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When someone decides to reduce their drinking and get sober, two different options are available:
While quitting suddenly (cold turkey) is self-explanatory, tapering may raise some questions.
Tapering refers to gradually reducing the consumption of a substance to diminish the intensity of withdrawal symptoms.
For alcohol, this means drinking less and less over time to avoid the symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal.
Tapering may be a suitable option for people who:
Tapering is not recommended for people with an alcohol use disorder (AUD). In this situation, tapering may lead to relapse, overdose, and serious health consequences.
Concerns about tapering off alcohol should be discussed with a medical professional.
Some of the advantages of tapering include:
Binge and heavy drinking are associated with a higher risk of AUD. Tapering down alcohol intake can decrease your risk of developing an addiction.
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.
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.
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.
Some disadvantages of tapering include:
Sometimes, tapering isn’t enough to help reduce alcohol intake. Many insurance companies will help pay for some or all of the treatment costs, which may be vital to recovery.
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.
Some find that tapering is not a suitable option to stop drinking. For many people, tapering alone is not enough to help heal their addiction.
There are several options for people who want to undergo medical detox for alcohol. For example:
People with mild to moderate withdrawal symptoms may benefit from outpatient rehabilitation and safe tapering.
Examples of people who may benefit from outpatient treatment and tapering include those:
Outpatient treatment is a safe and effective alternative to inpatient care, with fewer costs.
There are a few ways to taper your alcohol consumption without therapy. If you believe your alcohol intake is mild to moderate, you may consider a few options:
For those who moderately consume alcohol, tapering off may be a good option.
However, for people with an AUD, quitting cold turkey or tapering is not advisable.
Trying to simply taper off an alcohol addiction runs the risk of:
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.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are more likely in heavy drinkers. Withdrawal usually begins within 6 to 8 hours after the last drink and peaks within 72 hours.
Alcohol withdrawal is potentially fatal. When alcohol is suddenly taken away from an addict, seizures and delirium tremens (DTs) can occur.
DTs is a life-threatening condition that occurs in 3 to 5 percent of cases.
Symptoms of DTs include:
A medical professional must supervise anyone who experiences DTs when lowering alcohol intake.
Sudden alcohol withdrawal can also be dangerous if you:
Some of the most common symptoms that people who are going through sudden alcohol withdrawal experience are:
Some less common symptoms of sudden alcohol withdrawal include, but are not limited to:
The time it takes to taper off alcohol varies based on how heavily a person drinks.
Light to moderate drinkers should plan to taper for a week or more.
Heavier drinkers can taper off faster with medical supervision, but the process can still take weeks or months. The initial detoxification process may take several days.
Reducing alcohol use is difficult for many users. Some of these challenges include:
Preventing relapse after tapering off alcohol use is challenging. It helps to:
Addiction treatment options for AUD or more severe withdrawal symptoms may include:
CBT treatment can help people with AUD explore the reasons for certain drinking habits and reinforce positive changes in behavior and decision-making processes.
Providers may prescribe medications such as benzodiazepines to reduce the effects of alcohol withdrawal.
Benzodiazepines affect the central nervous system (CNS) and can prevent combativeness, hallucinations, and agitation.
Feelings of loneliness and isolation can make it difficult to overcome addiction.
Mutual support groups like AA can provide a strong support network for those in addiction treatment for alcohol misuse.
If you or a loved one are considering quitting alcohol or changing your drinking habits, it is important to seek medical advice.
A healthcare provider can evaluate your case and determine the treatment program that is most suitable for you.
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