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Alcohol & Health
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Updated on September 14, 2023
7 min read

Tapering Off Alcohol

What Does it Mean to Taper Off Alcohol?

Tapering off alcohol means reducing their drinking and getting sober. It’s a gradual process that limits alcohol consumption to avoid symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal. In contrast, quitting suddenly off any substance is called “quitting cold turkey.”

Tapering may be a suitable option for people who:

  • Consume alcohol on a moderate basis (1-2 drinks per day for men, 1 for women)
  • Are worried about their drinking habits and wish to cut down
  • Have a healthy emotional support system, such as friends or family, to be there for them

Tapering is also a strategy used by people with a substance or alcohol use disorder (AUD). However, improper tapering could lead to relapse, overdose, and severe health consequences.

Talk to a medical professional if you have any concerns about tapering off alcohol. They can provide recommendations to help you avoid harmful side effects.


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How Long Does it Take to Taper Off Alcohol?

The time it takes to taper off alcohol varies based on how much a person drinks. Regardless, The initial detoxification process may take several days.

Generally, light to moderate drinkers should plan to taper for a week or more.

In contrast, heavier drinkers can taper off faster with medical supervision, but the process can take weeks or months. 

How to Safely Taper Off Alcohol

Although you can use methods to taper off alcohol at home, the best way to taper is to talk to a doctor. They can monitor your intake and adjust it accordingly to reduce the risk of withdrawal symptoms.

If you’re struggling to wean off alcohol, it might be best to seek addiction treatment. Various treatment programs are available to help you recover from addiction.

Available treatment programs include:

  • Medical Detox: A treatment process that helps you avoid withdrawal symptoms with medication and supervision.
  • Inpatient treatment: Offers residential accommodations and round-the-clock medical supervision.
  • Partial hospitalization programs (PHP): A treatment program that allows you to live off-premises but receive treatment in a medical facility during the day.
  • Outpatient rehabilitation: A flexible rehabilitation program that allows you to leave the treatment facility freely; suitable for people who can’t devote most of their time in rehab.
  • Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): Explores the reasons for certain drinking habits and reinforces positive changes in behavior and decision-making processes.

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Is it Better to Taper Off Alcohol or Quit “Cold Turkey?”

For people who moderately consume alcohol, tapering off may be a good option. However, quitting cold turkey or tapering is not advisable for people with an AUD.

Trying to taper off an alcohol addiction runs the risk of:

  • Relapse
  • Excessive drinking
  • Possible overdose
  • Health concerns
  • More profound addiction

It's always best to speak with a healthcare provider when changing your relationship with alcohol. Every person has unique needs, and tapering off may not be an adequate solution to reduce or stop drinking.


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Can You Taper Off Alcohol Safely At Home?

Yes. There are several ways to taper your alcohol consumption without therapy.

However, you should only do this If you believe your alcohol intake is mild to moderate. Here are a few things you can do to taper off alcohol at home:

  • Choosing a "weaker" drink with lower alcohol content
  • Dilute your drinks
  • Space out or pace your drinks
  • Drinking a glass of water after each alcoholic beverage
  • Gradually cutting down the overall number of drinks 
  • Keeping track of your drinks daily, weekly, and monthly

5 Pros of Tapering Down Alcohol Intake

Some of the advantages of tapering include:

1. Decreased Risk of AUD

Binge and heavy drinking are associated with a higher risk of AUD. Tapering down alcohol intake can decrease your risk of developing an addiction.

2. Improved Immune System

Excessive drinking can weaken the immune system, increasing the body’s likelihood of developing an infection. Diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis are more frequent in individuals who chronically drink.

3. Decreased Risk of Alcohol-Related Death

Alcohol is the third-leading preventable cause of mortality in the United States, with approximately 95,000 people dying from alcohol-related causes each year. By gradually tapering off alcohol, you can lower your risk for alcohol-related accidents or death.

4. Saved Costs and Time

Inpatient treatment may be an expensive option in terms of time and money. Unlike inpatient treatment, tapering allows people to maintain their lifestyles while improving their drinking habits.

5. Minimized Risk of Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

If you properly taper your alcohol use, you’re less likely to experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Gradually reducing the amount of alcohol you drink can help give your body the time it needs to adjust to the lack of alcohol.

However, it’s still possible to experience withdrawal symptoms. If this happens, contact your doctor.

3 Cons of Tapering Down Alcohol Intake

Some disadvantages of tapering include:

1. It Doesn't Always Work

Some find tapering is not a suitable option to stop drinking due to various factors such as social responsibilities or peer pressure. For many people, tapering alone is insufficient to help heal their addiction. In this case, it’s better to seek addiction treatment.

2. Unsupervised Medical Care

People who try tapering off alcohol won’t have the guided support of medical professionals that they would at inpatient treatment. This can make it more challenging to stick to a long-term plan. In contrast, in-patient care can be more beneficial and less expensive in the long-term.

Some insurance policies may cover different rehab services. Many insurance companies will help pay for some or all of your treatment costs.

3. Withdrawal and Relapse

If you’ve been drinking for a long time, you may experience withdrawal symptoms when you quit drinking.

Withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable and even dangerous. People attempting to quit may turn to drinking again to prevent withdrawal symptoms.

Tapering and Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

You may experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms when you quit drinking alcohol. This can happen whether you’re quitting alcohol cold turkey or tapering.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are more likely in heavy drinkers. Withdrawal usually begins 6 to 8 hours after the last drink and peaks within 72 hours.

Mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Nightmares
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty thinking straight
  • Increased alcohol cravings
  • Irritability

Severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Tremors
  • Migraines
  • Increased heart rate
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Clammy skin
  • Sweating
  • Loss of appetite

Delirium Tremens (DTs)

Alcohol withdrawal is potentially fatal, especially for people with an alcohol addiction. Sometimes, they may experience seizures and delirium tremens (DTs).

DTs is a life-threatening condition that occurs in 3 to 5 percent of cases. Symptoms of DTs include:

  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • High blood pressure
  • Racing heart
  • Fever
  • Heavy sweating

DT requires immediate medical attention. Contact emergency health services if you or someone you know experiences more than one symptom of severe alcohol withdrawal.

Why Do You Experience Withdrawal Symptoms?

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that affects your brain. When you quit drinking or wean off alcohol, your body will adjust to the lack of alcohol in your body.

Experiencing withdrawal symptoms is typically a sign that you’ve developed a physical dependence on the substance. Sudden alcohol withdrawal can also be dangerous if you:

  • Are in bad health
  • Are older
  • Have co-occurring mental health issues or other medical conditions
  • Have binged right before stopping alcohol consumption
  • Have poor eating habits
  • Take certain prescription, OTC, or herbal medications or supplements

How to Prevent Relapse

Abstaining from drinking won’t make you immune to alcohol cravings. Staying sober after tapering off alcohol use is challenging, so it helps to do the following to prevent relapse:

  • Understand your triggers
  • Change your habits associated with drinking
  • Avoid people who pressure you to drink
  • Anticipate challenges and “bad days” where you’ll need to overcome negative thinking
  • Learn to manage stress without alcohol
  • Seek treatment for coexisting medical issues
  • Seek out social situations where people don’t focus on drinking
  • Adopt new hobbies that keep you busy
  • Create a healthy lifestyle that includes a better diet and regular exercise
  • Attend support group meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)


Tapering off alcohol involves gradually reducing the amount of alcohol you drink. Besides its positive health benefits, it can help you quit drinking after weeks or months.

Slowly tapering your alcohol use can help you manage mild withdrawal symptoms and decrease the risk of AUD. However, you may experience withdrawal symptoms or relapse if you’re not tapering correctly and safely.

Weaning off alcohol can benefit people who drink moderately or have support systems. If you have a severe alcohol addiction, it might be best to seek professional addiction treatment.

Updated on September 14, 2023
6 sources cited
Updated on September 14, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2020.

  2. Alcohol Withdrawal - What Is It?” Harvard Health Publishing, 2019.

  3. Alcohol's Effects on the Body.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

  4. Rethinking Drinking Homepage - NIAAA.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

  5. Weintraub, S.J. “Diazepam in the Treatment of Moderate to Severe Alcohol Withdrawal.” CNS Drugs, 2017.

  6. Wilson, E., and Lader, M. “A Review of the Management of Antidepressant Discontinuation Symptoms.” Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology, 2015.

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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
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