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Pros and Cons of Tapering Down Alcohol Intake

Posted on December 22, 2023

Pros and Cons of Tapering Down Alcohol Intake

Despite more being known than ever about alcohol addiction, people often have difficulty pinning down an exact definition. Rather than using outdated terms such as “drunk”, there is a relatively new scientific term on the scene: Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). [1]

Far from enjoying a few glasses of wine with friends or taking a month’s break from drinking, AUD is considered to be a disease of the brain. 

Those with an alcohol dependence cannot simply stop drinking without some level of discomfort.

This is because they have developed a psychological and physical addiction [2] to alcohol, and will continue to drink despite obvious repercussions. 

The culprit? Alcohol, of course, but also dopamine, our happiness-inducing neurotransmitter.

Drinking nudges our brain to produce more dopamine, flooding our system with feelings of euphoria. 

But this isn’t as innocent as it seems – as people drink more regularly, their tolerance will grow, and they’ll need more alcohol than ever to stay on an even kilter.

It’s at this point that quitting alcohol becomes more difficult and methods of getting sober should be considered carefully and with medical advice.

Don’t let alcohol addiction control your life – give our expert team a call today on 0800 088 66 86

NHS Guidelines

Doctor with clipboard

“So how do I know if I have a drinking problem?” you might be asking. While it’s always recommended that you seek professional advice, there are plenty of medically-approved resources online. 

Your first port of call could be the NHS website, [3] as it outlines high-risk alcohol habits and warns potential victims about dangerous drinking habits.

The most recent guideline states that we should all keep alcohol-centric harm to a minimum by drinking no more than 14 units each week.

However, less is preferable to keep our health in tip-top condition.

So what does this mean in terms of quantifiable beverages? Well, one unit of alcohol is equal to having one small glass of wine, a shot of spirits, or a medium-strength pint of lager.

Get the support you need to overcome alcohol addiction by giving our team a call today on 0800 088 66 86

What Does it Mean to Taper Down Your Alcohol Intake?


In essence, tapering, or “weaning off” of alcohol means gradually reducing regular drinking habits.

The term gradual is pivotal here, as the entire process is based on the act of eliminating alcohol over time.

The number of drinks consumed is whittled down to zero with two main goals: to help someone achieve sobriety and minimize the withdrawal symptoms that would otherwise manifest.

However, it’s important to note that this is quite a broad definition of tapering alcohol use, and the process will be different for everyone. 

While considered a detoxification process [4], this doesn’t necessarily mean that those following a tapering schedule will do so at a rehab clinic or while in a hospital. It can also be a self-managed detox method carried out from the comfort of your own home.

Typically, someone with a more severe alcohol addiction will need to taper surrounded by medical professionals. [5]

So, they might check in to a rehab clinic where an addiction consultant can design a schedule for reducing their alcohol intake.

As an inpatient, they’ll have access to several medications that can help reduce their cravings and prevent acute withdrawal symptoms.

Those with a less severe alcohol addiction may be able to calculate their own tapering schedule and complete the process at home.

For example, someone who is used to consuming 8 beers per day might follow the following drinking timeline: 6 beers on day one, 4 on day two, and 2 on day three, etc.

This will allow them to drink a little less each day until they’re no longer drinking beers at all.

However, as with anything relating to alcohol dependence, it’s always best to seek out professional advice before committing to a treatment method.

They’ll be able to assess your medical needs and dive into your drinking history to figure out the best course of action.

To learn everything you need to know about tapering alcohol intake, give our team a call today on 0800 088 66 86

The Pros of Tapering Down

Two women talking one-to-one at a table

Without further ado, let’s get into the pros of tapering down alcohol intake, of which there are many.

However, before we start evaluating this detox method, it’s important to note that every person’s relationship with alcohol is different, and what works well for some people may not suit others.

1. It’s a Safer Method of Detoxing From Alcohol

When someone stops drinking alcohol, they’ll likely experience at least some withdrawal symptoms. This goes for any form of heavy consumer, whether they drink on a daily basis or binge on alcohol every weekend.

Notoriously uncomfortable and even dangerous, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Dizzy spells
  • Vomiting
  • Tremors
  • Insomnia
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

Experiencing seizures is one side effect of the dangerous alcohol withdrawal syndrome known as Delirium Tremens (DT). [6]

Potentially fatal, DT can cause hallucinations, irregular heartbeat, seizures, tremors, and someone’s body temperature to skyrocket.

It most commonly occurs when a heavy drinker suddenly stops or significantly reduces their alcohol intake.

With this in mind, slowly reducing the number of drinks you have will reduce the chances of developing this life-threatening condition, as the body is put under less stress. 

Rather than suddenly having to cope with the loss of alcohol – a substance that the brain has become dependent on – tapering will ensure the body gradually gets used to functioning without it.

This is certainly safer than the cold turkey method: a colloquialism for the sudden cessation of alcohol intake.

Because of the way our central nervous system reacts to alcohol, taking it away all of a sudden, especially if you’re a daily drinker, will lead to incredible discomfort. 

Undertaking an alcohol taper is even safer in a medically supported space such as a rehab centre.

While generally considered a self-treatment strategy, tapering alcohol under medical supervision is recommended for heavy drinkers, as a professional can provide a customised strategy.

Because tapering down doesn’t eradicate the presence of withdrawal symptoms, they may also prescribe one of several medications.

This might include using a benzodiazepine regimen to substitute the effects of alcohol, or anticonvulsants to minimize the risk of seizures.

2. Tapering Makes Sobriety Seem More Manageable

Whether someone has a full-blown addiction to alcohol, a mild dependency, or simply likes to drink most days, the idea of sudden sobriety can seem overwhelming.

While tapering has its own set of challenges, these can seem fairly moderate when faced with the concept of having a final drink.

It’s for this reason that many people feel a huge sense of pressure when going cold turkey.

Instead of having more manageable daily consumption goals that they can work towards at their own pace, they must live up to the ideal of “true” sobriety.

Although the goal of tapering is to work your way down to zero drinks, this is something that is built up gradually and doesn’t happen all at once.

This sense of pressure can lead to heightened anxiety, which is a dangerous mindset to be in when considering these feelings may crop up anyway as part of alcohol withdrawal. Sadly, feeling pressured and anxious can make even the most disciplined individual more prone to suffering a relapse.

Two people drinking coffee and facing each other at a table

3. A Smaller Chance of Relapse

Also referred to as “falling off the wagon” or “going off the rails”, relapse is a very real concern for anyone thinking about quitting alcohol.

What makes the thought of returning to alcohol worse is the way our society perceives relapse – as a failure, or someone’s fault for not taking care of themselves properly during detox.

In reality, it’s far more complicated than this, and many addicted individuals relapse multiple times before they achieve recovery.

In spite of this, relapse [7] is something that can and should be avoided if you know your triggers and do all you can to protect yourself early in recovery.

While not fully relapse-proof (because nothing truly is), tapering down your alcohol intake rather than going cold turkey can reduce your chances of drinking again.

But why is this? When considering how tapering can reduce the threat of relapse, it’s important to consider our previous points – lessened withdrawal symptoms and decreased stress levels.

Stress is one of the leading causes of relapse, especially among those who have used alcohol as a coping mechanism to cope with feelings of low mood or anxiety.

Research indicates that, during stressful situations, people feel more intense cravings for alcohol than before, as it has until this point been their go-to anxiety reliever. 

While going cold turkey, individuals are more likely to experience stress, either through severe withdrawal symptoms or the pressure that comes with suddenly quitting alcohol.

In contrast, those who taper down their drinking may have fewer severe withdrawal symptoms because they are easing themselves into sobriety.

4. Tapering Allows You to Create And Stick To a Schedule

The very act of tapering down alcohol intake comes down to planning.

Whether you’re creating your own tapering schedule after being cleared by a doctor, or working through one that has been created for you, you’ll be reaping the rewards of having a routine. 

Deciding to quit alcohol, albeit gradually, is definitely a big life decision, but having a tapering schedule can help retain mental and emotional stability.

The predictability of reducing your alcohol intake by a pre-decided amount each day can help reduce anxiety and stress.

This, in turn, will make you less likely to suffer a relapse during this vulnerable stage of early recovery.

What’s more, being dependent on alcohol often robs people of their sense of purpose, making them feel as if they are powerless in their day-to-day lives.

Having a tapering schedule and timeline put in place for you can help reintroduce a much-needed sense of autonomy.

Tapering is not an open-ended process, and having an end date in mind can be a great way to stick to your routine and celebrate small daily achievements.

Discuss the benefits of tapering as a form of alcohol addiction treatment by calling us on 0800 088 66 86

The Cons of Tapering Down

Women talking 1-1

Unfortunately, no treatment method comes without its disadvantages, and part of the reason for this is that each human experience is different.

For some people, gradually cutting down on the amount of alcohol they drink simply does not work, especially if they attempt to do so at home surrounded by relapse triggers.

While they might partially complete their tapering schedule, they can soon find themselves drinking again for a number of reasons.

1. Tapering At Home Requires A Lot Of Self-Discipline

Many people who cannot afford to enter rehab or do not believe their alcohol problem is severe enough will design and attempt to stick to their taper at home. While this might work well for some, it can be just as dangerous as cold turkey for others.

This is because, as you can imagine, sticking to a tapering schedule when you have an addiction requires a huge amount of discipline. This is perhaps the biggest disadvantage of tapering as a detox method when attempted without medical assistance.

Maintaining the motivation to cut down your alcohol use more each day can be a struggle when surrounded by relapse triggers.

During the process, you’ll have access to alcohol in the home, or you’ll be able to leave your house and purchase some, with increased stress making this outcome all the more likely.

Oftentimes, someone’s alcohol intake can creep back up without them realizing it, or they may seek to justify the decision by putting it down to anxiety.

2. It’s A Slower Detox Process

Even for the most patient individuals, tapering down your alcohol intake can be a slow process that tests your resilience, and it should never be rushed.

As we’ve explored, a good taper relies on slowly reducing the number of drinks you have daily, and for someone desperate to start their sobriety, this can be a frustrating length of time to wait.

The standard tapering process should start by increasing the time between drinks, before either drinking less or reducing the alcohol percentage present in these beverages.

Over time, the gap between drinks will continue to increase until alcohol consumption has reached zero. This lengthy process can take weeks or months depending on the individual’s severity, how long they’ve been drinking, and the alcohol percentage of their usual drinks.

Furthermore, if someone is starting to feel impatient, they might rush to reach an earlier date for sobriety, which can increase the chance not only of relapsing but of experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

It’s important to note here that, while the cold turkey method might seem like the antidote for this situation, suddenly stopping carries its own dangers.

Therapy talk

3. Prolonged Alcohol Exposure

As we all know, alcohol doesn’t exactly do wonders for our physical or mental health. Even in small doses, alcohol is a toxic substance, and drinking will further damage your well-being.

For every day, week, or month that someone is tapering down their alcohol intake, their body and brain are being damaged by alcohol to some degree. This factor puts many people off the tapering method, especially if they think the process will take a while. 

4. Tapering Might Not Be The Answer For Milder Addictions

If you’re accustomed to drinking heavily, going cold turkey could be life-threatening and a medically supervised taper might be the only way to manage withdrawal.

However, this isn’t the case for everyone.

There are certain situations in which stopping suddenly can be safe, and even more beneficial than an alcohol taper.

For example, someone might not be addicted to alcohol and simply want to quit drinking for good, so reducing their intake from a few drinks per week to none doesn’t require much tapering.

This way, they can be free of the substance sooner, and continue with other health-related goals they might have.

In cases of mild alcohol addiction, cold turkey can be an effective method providing the right support is put in place. This might involve attending a local Alcoholics Anonymous group, regularly checking in with a doctor, or keeping loved ones in the loop and nearby during the early stages of detox.

However, the decision to quit alcohol cold-turkey must be approved by a medical professional, GP, or addiction specialist. Only after you’ve been medically cleared and deemed high functioning enough for this route should you consider a cold turkey approach.

To learn about the cons of tapering for alcohol addiction, give our team a call on 0800 088 66 86

Different Tapering Strategies and Deciding Which Is Best For You


When it comes to tapering down your alcohol intake, there are two main strategies: a direct taper and a substitution taper.

The method that you choose to go for will depend on your needs as an individual, as well as the quantities of alcohol you’re currently exposed to.

A direct taper is perhaps the most common method and involves the classic approach of decreasing the number of drinks to have daily, or weekly.

In contrast, a substitution taper means switching from stronger drinks to weaker ones as a method of decreasing alcohol’s effects. For example, you might switch a spirit such as vodka or whiskey for a weaker alternative, such as beer or cider.

For help determining what the best type of tapering is for your needs, call us today on 0800 088 66 86

How Do I Know If My Drinking Habits Are Something To Worry About?

Open conversation

After reading this article, you might be wondering whether an alcohol taper or quitting alcohol in general could be in your future.

Because drinking is so commonplace and normalised in our society, hazardous drinking can often go unnoticed or be played down. 

Fortunately, there’s a whole world of resources, both in person and online, that can help you gain clarity on whether your drinking is a cause for concern.

Before seeking help from your GP, or a member of the Rehab Recovery team, a great place to start is accessing an online self-assessment.

Designed by medical authorities, these clinical surveys can help you determine the nature of your relationship with alcohol and decide whether to take action.

Do you think your alcohol use might be something to worry about? Talk it over with our experts on 0800 088 66 86

The CAGE Questionnaire

Person researching on laptop

The simple CAGE assessment [9] was designed by doctors to consist of just 4 questions which make up its acronym.

These are:

  • Cut-down
  • Annoyed
  • Guilty
  • Eye-opener

Each of these points forms an integral component of Alcohol Use Disorder and problem drinking.

If you choose to take the CAGE test, which can be completed in a few short minutes, you’ll encounter these questions:

  1. Have you ever felt that you should cut down or limit the amount of alcohol you drink?
  2. Have people in your life annoyed or irritated you by criticising your drinking habits?
  3. Has your drinking ever made you guilty in some way?
  4. Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves: also known as an “eye-opener”?

These questions are designed to be answered in a simple way, either a “yes” or “no” response. As you’d expect, answering yes to most of, if not all of the CAGE queries puts you at risk of having a diagnosable alcohol addiction.

On the other hand, answering yes to just one of the questions puts you at very little risk at all.

Learn more about the CAGE Questionnaire by giving our team a call today on 0800 088 66 86

The Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT)

Man with laptop

This test is a bit more extensive than CAGE and was designed collaboratively by top members of The World Health Organisation (WHO) to diagnose alcohol addiction.

Because of this, it can be used by doctors, mental health professionals, and anyone who feels concerned about their drinking habits.

AUDIT consists of 10 questions that comprehensively cover each symptom of AUD. While the first 3 questions focus more on consumption habits, 4 through 6 screens for dependence, and the final three questions (7-10) cover behavioural and social indicators.

Find everything you need to successfully overcome alcohol addiction by giving our expert team a call today on 0800 088 66 86











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