Updated on February 6, 2024
5 min read

What to Know About Tapering Off Alcohol

Key Takeaways

Although it is possible to taper your alcohol use alone, professionals highly advise that you seek medical attention. Detoxing from alcohol can be dangerous if you don’t do it properly.

What Does “Tapering Off Alcohol” Mean?

Tapering off alcohol refers to gradually reducing alcohol intake until you can stop completely. It allows your body to break its dependency on alcohol while reducing alcohol withdrawal symptoms.3

The process can take several days, weeks, or months depending on a few factors, such as:

  • The severity of alcohol abuse or addiction
  • History of use
  • Tolerance level

You can taper off alcohol if you worry that you are developing alcohol addiction. 


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How Do You Safely Taper Off Alcohol? 

Safely tapering off alcohol can be pretty challenging. It is sometimes possible to taper your alcohol use at home if your AUD isn’t severe. Although, you’ll need support if you want to successfully and safely taper at home.

If you have a severe level of addiction or dependency, you may need a detox program. Talk to a medical professional to find the best detox option for you.

Here are a few tips that can help you taper safely:

1. Contact Professional Help

Cutting back or completely stopping alcohol consumption is challenging, even if you are not at the point of addiction. The support of medical professionals and psychologists can help you in this process.

2. Avoid Places or Situations that Involve Alcohol

If you struggle to stop drinking, avoid places and situations that tempt you to drink alcohol. You may even ask your friends and family not to drink while around you.

3. Join a Support Group

Sitting and talking with others who share your struggle can help you feel supported. Local groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) can give you the moral support and strength you need.

4. Talk to a Therapist

Many people abuse alcohol as an escape and coping mechanism for mental illnesses. It can help if you tackle the underlying cause that may drive you to drink.

Tapering Off vs. Cold Turkey

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 alcohol intake.

Tapering can be an excellent way to prevent harmful withdrawal effects after ceasing alcohol intake. It can also be a way to ease yourself into sobriety.

Going “cold turkey” means abruptly stopping drinking entirely, leading to uncomfortable withdrawal effects. The intensity of the withdrawal symptoms depends on the severity of the alcoholism.

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Strategies For Tapering Off Alcohol

There are two ways to taper off alcohol⁠—a direct or substitution taper. The success of these strategies will depend on how much you drink and what you drink.

Direct Taper

A direct taper means you continue to drink your regular drinks but slowly decrease the amount over time. Direct tapers are better if you prefer drinks that contain a low percentage of alcohol.

These drinks can include:

  • Beer
  • Wine
  • Low alcohol cocktails

Substitution Taper

A substitution taper refers to switching strong liquor for an alternative that contains less alcohol, like beer. Once you’ve changed to a less alcoholic option, you can gradually reduce your drink amount.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Tapering from alcohol can have significant health benefits. However, if you don’t taper properly, you may experience withdrawal symptoms, especially if you have severe alcoholism.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Fever
  • Delirium tremens
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • High blood pressure
  • Intense cravings
  • Depression

Some alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be so severe that they can lead to death. Contact a medical professional immediately if you notice any withdrawal symptoms.

Benefits of Getting Professional Help for Tapering Off

If you’ve been drinking for a long time, tapering off can cause withdrawal symptoms. Getting professional help can mitigate harmful withdrawal symptoms and ensure success.

A doctor can supervise your tapering progress, helping you manage your cravings and prevent relapse. Overall, getting professional help can improve your chances for long-term sobriety.

How to Manage Withdrawal Symptoms

If you start feeling withdrawal symptoms, seeking medical help is best. These symptoms can be uncomfortable and can even cause you to relapse.8

Here are a few ways to help you manage withdrawal symptoms:8

  • Attend a detox program
  • Exercise regularly
  • Have a healthy and nutritious diet
  • Stay hydrated
  • Make sure to get enough sleep
  • Join a support group
  • Ask for support from loved ones
  • Keep yourself distracted

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Challenges of Tapering Off Alcohol

Here are a few challenges that you might experience while tapering off alcohol:3

  • Intense cravings for alcohol
  • Intense mood swings
  • Increased anxiety or depression
  • Managing relapses
  • Social pressure to keep drinking

Effects of Tapering Off Alcohol

Tapering off alcohol can lead you to feel emotionally and physically healthier. With professional help, you can increase your chances of tapering successfully.

Limiting alcohol intake boosts your overall health. These health benefits include the following:11

  • 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


Tapering off alcohol is a method of reducing your alcohol intake gradually. This process can help your body break its dependency on alcohol with minimal side effects.

Tapering can be a long process that takes weeks or even months to finish. Although it is possible to taper at home, having medical supervision and assistance can ensure a successful taper.

However, tapering can be dangerous if you have severe AUD, leading to uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. If you start noticing these symptoms, contact a medical professional immediately.

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Updated on February 6, 2024
11 sources cited
Updated on February 6, 2024
  1. Alcohol and Cancer Risk Fact Sheet.” National Cancer Institute.
  2. Alcohol and Sleep.” Sleep Foundation, 2020.
  3. Alcohol's Effects on the Body.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  4. Alcohol Questions and Answers.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020.
  5. Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2020.
  6. Alcohol Use Disorder.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2020.
  7. Drinking Too Much Alcohol Can Harm Your Health. Learn the Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019.
  8. Publishing, Harvard Health. “Alcohol Abuse.” Harvard Health.
  9. Publishing, Harvard Health. “Alcohol Withdrawal.” Harvard Health.
  10. Sachdeva, Ankur, et al. “Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome: Benzodiazepines and Beyond.” Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research : JCDR, JCDR Research and Publications (P) Limited, 2015.
  11. What to Expect When You Give up Alcohol.” Vala Health.

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