Deciding to taper off alcohol is a slower process that requires planning, but it can decrease both the chase of experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms and relapse.

Tapering helps people stop using alcohol and other substances in small and manageable steps. When you taper, you use less of a substance each day. This can help your body adjust, and it can be easier to manage than quitting cold turkey.

Tapering off alcohol helps some people start their recovery journeys. It can also be a good idea for people who don’t want to, or can’t, attend any type of full detoxification program. But tapering off alcohol isn’t for everyone.

If you’ve been drinking heavily for a long time and think you might experience withdrawal symptoms, it’s best to talk with a medical professional before you begin a taper. They can help you decide if tapering is the safest option for you.

Alcohol withdrawal can be fatal

Alcohol withdrawal can cause many symptoms, some of which can be fatal.

If you want to change your relationship with alcohol, it’s important to have an honest conversation with a doctor about your drinking habits before you start tapering off. They’ll be able to help you create a tapering schedule that won’t only raise your chance of success but also avoid severe symptoms.

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There are a range of symptoms you can experience when you stop drinking. Tapering can help minimize these symptoms, but you might still experience some of them while your body adjusts to the lack of alcohol.

The exact symptoms you experience will depend on factors such as how much alcohol you’re consuming, other medical conditions you have, medications you take, and your body’s response to the taper.

Common symptoms include:

Symptoms timeline

It’s common for the first symptoms to appear within a few hours after your last drink. Symptoms often last for between 2–10 days.

Most people experience the most severe symptoms from about 36–72 hours after stopping drinking.

Severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal

Some people might experience more severe symptoms. These can include:

These can indicate a life threatening condition called delirium tremens. It’s important to seek urgent medical care if you experience any of these symptoms.

Tapering off alcohol vs. cold turkey

Tapering can be easier to manage than quitting cold turkey. When you quit alcohol cold turkey, you quit drinking completely and suddenly.

This can sometimes cause unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, and these symptoms can make it hard to stick with your recovery plan.

When you quit through tapering, you drink a little less each day until you’re able to have no alcohol at all. This gives your body time to adjust. It can lower the severity of symptoms, and it can make you more likely to meet your goals.

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It’s best to prepare for your taper before you begin. Having a plan can help you stay on track and it can keep you safe. One of the keys to a successful taper is taking gradual steps that will cause as few side effects as possible.

You can do this by:

  • Meeting with a medical professional: It’s a good idea to meet with a medical professional before you start your taper. They can help you plan your taper and advise you on the safest way to reduce or stop drinking.
  • Calculating how much you currently drink: It’s important to know how much you drink. This is your starting point, or your baseline. Once you know what it is, you can figure out how to lower it.
  • Identifying any triggers: Triggers are things, situations, or stressors that can lead to drinking. Identifying what those are for you before you start your taper can help you avoid them while you start to recover.
  • Setting goals: Writing out set goals and a timeline can help you visualize what your taper will look like.
  • Finding lower alcohol substitutes: When you first begin a taper, it’s helpful to replace what you currently drink with lower alcohol options. This lets your system adjust to lower alcohol levels.
  • Spacing out the time between drinks: One way to drink less is to spread out the drinks you have. So, if you’d normally get a new drink right after finishing the last one, try gradually adding time between each drink. The further along you’re in your taper, the further apart your drinks can get.

There are multiple health benefits you can experience when you start drinking less alcohol. The exact benefits will depend on how much alcohol you were drinking and on factors such as your genetics, overall health, and how your body responds. But drinking less is always a good choice for your body and health.

Some health benefits you might see include:

Tapering can help you stop drinking alcohol. When you taper, you drink a little less each day until you’re no longer drinking at all.

This can be easier and safer than quitting cold turkey. It can help you reach goals and can minimize some of the unpleasant and severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

It’s a good idea to talk with a medical professional before you begin a taper. They can help you decide if it’s the safest way to start your recovery, and they can help you make a taper plan.

Taking steps such as having set goals and using substitutes like lower-alcohol drink options can help you slowly and safely minimize drinking.