Tapering Off Alcohol | Does It Reduce Symptoms Of Alcohol Withdrawal?

If you regularly drink a lot of alcohol and then stop, you may experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. This is called physical dependence. It’s usually a sign of alcohol use disorder (alcohol addiction).

Some people try to reduce withdrawal symptoms by tapering off alcohol. This strategy gives your body more time to adjust to a lack of alcohol than quitting cold turkey, and you may experience fewer or less severe withdrawal symptoms.

However, it’s important to talk with your doctor or addiction treatment team before tapering off alcohol on your own.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are unpleasant effects that occur when you quit alcohol after becoming physically dependent on it. Physical dependence means your body has started relying on alcohol to function normally.

In most cases, withdrawal symptoms begin within 8 hours after a person’s last drink. They typically peak within three days, though some symptoms may last for weeks.

The most common alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • anxiety
  • irritability
  • mood swings
  • depression
  • trouble thinking clearly
  • shaking
  • sweating
  • fatigue
  • nightmares

While these symptoms are uncomfortable, they are generally not life-threatening. However, some people develop a severe alcohol withdrawal syndrome called delirium tremens (DTS).

What Causes Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms?

Alcohol impacts two important neurotransmitters (chemical messengers), gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate.

GABA slows down your nervous system, making you feel calm and relaxed. Glutamate helps regulate your thinking, memory, and mood. Alcohol increases the effects of GABA while decreasing the effects of glutamate.

When you frequently drink large amounts of alcohol, your brain responds to the excess GABA by producing less GABA. Similarly, it responds to the decreased glutamate by producing more glutamate.

If you stop drinking, it will take time for your body to start producing normal amounts of GABA and glutamate again. In the meantime, the unusual balance of neurotransmitters in your body may cause withdrawal symptoms.

Does Tapering Reduce Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms?

Tapering off alcohol means slowly reducing the amount of alcohol you drink until you are completely alcohol-free.

This strategy gives your body time to adjust to the lack of alcohol and restore normal GABA and glutamate levels. As a result, people who taper off alcohol typically experience fewer or less severe withdrawals than people who quit alcohol cold turkey.

How To Taper Off Alcohol

Before you start tapering off alcohol, talk to your healthcare provider.

They can help you design a personalized alcohol tapering schedule that meets your needs. The right schedule depends on personal factors such as how often you drink alcohol, the types of alcohol you drink, and your health history.

Gradually Reduce Alcohol Intake

Once you establish your schedule, you will start gradually reducing your daily or weekly alcohol intake. You can make this process easier by adding water or a mixer to your drinks. Your healthcare provider may also recommend that you switch to weaker types of alcohol.

Practice Self-Care

As you taper, it’s important to stay hydrated, eat plenty of nutritious foods, and get enough sleep. When you take care of yourself, you’ll find it much easier to avoid alcohol. Other ways to make tapering simpler include:

  • seeking support from loved ones
  • keeping a list of all the reasons you chose to give up alcohol
  • avoiding bars, clubs, and other alcohol-heavy locations
  • avoiding people who might pressure you to drink
  • engaging in healthy activities, such as exercising, journaling, or meditating

Can You Taper Off Alcohol At Home?

Some people can safely taper off alcohol at home. Others must taper at medical detoxification programs, where they receive 24/7 medical supervision.

During alcohol detox, doctors closely monitor your heart rate, blood pressure, and other vital signs. They may also prescribe medications, such as benzodiazepines, to help manage your symptoms.

Your healthcare provider can help you determine whether you should taper at home or at a medical detox program.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Most people who experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms have alcohol use disorder. This disease makes you feel unable to stop drinking alcohol. Other symptoms include:

    • frequent alcohol cravings
    • tolerance (needing increasingly larger or more frequent drinks to feel the desired effects)
    • loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
    • loss of motivation
    • \avoidance of family and friends

If you taper off alcohol without seeking treatment for your alcohol addiction, you will likely start drinking again.

Inpatient Or Outpatient Treatment

Treatment is available on an inpatient or outpatient basis. During inpatient treatment, you live at the treatment center and receive constant care. During outpatient treatment, you regularly visit the treatment center while living at home.

Your doctor can help you determine which option is right for you.

Treatment Services

Both inpatient and outpatient treatment programs provide mental health counseling, medication-assisted treatment (MAT), support groups, and other services to help you manage alcohol cravings and build a fulfilling, sober life.

To learn more about alcohol addiction treatment options, please reach out to Spring Hill Recovery Center. Our board-certified healthcare providers offer personalized, comprehensive care to help you or your loved one stay alcohol-free.

  1. Alcohol and Alcoholism — Alteration of Glutamate/GABA Balance During Acute Alcohol Withdrawal in Emergency Department: A Prospective Analysis https://academic.oup.com/alcalc/article/47/5/501/99762
  2. Alcohol Research and Health — Alcohol Dependence, Withdrawal, and Relapse https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3860472/
  3. Harvard Health Publishing — 11 ways to curb your drinking https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/11-ways-to-curb-your-drinking
  4. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus — Alcohol withdrawal https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000764.htm
  5. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus — Delirium tremens https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000766.htm

Written by Spring Hill Recovery Editorial Team

© 2024 Spring Hill Recovery | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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