Learn / Quitting Drinking: How to Taper Off Alcohol

Quitting Drinking: How to Taper Off Alcohol

Sarah Shawaker
 May 23rd, 2023|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Dr. Malasri Chaudhery-Malgeri, Ph.D.

Key Points

  • Tapering off alcohol with medical support can help you quit drinking.
  • Safely weaning off alcohol can help reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms.
  • Continuing with treatment will help you maintain your sobriety.

The long and the short of it is–tapering off alcohol with medical support can help you quit drinking. But could weaning yourself off alcohol help you stay sober for good? Many people have asked the same question. In fact, 30 million people have alcohol use disorder1 in the United States alone. Luckily, this nationwide issue has resources available to help you heal.

In order to fully recover, you can start your healing process by safely ridding yourself of alcohol. Getting professional treatment for alcohol addiction can give you the tools to create, and maintain, a healthy and happy lifestyle.

Can You Quit Alcohol Cold Turkey?

Attempting to stop drinking “cold turkey” is not only dangerous, but could also cause serious implications or be fatal. 

Your body has become used to, and dependent on, certain levels of alcohol. It even changes your brain chemistry. Alcohol depresses your nervous system2, so your body creates more receptors for neurotransmitters, or messengers, to stimulate the nervous system. 

If you were to suddenly stop drinking alcohol, your receptors would become hyperactive because they are no longer being depressed. This is why you should taper off alcohol, or use a prescribed medication like benzodiazepines, during detox3. It’s vital to do this under the supervision of a medical professional to ensure the process is safe and smooth.

What Happens When You Stop Drinking Alcohol

Alcohol withdrawal usually lasts for a few days, but some effects may linger for months. Symptoms are most severe around day 34, and the total process can last for 2 to 10 days. 

There are some common side effects of alcohol detox5 that you should be prepared for:

  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

While this process isn’t enjoyable, there are so many benefits in the new sober life that you’re creating for yourself. You’ll look and feel healthier, have more energy, and save money.

Explore Alcohol Treatment Centers

Can Tapering Help You Quit Alcohol?

Tapering off alcohol is a step in the right direction, but there’s more to the story. It’s vital in this process to have professional help, so you can stay safe and as comfortable as possible. There’s also more to learn after ridding yourself of alcohol. You can master the necessary life skills to maintain your sober lifestyle through treatment. 

Alcohol Tapering Timeline

Delamere describes the different stages that you go through while detoxing from alcohol6.

2-12 hoursOnset of withdrawal symptoms. This might include tremors, sweating, restlessness, and anxiety.
12-24 hoursWithdrawal continues with alcohol cravings, sleep disturbances, low energy, and feeling depressed. 
12-72 hoursThis is considered the most dangerous period during detox. Symptoms include high heart rate, increased blood pressure, and, in extreme cases, seizures.
48-72 hoursAt some point in this time frame, symptoms will start to be more manageable.
3-7 daysFor most cases, withdrawal symptoms begin to fade.
1 weekSleep patterns start to improve, however this can vary.
1-2 weeksSometime during this period, clinical detox is considered complete.
2 weeksThere may be signs of weight loss due to not consuming alcohol.
3-4 weeksBlood pressure may reduce back to a healthier level.
1 monthSkin may appear healthier.
3 monthsOverall better energy levels and health.
1 yearTapering off alcohol is different for everyone. You may experience that some symptoms persist for longer than is usual.

Does Tapering Help Reduce Withdrawal Symptoms?

Weaning off alcohol in a safe way can help reduce the severity of some withdrawal symptoms. Orlando Recovery Center says that when you taper your alcohol intake over time, you reduce the likelihood of withdrawal symptoms7. This is because this process gives your brain more time to get used to the changes and damage that alcohol originally created.

So You Detoxed… Now What?

Now that you’ve successfully completed the detoxification process, it’s time to build your sobriety toolkit through treatment. Studies show that those who receive some type of formal treatment after detox are more likely to maintain sobriety8

Attending a residential rehab or outpatient program gives you coping mechanisms and life skills that can help you for years to come after treatment. You can strengthen your emotional and communication techniques to help you work through any tough situations that may arise in the future. You’ll learn how to prevent relapse and live a fun sober life.

Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous can help reinforce your goals and boost your spirits. Surrounding yourself with those going through the same process you are, and learning the same life lessons you are, can make a big difference in your healing journey. You’ll talk about different topics regarding addiction and recovery and bond over shared feelings and experiences. 

Another great option is sober living homes. These programs offer more flexibility than residential rehab, while still supporting a healthy lifestyle for people in recovery. Sober living homes provide a comfortable, safe place for you to focus on your healing. And you’ll live and learn with other comrades. 

Life Beyond Addiction

Recovery is a lifelong process, and safely tapering off of alcohol is the first step towards achieving the life you want. It’s important to nurture a healthy relationship with your body so you can have a healthy relationship with your mind. You can start building the foundation for a happy future by going to rehab for alcohol.

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