Tapering is the practice of reducing the consumption of alcohol over a period of time until the amount of alcohol in the system has dropped to zero. The goal of an alcohol taper is to minimize the withdrawal symptoms while still undergoing detox. In essence, tapering is a detoxification process that is not being administered or observed by a doctor or medical staff. It is commonly a self-managed detox method which is usually less successful than a program at an alcohol detox center.
Alcohol self-detoxification is possible through the practice of tapering, and before the advent of certain medications and treatment programs, tapering was the most commonly applied approach to treating alcohol withdrawal. There may be situations in which tapering off alcohol at home is the right decision, whether it’s due to a lack of health care, the belief that the alcohol use isn’t severe enough to warrant admission into a professional detoxification center, or a desire to minimize the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
Let’s consider some of the pros and cons of tapering off alcohol in a self-care setting:
The pros and cons outlined in this article will give some indications about the general concept of tapering off alcohol, but there are many personal factors that should be considered before someone chooses to go this route. These are general guidelines, and different people will experience different alcohol withdrawal timelines depending on their drinking habits. It is highly recommended to speak with a doctor, therapist, or some form of medical professional before beginning.
Conduct research on different approaches. Gain the perspective of those who have attempted tapering off alcohol. Seek the counsel of family and close friends. The more information gained and the more emotional support provided can make a big difference. Personal health, both physical and mental, as well as someone’s current drinking habits, should also be taken into account before deciding on anything.
There are medications that help with the overall experience of tapering off alcohol, most of which are safe when used as directed or prescribed. Someone will need to talk to their doctor about their plans to taper off alcohol use, and under their care, they may prescribe different medications to assist with a tapered detox. Here is a quick glance at some of the most commonly prescribed alcohol detox medications that are well-recognized in the medical field for being effective adjunct treatments for tapering. These medications will minimize withdrawal symptoms and stabilize the body and brain during alcohol tapering:
Before someone attempts to taper off alcohol in a self-care setting, there are many factors to consider. Not everyone will have the same reaction to alcohol detox by tapering, so careful thought and planning is needed to make sure someone goes into the experience well-informed and prepared. This will not only help with regards to safety, but will dramatically improve the chances of successfully achieving the alcohol intake goals that were set beforehand. So what things should someone put into their alcohol tapering toolkit? Here are some ideas:
First, someone needs to assess their average alcohol intake on a daily basis. This will form their baseline, the starting point from which the taper will begin. In the United States, one “drink” or “serving” of alcohol is measured as:
Many treatment professionals recommend using standard beer (about 5% ABV) for use when tapering off alcohol. While the choice of drink is up to the individual, beer is considered the safer option, and no measuring is needed – one standard can or bottle of beer is the correct amount to use.
The schedules provided here are illustrative only, as someone’s individual needs may require deviation or alteration to this schedule. Each schedule assumes 8 hours of sleep per day; 16 hours awake.
For those who drink 20 or more “servings” of alcohol a day:
For those who drink less than 20 “servings” of alcohol a day, it is recommended to reduce their daily number of drinks by 2 (two) each day until zero. So if their average number of drinks is 16 per day, their schedule would look like this:
These schedules should provide a starting point to consider. Of course someone can take a more aggressive approach, but remember that severe symptoms can be triggered if the reductions are too drastic. Be cautious, but be assertive; it is possible to safely taper off of alcohol use!
There is no single route to recovery, but recovery is possible, and it all starts with an honest appraisal of one’s drinking habits. For those who find that reduction of their alcohol by tapering in a self-care setting isn’t safe medically, doesn’t provide the right support, or simply isn’t effective there are a number of alternatives that are overseen by licensed professionals. These will offer medical assistance, access to therapy, support services, and more, providing a well-rounded and holistic approach to recovery. Examples of professionally supported detox include:
Medically Monitored Detox: With 24/7 medical support and access to therapies, professional detox centers are typically the first option in professional detox support. The length of stay in a professional detox center would be around 5-7 days depending on the severity of the situation; their primary purpose is to oversee the detox. That said, with access to and partnerships with a network of inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities, detox facilities can help chart a path towards recovery
Inpatient (Residential) Treatment: These facilities are live-in facilities that provide a sober environment that will offer complete care. Inpatient treatment programs can last from 30 days to 1 year depending on the facility, depending on the extent of the addiction, and a variety of other factors. Isolation from outside influences and intensive therapy are essential elements of inpatient treatment.
Outpatient Treatment: Outpatient treatment will offer the intensive therapy and effective treatment one would expect from inpatient treatment, but with the freedom and flexibility of the outpatient setting. These programs will allow someone to come to a facility for day programs and return to their own home each night.
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