    You may receive medication to ease withdrawal symptoms—such as anti-diarrheal medicines or over-the-counter pain relievers. A doctor may prescribe a benzodiazepine as part of the tapering process.

    The support of an alcohol detox program may help you wean off alcohol more quickly and with fewer unpleasant side effects. Some detox programs also offer therapy to prepare you for addiction treatment.

    How Long Does It Take To Taper Off Alcohol Safely?

    Everybody is different. There’s no set time frame for tapering off alcohol that works for everyone. Even if your situation seems like someone else’s, your body may respond differently to the tapering process.

    Many factors can influence how long it takes to taper off alcohol safely, such as:

    • how much you drink at a time
    • how often you drink
    • how long you’ve been abusing alcohol
    • other medical issues or health conditions
    • other mental health problems (co-occurring disorders)
    • your age, weight, and health

    In most cases, the longer you take to wean off the effects of alcohol, the less severe your withdrawal symptoms should be. However, it can be challenging to stick with a long-term tapering schedule, so you have to find the right balance for you.

    To learn about how our substance abuse treatment programs address alcohol dependence and withdrawal management, please contact us today.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2024 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    National Center for Biotechnology Information - Delirium Tremens
    National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Complications of Alcohol Withdrawal
    U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus - Alcohol withdrawal

    Medically Reviewed by
    Manish Mishra, MBBS
    on June 29, 2021
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