How to Taper Off Alcohol Safely

Last Updated: December 21, 2023

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

Stopping alcohol can seem like a daunting task, but there are many benefits to this decision. Understanding how to taper off alcohol safely is crucial for those exploring how to reduce their alcohol intake. It is important to understand safe tapering methods and how they contrast with quitting cold turkey. The decision is ultimately down to the individual. However, the medical community recommends the latter approach. Taking the best path toward sobriety can make a significant difference in your journey to recovery.

Alcohol Taper vs. Quitting Cold Turkey

Alcohol tapering involves gradually reducing your alcohol intake. This allows your body to adjust to the changes that occur as you stop using alcohol.

On the other hand, quitting cold turkey involves stopping alcohol all at once. The individual must push through the resulting withdrawal symptoms.

Medical professionals recommend quitting cold turkey and using medications to treat symptoms. They suggest this approach because your odds of success are higher. You will also have less exposure to alcohol’s effects. Either method of quitting is potentially dangerous. This is why you should use medical help, whether tapering or quitting cold turkey.

Taper Method

Tapering off alcohol involves gradually reducing your alcohol consumption over time. This method can help minimize withdrawal symptoms, making the process more manageable. It’s best to do this under medical supervision. This will help ensure safety and effectiveness. Tapering allows the body to adjust slowly to lower levels of alcohol. In turn, this reduces the shock to the system.

Cold Turkey Method

Quitting alcohol cold turkey means stopping all alcohol consumption abruptly. While it might seem like a quick solution, this method can be risky without medical support. This is especially true for heavy drinkers. Abruptly stopping alcohol can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms. They can even be life-threatening if you go at it alone. 

What Happens to the Body When You Stop Drinking?

Consistently using alcohol for a long time causes your brain to adjust to its suppressing effect. It becomes more hyperactive and balances out the effects of alcohol. As a result, it brings more balance to the brain’s function.

Stopping alcohol use can trigger a range of physical and psychological responses. When you stop drinking, alcohol no longer balances the brain’s hyperactive state. The body has become used to regular alcohol intake. Therefore, it may react with withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms include anxiety, tremors or even seizures. However, the body will start to recover over time. As the brain readjusts, physical and mental health will improve.

Benefits of Tapering Off Alcohol

Gradually tapering off alcohol is considered a gentle approach. It may reduce the risk or intensity of severe withdrawal symptoms. Some benefits make it an appealing option to some people considering quitting alcohol. These include:

  • Reduced risk of severe withdrawal symptoms like delirium tremens
  • Potential for lowered stress on the body and mind
  • Better ability to manage cravings
  • Opportunity for psychological adjustment as you stop drinking

These benefits can seem appealing. However, there are also cons to tapering alcohol. Many medical professionals even believe they outweigh the potential benefits. 

Cons of Tapering Off Alcohol

Despite its benefits, there are some important drawbacks when considering tapering off alcohol. That is why healthcare professionals discourage people from attempting tapers. Instead, doctors and nurses encourage them to quit cold turkey with their help.

The cons of tapering off alcohol include:

  • Prolonged exposure to alcohol
  • Difficulty in maintaining a disciplined reduction schedule
  • Increased potential for relapse during withdrawal
  • Lack of professional help during and after detox

Tapering can result in fewer or less intense withdrawal symptoms. However, it increases the risk of not completing the taper or relapsing afterward. This is because each withdrawal attempt increases the severity of the next. This phenomenon is known as the “kindling effect”.

Alcohol Tapering Strategies

Tapering should be avoided in most situations. However, there may still be some scenarios in which someone decides to taper from alcohol. When someone does use a taper, two main types are often used.

Direct Taper

Direct tapering involves reducing the amount of alcohol consumed each day gradually. Someone using a direct taper will cut out a drink every day. Sometimes, they may wait more than a day or cut out more than one drink daily. Still, this approach involves removing drinks on a regular, scheduled basis. This method requires discipline and monitoring, as misjudging the amount consumed is easy.

Substitution Taper

A substitution taper involves replacing alcoholic beverages with less potent alternatives. For example, you may switch from spirits to beer at first. A substitution taper can also involve switching alcoholic beverages with non-alcoholic beverages. Diluting alcohol with other beverages is another option people may use. This method can be more manageable. This is because it allows for a more controlled reduction in alcohol.

A substitution taper is more complicated than a direct taper. For one thing, it requires more careful planning. You must also track the amount of alcohol used each day. The benefit is that it can make it easier to stop drinking alcohol. This is because you may continue your regular routine while reducing your alcohol use. 

Alcohol Tapering Schedule

There is no medically recommended tapering schedule. This is because medical professionals don’t recommend tapering. But if you do plan on using this method, it is wise to make sure that you establish a specific, measurable tapering schedule with a doctor and stick to it.

Creating a tapering schedule might include:

  • Establishing a realistic baseline of how much you drink each day
  • Setting a start date and a target end date
  • Gradually reducing the amount consumed each day or week
  • Monitoring progress and adjusting the schedule if needed

Keep in mind that there is no medically recommended tapering schedule. This is because medical professionals don’t recommend tapering. But if you do plan on tapering, it is wise to discuss your tapering schedule with a doctor before attempting it. 

Challenges of Quitting Drinking

Quitting drinking poses many challenges, including cravings and psychological dependence on alcohol. Social pressures and habitual drinking settings can also make quitting difficult. However, trained addiction professionals can help you overcome these challenges using proven techniques.

One crucial challenge to consider is the physical withdrawal symptoms that can occur. Alcohol withdrawal is the most dangerous form of withdrawal. In fact, symptoms can be deadly in serious cases. These dangerous symptoms can occur during any alcohol withdrawal, even when tapering. It is critical to seek medical help if severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms develop. Early symptoms that indicate severe alcohol withdrawal may be developing include:

  • Confusion
  • Uncontrollable shaking
  • Fever
  • Seizures

It is important to seek medical help as soon as you notice these early indications. If you don’t, more serious severe withdrawal symptoms will develop. These can include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Fever
  • High blood pressure
  • Continued seizures
  • Severe confusion and psychosis

These symptoms can indicate a serious and potentially deadly condition called delirium tremens is developing. This condition is frequently fatal without treatment and requires hospitalization.

What Is the Kindling Effect?

The kindling effect happens when someone goes through alcohol withdrawal several times. Each time they withdraw, the symptoms can worsen. This is important to understand when you’re trying to quit drinking. If you try to stop and don’t succeed, it might be even harder the next time you try.

The kindling effect is crucial to consider when deciding between tapering and cold turkey methods. Tapering might seem a better choice, but it has a lower success rate. This lower success rate can actually make the kindling effect worse. As a result, quitting alcohol might become more dangerous than necessary.

How to Taper off Alcohol Safely and Effectively

If you choose to taper off alcohol, it is crucial to create a plan with medical guidance. Set achievable goals and understand your drinking habits. Make sure you have support from others as well. Remember, it’s not just about drinking less; it’s also about taking care of your overall health.

At The Recovery Village Indianapolis Drug and Alcohol Rehab, we are committed to helping people get off of alcohol as safely and effectively as possible. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol addiction, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. We are dedicated to supporting you through every step of your journey. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you achieve a healthier, alcohol-free life.


MedlinePlus. “Alcohol.” March 22, 2022. Accessed December 7, 2023.

Kattimani, Shivanand & Bharadwaj, Balaji. “Clinical management of alcohol withdrawal: A systematic review.” Industrial Psychiatry Journal, December, 2013. Accessed December 7, 2023.

Hoffman, Robert S. & Weinhouse, Gerald L. “Management of moderate and severe alcohol withdrawal syndromes.” September 15, 2023. Accessed December 7, 2023.

Sachdeva, Ankur; Choudhary, Mona; & Chandra, Mina. “Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome: Benzodiazepines and Beyond.” Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research, September 2015. Accessed December 7, 2023.

Becker, Howard C. “Kindling in Alcohol Withdrawal.” Alcohol Health and Research World, 1998. Accessed December 7, 2023.

The HAMS Harm Reduction Network, Inc. “How To Taper Off Alcohol.” Accessed December 7, 2023.

Toohey, Shannon. “Delirium Tremens (DTs).” Medscape. August 04, 2021. Accessed December 20, 2023.

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