Tapering Off Alcohol
Members of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) generally assert that their use of alcohol is out of control and that even one drink is too many. AA espouses total abstinence from alcohol for life. But is it possible for a person who has abused alcohol to gradually cut back on their use of alcohol and reach a point where they can handle a drink or two without losing control? There are many who say that tapering off alcohol is indeed possible and has been accomplished by many people.
Is Tapering Off Alcohol for Everyone?
The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be very serious and even potentially fatal. This is one reason why many people choose to detox in a medically monitored location, such as a treatment center. For those who can gradually taper off of alcohol, these symptoms are usually much less severe, especially for people who have engaged in serious alcohol abuse. Such serious abuse of alcohol includes people who have remained intoxicated for several days in a row, people who have gotten drunk every night for a series of weeks, and people who have previously suffered from alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
For some people, tapering off alcohol is not a workable plan. Some begin to lower the number of drinks they have, but soon return to previous levels. Others begin to suffer serious withdrawal symptoms even when they begin to taper off of alcohol. Persons who choose to taper off should be aware of what is happening in their bodies. Severe symptoms such as tremors, disorientation, seizures and irregular heartbeat should be brought to the attention of a professional since they may bring on more serious problems or even lead to death.
How Does Tapering Off Work?
Simply put, tapering off of alcohol involves drinking only enough to remove the symptoms of withdrawal or at least make them manageable. Over a period of time, the user should reduce the number of drinks they have, using only what is needed to eliminate the symptoms of withdrawal. Many people are able to taper off completely in a matter of days. The person who is tapering off alcohol should be careful to avoid dehydration and maintain electrolyte levels. Sports drinks such as Gatorade can be very useful in this area.
The first step is to gain a clear idea of the amount of alcohol the individual normally uses. Use this information to develop a schedule for tapering off alcohol. Persons who normally drink more than 20 drinks each day, should taper off by having one less drink per day. These drinks should be spaced out evenly throughout the waking hours. People who normally have less than 20 drinks a day can taper off more quickly, reducing the number of drinks by two drinks every day, spacing them throughout the waking hours. Keep in mind that if tapering off results in serious withdrawal symptoms, it may be safer to detox in a medically supervised environment.
There are some medications which can assist in the tapering off program. Benzodiazepines will help with withdrawal symptoms. Diazepam and chlordiazepoxide can also be used during the tapering off program, although these may require a doctor’s prescription in many states. If the person normally uses hard liquor such as vodka or run, they can begin by switching to beer or by watering down their drinks.
What Happens After Tapering Off?
For many people, a period of abstinence from alcohol for a period of time, usually about one month, is a good idea. This will give the body a chance to normalize its functions, repairing some of the damage done by abusing alcohol. Keep in mind that some of the damage done, such as damage to the liver, may never be repaired. It is also important to monitor behavior carefully, since depression may result from the termination of alcohol abuse.
Equally important is the need for developing skills to maintain recovery and manage cravings and triggers. The person who has tapered off of alcohol will need to develop new behaviors and activities to replace the time and energy that was previously spent in consuming alcohol. A person who went to a bar to drink every evening will have to find some other way to occupy their evening hours. Remember that drinking was a way to manage certain aspects of life. For example, a person who suffered from social anxiety may have used alcohol to manage their anxiety, so they will now need to learn other ways to handle their anxiety in social situations.
One further point is that, after completing a program of tapering off, the individual may discover they are able to have a drink now and then. They should be alert, however, to situations in which they begin to drink in the morning or on several days each week. The risk of returning to former levels of alcohol abuse are real, so the person should be careful to monitor the amount that they drink.
Despite the claims of AA that even one drink is too many and that abstinence is the only viable option, tapering off of alcohol is a viable choice for many victims of alcohol abuse. Persons who choose this option should be aware of the challenges involved in terms of withdrawal symptoms, but should also be confident of their own ability to succeed. After the process of tapering off alcohol is completed, the former alcohol abuser will need to learn how to live their life without alcohol.