Can tapering off alcohol improve withdrawal symptoms?

For the average person, with average drinking habits, tapering down their alcohol intake will likely be an easy step. Whether that’s for health reasons or to follow a ‘go sober’ campaign, lowering the exposure of alcohol is possible for most.

For someone who’s instead looking to withdraw from alcohol, due to a habit, tapering down consumption can go one of two ways. The first is that it can help to ease the overarching withdrawal process, helping to minimise risks of unbearable alcohol withdrawal symptoms. The second is that it can be demotivating, and helpless, where an addict will instead benefit from a medical detox.

Withdrawing from alcohol is a personal process. What works for one individual will not work for the next. Whilst tapering off medications or certain substances may be recommended, this isn’t the case for every alcoholic. Some may experience improvements throughout their withdrawal experience, whilst others may regress and revert to their binge drinking habits.

Due to this, withdrawal strategies should always be recommended on a per-client basis, which we follow here at Step One Recovery. Yet for a general roundup of the average withdrawal, here’s some insight as we consider ‘can tapering off alcohol improve withdrawal symptoms?’.

To overcome an alcohol use disorder, withdrawal is the first step, possible here through a rehab led alcohol detox.


Tapering down instead of quitting cold turkey

Reducing alcohol intake can be achieved by either tapering down consumption or quitting through the cold turkey approach. Both tapering strategies tend to work for certain individuals. For example, someone with a severe dependence on alcohol may benefit from a gradual process, helping to reduce the imminent hard hit of withdrawal symptoms.

At the other end of the scale, some alcoholics will struggle with the ongoing exposure to alcohol, instead of benefitting from an immediate cutoff. Whilst withdrawal symptoms will be a consequence, an urgent approach will be best in the long-term whilst overcoming alcohol addiction.

The withdrawal process can be very unpredictable, all depending on how an individual reacts to low alcohol exposure. For someone who consistently abuses alcohol, the process will expectedly be harder than for someone with mild addictive symptoms. Yet alcohol withdrawal is an uncontrollable process, where the body and brain can react negatively, resulting in withdrawal symptoms.

In hindsight, tapering off alcohol will improve withdrawal symptoms. By slowly reducing alcohol intake through one of the below strategies, the body and brain will have time to adjust, reducing shock and imminent symptoms. With that, the answer for some individuals will be yes to ‘can tapering off alcohol improve withdrawal symptoms?’.

Yet for others, whilst there are risks to a cold turkey approach, heavily linked to an alcohol withdrawal syndrome and delirium tremens, time-sensitive intervention may be required. If tapering off alcohol doesn’t work for you, medical detox will instead be encouraged, used alongside additional treatment options to support heavy drinkers.


How to taper down alcohol consumption

Whilst tapering off alcohol will work for some individuals and help to ease withdrawal symptoms, it can still be a difficult and high-risk process. With that, medical advice and assistance are always recommended whilst following the below tapering strategies.


Set a tapering schedule

It is essential to be organised whilst looking to make such a big change to alcohol intake. Devising a tapering schedule will be key, providing direction and a proactive timeline.


Gradually reduce alcohol intake

A gradual reduction of alcohol can work for some people. Reducing intake by one drink for a number of days/weeks is a slow yet safe way of tapering off alcohol. For example, for someone who consumes on average 10 drinks a day, this will be reduced to 9 drinks for a number of days/weeks, and then subsequently reduced over the schedule.


Spacing out alcohol consumption

If consumption is extremely regular, delaying alcohol intake and spacing out drinks will help to slowly taper off alcohol.


Mixing weaker alcoholic drinks

Some alcoholic drinks have more effects than others. Tapering off spirits and extremely strong substances will be possible by mixing them with weaker options.


Substituting alcohol

Substituting alcohol in between consumption can help to slowly adapt habits and choices.


Challenges of cutting down alcohol

Tapering off alcohol will not suit some individuals and will not noticeably improve withdrawal symptoms. The approach is unreliable as a broad recommendation and can carry many challenges.



Regress is an expected challenge for many alcoholics to overcome. Whilst tapering off alcohol can be maintained for the short-term, for some individuals, regress can be a progressive consequence. Overcoming regress can be tough whilst battling addiction and whilst placed in a negative mindset.


Withdrawal symptoms

Tapering off alcohol can averagely reduce the frequency and strength of side effects, helping to improve the withdrawal process. Yet for some heavy drinkers, symptoms will surface either way. Withdrawal symptoms are expected whilst reducing alcohol intake to any degree.


Continuing to feed an alcohol dependency

A challenge associated with cutting down alcohol is that an addict will still be feeding an alcohol addiction. By switching out certain alcohol drinks or by spreading consumption across a schedule, the addiction cycle will continue to churn. The risk of regression is high, requiring greater intervention.


Common alcohol withdrawal symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to chronic. They can display physically and psychologically, causing both the body and brain to respond to the reduction.

The strength of withdrawal symptoms will usually be influenced by the severity of alcohol addiction, existing wellbeing, existing mental health, gender, and age. Reasonably, the process can be eased for someone who’s relatively well and does not suffer from co-existing conditions. Symptoms can however be unpredictable, which is a risk whilst tapering off alcohol.

Common alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Panic and paranoia
  • Alcohol cravings
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Hallucinations
  • Sweating
  • Poor appetite
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Dizziness
  • Seizures
  • Delirium tremens
  • Alcohol withdrawal syndrome

As withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable, testing, and dangerous, support and treatment is encouraged, offered by medical professionals as alcohol detox.


Getting help through an alcohol detox programme

Whilst tapering off alcohol or following the cold turkey approach may come across as convenient or affordable, both are high-risk, mostly requiring subsequent support. Especially for someone with a dependence on alcohol, a medically assisted and structured detox will instead be recommended.

Medical detox is a safe process, which helps to promote alcohol withdrawal. Alcohol exposure is cut off, following a similar strategy to going cold turkey. Yet with prescription medications to hand, comfortable settings, and supportive therapies, withdrawal symptoms can immediately be improved.

In some instances, more of a tapering schedule will be followed, especially in instances where mental health issues are rife, or where alcohol has been mixed with prescription medications.

Sobriety rates are however found to be stronger when alcohol exposure is stopped and distanced from our clients here at Step One Recovery.

A detox programme can be arranged through one of our alcohol rehab clinics, along with additional treatment to target the psychological symptoms of addiction. Addiction treatment will be essential either way, in order to remain sober.

If you’re wondering ‘can tapering off alcohol improve withdrawal symptoms?’, in some situations it can. Yet in others, it can intensify cravings, symptoms, and the urge to consume alcohol, restarting the addiction cycle. For a sustainable, safe, and reliable withdrawal process, reach out to arrange an alcohol detox.