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What Does “Tapering Off Alcohol” Mean?
Alcohol use disorder (AUD), more commonly known as alcoholism, is a chronic relapsing brain disorder. Long-term alcohol use can lead to alcohol use disorder, making it hard to quit or taper your alcohol intake.
Tapering off alcohol refers to cutting back on your alcohol intake (to none). You may decide to taper off alcohol if you worry that you are developing an alcohol addiction.
You are not alone if you are dealing with an alcohol problem. Almost one-third of adults in the United States drink excessively, 10 percent of whom are addicted to alcohol. An estimated 15 million people are considered alcoholics.
If you or a loved one struggles with alcohol abuse or alcohol use disorder, reach out for professional help. Detoxing from alcohol can be dangerous if you don’t do it carefully. It is not safe to detox alone if you are dealing with alcoholism.
Pros and Cons of Tapering Off Alcohol
Cutting back on your alcohol intake has major health benefits. Drinking alcohol can take a toll on your physical and mental health, as well as other aspects of your life. So limiting your alcohol consumption is always a good idea.
The effects of alcohol abuse vary depending on how much you and how often you drink. They also depend on other factors like your weight, age, and gender.
However, excessive alcohol consumption can have physical consequences that include, but aren’t limited to, the following:
- Unhealthy weight gain
- Unhealthy weight loss
- Sleep problems
- Liver damage
- High blood pressure
- Heart damage
- Low blood sugar
- Low sex drive
- Weakened immune system
- Certain cancers
- Central nervous system issues
- Accidents due to impaired judgment
Excessive alcohol consumption can also hurt your mental health. Consequences include, but aren’t limited to, the following:
- Mood swings
- Personality changes
- Compulsive behaviors
- Memory loss
- Lack of motivation
Alcohol dependence can also lead to social consequences that include, but aren’t limited to, the following:
- Detachment from loved ones
- Skipping school or work (which can, in turn, lead to financial loss)
- Dropping hobbies that were once enjoyable
It makes sense that cutting back on the number of drinks you have, or quitting alcohol altogether, is a move in the right direction. By tapering your alcohol consumption, you can get your life back on track.
But you have to be careful about alcohol tapering. The detoxification process can be tricky. Some people suffer from severe withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome can lead to life-threatening health conditions and even death.
It is incredibly important to talk to your healthcare provider about alcohol addiction treatment options. Going through a trusted treatment program for alcohol or substance abuse can help you navigate the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal over a slow, steady, and safe period.
Again, you should not try to taper off alcohol alone if you are struggling with alcoholism.
How Do You Safely Taper Off Alcohol?
To safely taper off alcohol, you need to work with a medical professional on a detox program that they feel is right for you. You should not try to fight alcohol addiction on your own at home. An accredited medical professional can help you.
Tapering your alcohol intake may not necessarily be an easy feat. If you or a loved one are having a difficult time, here are some tips:
- Contact professional help. Overcoming an alcohol addiction is not easy. Even if you are not at the point of addiction, cutting back may still be challenging. The support of medical professionals and psychologists and help you along your journey. You may be surprised by the number of treatment options available.
- Stay away from situations that involve alcohol. If you are struggling to stop drinking, do your best to avoid places and situations that involve alcohol. Temptation makes cutting back even harder. You may even ask your family members and friends not to drink while they are around you.
- Reach out to a support group. Sitting and talking with other people who share your struggle can help you to feel supported. Local groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) can provide you with the moral support and strength you need.
- Talk to a therapist. Alcohol misuse and alcoholism are largely linked to depression. Many people abuse alcohol as escape and coping mechanisms. If you can treat and tackle the depression that may be driving you to drink, it can help.
At the end of the day, if you suffer from alcohol addiction, you should not try to taper your alcohol intake alone. Don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help.
Side Effects of Tapering Off Alcohol
Tapering off alcohol with professional help can lead you to feeling better and healthier. While the road to recovery may be longer for some people than others, you might start noticing positive changes right away.
Limiting alcohol intake boosts your overall health. These health benefits include the following:
- Improved heart health
- Improved liver health
- Better brain function
- Decreased inflammation
- Healthy weight loss
- Increased energy
- Increased sex drive
- Better sleep
- Improved immune system function
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower risk of certain cancers
- Improved digestive system
What are Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms?
If you have an alcohol problem and try to quit, you may experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Delirium tremens (shaking, confusion, high blood pressure, fever, and hallucinations are some symptoms)
- High blood pressure
- Intense cravings
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can start as soon as just a few hours after you have had your last drink. You may experience seizures as early as about six hours after. Hallucinations can also occur within a day.
Some alcohol withdrawal symptoms can become so severe that alcohol withdrawal can lead to death. The safest way to prevent and cope with withdrawal symptoms is by working with a medical professional who can monitor you.
How to Manage Withdrawal Symptoms
If you start to feel withdrawal symptoms when cutting back your alcohol intake, reach out to a professional for help. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can range from slight to severe. They may be uncomfortable, but they may also be deadly. You’re better off safe than sorry.
Other Challenges of Detoxing From Alcohol
Detoxing from alcohol is not necessarily easy. Besides potential withdrawal symptoms, you may also face social pressure. Because a lot of social events involve alcohol, it can be challenging to stay away from it.
Because alcohol use disorder (AUD) and depression often go hand in hand, detoxing from alcohol might exacerbate mood disorders. Withdrawal symptoms can make anxiety and depression feel worse. And, if you abused alcohol as a coping mechanism, you might feel lost without it. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help.
Is it Safe to Quit Drinking “Cold Turkey?”
No, it is never safe to quit drinking cold turkey. Significantly cutting back on the amount of alcohol you drink can put your body into shock. If you are struggling with alcoholism, the safest way to quit drinking is through professional rehabilitation.
Dangers of Stopping Alcohol Use Abruptly
Stopping alcohol use abruptly can be alarming for your body. When your body is expecting alcohol and does not get it, it can start to react with withdrawal symptoms. Symptoms range from nausea to seizures, and some can be fatal.
If you are suffering from alcoholism, you should not quit alcohol abruptly. Reach out for professional help to discuss a treatment plan that is safe and effective.
Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse & Addiction
- Inpatient Programs — Inpatient treatment is the option for alcohol addiction treatment. These intensive programs are usually 30, 60, or 90 days but can be longer in certain cases. Throughout the duration of your stay at an inpatient rehab facility, you will live on site is a safe, substance-free environment. You will go through medically supervised detoxification first, then behavioral therapy and other services will be added to your regimen. Most programs will will help you set up an aftercare program upon completion.
- Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs) — Partial hospitalization programs (also called intensive outpatient programs, or IOPs) are comparable to inpatient programs, but you return home after each session. Some PHPs provide food and transportation, but this varies by program. Their services may include detoxification, medical services, behavioral therapy, support groups, and other holistic or custom treatments. PHPs accept new patients, along with patients who have completed an inpatient treatment program and still require intensive care.
- Outpatient Programs — Outpatient programs are less intensive and offer a more flexible treatment schedule. They are best for people who have responsibilities at work, home, or school and are highly motivated to achieve sobriety. Outpatient treatment programs customize your treatment sessions around your personal schedule. Outpatient programs can help new patients achieve success, and may also be a part of aftercare program once a patient completes an inpatient or PHP.
- Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT) — Certain patients with Alcohol Use Disorder will qualify for medication-assisted therapy. Medications can help you detoxify, reduce cravings, and normalize bodily functions. Disulfiram (Antabuse), acamprosate (Campral), and naltrexone (Revia and Vivitrol) are the most common medications used to treat Alcohol Use Disorder. MAT is most effective when combined with other treatment therapies.
- Support Groups — Support groups are peer-led groups that help people stay sober. They can be a first step in overcoming alcoholism or a component of an aftercare plan. Many of them follow the 12-step approach, however there are secular options that don't follow the 12-step approach as well.