Drinking alcohol daily or excessively can lead to physical and emotional dependence. Alcohol dependence can range in austerity from mild to severe, depending on how much an individuals drinks, how frequently, and for what duration of time.
Alcohol dependence typically results in withdrawal symptoms, ranging from minor discomfort to painful and life-threatening symptoms. Individuals with deep-seated alcohol dependence may experience severe withdrawal symptoms and complications that can cause permanent damage or death without prompt and appropriate medical support.
If you are a moderate-severe alcoholic seeking to reduce or stop your alcohol intake altogether, attempting to quit abruptly or “cold turkey” can result in dangerous effects that can be difficult or impossible to manage safely outside of a clinical setting. Moreover, the most effective option to quit drinking is to seek out and participate in a comprehensive addiction treatment program that offers medical detox services and long-term rehab.
Risks of Abrupt Alcohol Cessation
If you’ve noticed your drinking has become problematic, deciding to curb your alcohol consumption is a commendable first step. However, as noted, for many individuals wanting to regain control of their alcohol use, it may not be the best answer to attempt to reduce or stop drinking abruptly at home.
While many alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches, nausea, shakiness, etc., can be merely uncomfortable and annoying, more severe effects can develop within the first few days of alcohol cessation, such as seizures and psychotic symptoms.
Delirium tremens is by far the most concerning form of alcohol withdrawal. This condition develops in an estimated 3-5% of individuals with severe alcohol addiction. Delirium tremens is also more common in older persons and individuals who have a history of seizures or have co-occurring illnesses or disorders. Symptoms of delirium tremens can onset within 48 hours and, in some instances, have lethal consequences without proper medical treatment.
Symptoms of delirium tremens include the following:
- Extreme agitation
- High body temperature
- High blood pressure
- Elevated heart rate
Tapering off alcohol is not typically the most beneficial option for most alcoholics. Persons who are moderately-severely dependent on alcohol are urged to seek medical support for this condition.
Of note, tapering may offer a less-risky process for those seeking to cut back on their drinking. Still, importantly, it doesn’t provide the medical and behavioral support required for a safe recovery and long-term abstinence.
Can You Safely Taper off Alcohol at Home?
Tapering is one strategy that some individuals use to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms as they attempt to reduce their alcohol intake. However, tapering is not a process that works and is safe and appropriate for everyone. Individuals with a severe alcohol addiction or who can experience dangerous withdrawal symptoms should not attempt this at home.
That said, those who have mild alcohol dependence and support from loved ones may undergo the process in relative safety but necessary comfort. They will still experience some withdrawal effects, and while they are unlikely to be severe, they may be unpleasant enough to drive the person to relapse to suppress them.
Moreover, keep in mind that medical detox programs for alcohol dependence usually administer medications to relieve the discomfort and pain of withdrawal and relieve nausea, anxiety, and flu-like symptoms. Most importantly, severe symptoms such as those associated with delirium tremens can be prevented. Effective pharmaceutical intervention is a benefit that is not generally available to individuals who attempt who wean themselves off alcohol without medical support.
However, an at-home detox may seem like the only option for certain persons who can’t take time away from work or family or do not have the insurance or resources to enter detox or engage in intensive treatment. If this is the case, careful planning is involved, and emergency medical intervention should be available if severe symptoms emerge.
A person attempting to detox at home should first identify how much they have been drinking, and from here, devise a weaning schedule that gradually reduces the amount of alcohol consumed each day. Ideally, this schedule will be determined using the assistance of a physician, addiction treatment professional, or another licensed health provider(s).
Symptoms experienced during the tapering process will vary based on factors such as the following:
- Duration of time alcohol has been consumed excessively
- The average amount of alcohol that has been consumed daily or weekly
- Existence of other medical or mental health conditions
Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal
If you are attempting to taper yourself off alcohol for the first time, it can be beneficial to know what symptoms to expect during the process. Many common symptoms are associated with withdrawal that can vary in presentation and severity between individuals.
People tapering off alcohol may begin experiencing the first withdrawal symptoms within 6-12 hours after their last drink. Over the next several days, additional symptoms may also manifest. During the first 48 hours, these may include the following:
- Profuse sweating
- Difficulty concentrating
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Tremors (alcohol shakes)
- Loss of appetite
Symptoms that may develop later in the alcohol withdrawal process include the following:
- Mood swings
Individuals may also experience increased sensitivity to sound, light, or touch.
During this time, it is vital to stay hydrated, eat healthily, and engage in self-care to help curb the desire to relapse. It is also crucial to have a medical professional who is readily accessible and loved ones near to assist you if symptoms prevent you from doing this independently. Accepting support throughout this process is not a weakness but a much-needed strength.
How Long Does It Take to Taper off Alcohol?
Those who decide to attempt a tapering method on an outpatient or at-home basis should do so under a medical provider’s supervision. For a greater dependence on alcohol, which should, preferably, be treated with medical detox, the process may need to be extended to reduce alcohol intake slowly. On average, the process can 5-7 days. Others may need more or less time to reduce their drinking.
Tapering off alcohol at home instead of under medical supervision can undoubtedly lengthen the process. Unlike a home environment, professional medical detox services have the resources necessary to address severe withdrawal symptoms and increase a patient’s comfort. Medical supervision very often allows patients to quit drinking cold-turkey without compromising safety.
Getting Treatment for Alcoholism
Tapering off alcohol or entering a medical detox program is not always an easy decision, but it may be necessary and beneficial for many individuals with alcohol abuse issues. Just Believe Recovery Center offers integrated addiction treatment programs and resources for persons struggling with an alcohol use disorder, including medical detox, residential rehab, and intensive outpatient treatment.
All of our programs use a multitherapeutic approach that includes a wide variety of evidence-based therapies and activities that promote long-term recovery, including, but not limited, to the following:
- Group support
- Individual and family counseling
- Relapse prevention
- Substance abuse education
- Health and wellness education
- Experiential activities
- Art and music therapy
- Mindfulness meditation
- Aftercare planning