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Medically Reviewed

How to Safely Taper off of Alcohol

- 5 sections

Medically Reviewed: September 14, 2022

Medical Reviewer

Sahil Talwar, PA-C, MBA

medically-verified

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Alcoholism is a chronic and progressive disease that can wreak havoc on your life and physical health. When you become addicted to alcohol, your body is accustomed to the presence of the substance. If you decide to suddenly stop drinking alcohol, you will experience symptoms of withdrawal.

According to research published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, nearly 15 million people aged 12 or older suffer from an alcohol use disorder.[1]

The symptoms of withdrawal associated with alcoholism can be extremely uncomfortable and potentially life-threatening. For example, you could experience hallucinations, seizures, and a dangerous condition known as delirium tremens.[2] It is never recommended to quit alcohol cold-turkey or without the help of an alcohol detox center. While you may be tempted to taper yourself off alcohol, there is no way to do so safely.

Can Tapering Off Alcohol Prevent Withdrawal Symptoms?

For many drugs, tapering is a standard medical procedure during detox. If you have taken antidepressant medications in the past, your doctor probably instructed you to slowly decrease the amount of medication you are taking rather than quitting them cold turkey. Tapering off substances gradually can prevent withdrawal symptoms from occurring.

Tapering is done to prevent the body from being disrupted after becoming dependent on a substance. It also limits the number of withdrawal symptoms you will experience throughout the detoxification process, making the prospect of quitting something much easier, as you take it day by day and dosage by dosage.

Tapering off alcohol does prevent most withdrawal symptoms from occurring. While you may experience some side effects, they will be extremely mild if they happen at all. The main symptom you will experience throughout the process is intense cravings for alcohol.

Is it Possible for Alcoholics to Taper Themselves?

While you can taper yourself off of alcohol, this would be extremely difficult to do if you are suffering from an alcohol use disorder. The cravings associated with quitting an alcohol addiction can be severe, ultimately causing you to pick the bottle back up.

Relapsing on alcohol after a period of abstinence can be extremely dangerous. Oftentimes, when people relapse to soothe symptoms of withdrawal they attempt to drink the same amount of alcohol that they were used to drinking during their addiction. This can cause you to experience alcohol poisoning, which is considered an overdose of the substance.

Because of the risks, it is highly recommended for you to get help from an alcohol detox center where they can provide you with the proper tapering medications and emotional support you need to be successful.

Strategies to Safely Taper off Alcohol

The only way to safely taper yourself off of alcohol is to detox at a medical facility. Attempting to taper at home is dangerous and often results in a relapse. Enrolling in an alcohol detox program will offer you the ability to safely and comfortably overcome the detoxification process.

But how does a medical detox program taper you off of alcohol?

Alcohol detox centers aren’t going to provide you with alcoholic beverages to slowly wean you off of the substance. Instead, they will use FDA-approved medications that affect the same areas of the brain, leading to the alleviation of alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

One of the most common types of medications used during the alcohol tapering process is benzodiazepines. While these substances can be addictive, they are provided on a short-term basis and are only given under medical supervision, preventing you from being able to abuse the benzodiazepines during the process and taking away any need for concern.

Benzodiazepines soothe the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal by enhancing the effects of a neurotransmitter in the brain known as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This causes nerve impulses throughout the body to be slowed and reduces the output of other neurotransmitters like norepinephrine, serotonin, acetylcholine, and dopamine. In other words, benzodiazepines place the body in a relaxed state, preventing symptoms of withdrawal from occurring.

Benzodiazepines can alleviate symptoms such as:

  • Seizures
  • Tremors
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Restlessness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Irritability
  • Chills
  • Headaches
  • Pain
  • Anxiety and panic

Over time, the doctors will gradually reduce the number of benzodiazepines you are taking. Once you are not experiencing any symptoms of withdrawal, your doctor will stop your intake of benzos and you will be ready to attend inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment.

Benefits of Detoxing from Alcohol at a Detox Facility

When you attend a detox facility, you can rest assured that you will be safe throughout the entire process. The doctors and nurses on staff will provide you with medication to prevent you from experiencing symptoms of withdrawal – which can be severe and unbearable.

For example, if you detox without medical treatment you could experience the following symptoms of withdrawal:[2]

  • Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Tremors or shakes
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Mood changes
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Heart palpitations
  • Increased blood pressure or heart rate
  • Hyperthermia
  • Rapid abnormal breathing
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Delirium tremens (DTs)

Within a detox facility, you wouldn’t have to worry about experiencing the above-mentioned symptoms or alcohol withdrawal complications because the medical staff would taper you off of alcohol. Getting support can also lessen your chances of relapsing during the early stages of recovery, allowing you to build the foundations you need to obtain and maintain long-term recovery from alcoholism.

Start Alcohol Detox at Charlotte Detox Center Today

If you or a loved one suffer from alcoholism, it’s time to seek help. Attempting to detox at home could cause you to experience life-threatening symptoms of withdrawal (like seizures) without medical attention. Additionally, the stress of trying to quit alcohol on your own could cause you to relapse.

Instead of taking the risk, our alcohol detox center can help. We can keep you safe and comfortable throughout the detox process and provide you with the foundations you need to stay sober. Contact us today to get started.

References:

  1. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6084325/

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