Should you taper off alcohol or quit cold turkey?
You’ll probably consider quitting drinking when you realize that alcohol negatively affects your life. It may simply be for health reasons or you’ve begun to develop alcohol dependence. Whatever the reason, you’ll be at a crossroads.
You can take the route of quitting cold turkey, suddenly excluding all alcohol from your life. Or you can taper off alcohol, slowly reducing your intake until you’ve reached a manageable level (or have stopped completely).
For some, quitting cold turkey can lead to uncomfortable or sometimes dangerous side effects called alcohol withdrawal syndrome, shocking a system that’s become dependent on alcohol. Furthermore, quitting cold turkey is a form of forced abstinence, which is shown to increase anxiety and depression, or substituting alcohol for other risky behaviors. For many, eventually you’ll reach a breaking point and relapse into drinking that was worse than before.
Tapering off alcohol may take longer, but it’s a safer alternative. It should also be done with medical support or using proven strategies like The Sinclair Method. Here are some weaning tips to help you regain control of your life.
How should you taper off alcohol?
Alcohol dependency can be dangerous, and you may feel its effects even with tapering. It’s not uncommon to have shaking hands, sweats, fever, and irritability even after reducing your drinking a little bit. There are several strategies you can try based on your current drinking habits. A disadvantage of tapering is that the length of time varies from person to person. If you’re doing it alone, it also takes longer, and the chances of relapse are higher.
Start by assessing your current drinking habits.
Keep a record of how much you drink daily for 1-2 weeks to get an idea of your typical routine. Include the types of drinks you consume, the number, and when and where you drink them. In addition, take notice of any times you feel hungover or overwhelmed due to alcohol consumption. Tracking will give you a better idea of the amount and types of alcohol you’re currently consuming and help you develop an achievable goal for yourself.
Set a goal
Once you’ve established your average drinking pattern, it’s time to set a clear goal of what you want to achieve. Ask yourself a few questions to determine the right plan for your situation:
- What percentage of my typical daily alcohol intake do I want to cut?
- When do I want my alcohol consumption to reach that percentage?
- Are my family members on board to help me reach my goal?
- What healthy habits will I need to incorporate to help overcome the temptation to overindulge in alcohol?
Once you have established your goal, write it down and keep a copy visible in a place where you’ll see it regularly. This will remind you what you’re working towards and help keep you on track. You can also use your phone or an app with notifications to track your progress.
Choose your tapering method.
This newfound data allows you to choose the best method to taper off your alcohol:
- You can reduce the number of drinks you have per session. For instance, moving from 12 drinks to 8, then 6, and so on.
- Switch to drinks with less alcohol content.
- Space out the time that you drink per session. Have a drink every hour instead of one every 30 minutes.
- Try substitution. Instead of whiskey, switch to less intense wine or beer instead. Or you can switch to a drink you don’t like quite as much but want to try out. Even better is to swap out a non-alcoholic drink in between alcoholic drinks. That cuts consumption by roughly 50% while still retaining many of the nuanced pleasures of drinking, such as sipping and enjoying the taste of your drink in a more relaxed way.
Try different methods to determine which one is the most effective. Then, track your progress and stick to the plan, getting your loved ones involved if possible.
7 Strategies To Taper Off Alcohol
Tapering off alcohol does require some degree of discipline and willpower. Sometimes you’ll believe another drink or two is harmless. Or you can let yourself go and then go back to normal tomorrow. However, these are the moments when you can relapse, undoing most of your work. The length of time can also cause frustrations to build. You’ll need other strategies and lifestyle changes to keep you on track. Try these to maximize your chances of success.
1. Consider adding The Sinclair Method.
The Sinclair Method (TSM) was developed in the mid-90s to help safely reduce alcohol use and eliminate it entirely as an option.
When you drink, the alcohol content causes the brain to release endorphins. These endorphins trigger additional proteins to create dopamine, a neurochemical known for starting feelings of reward and pleasure. The more dopamine released, the more the body and brain look forward to drinking. Over time, we become dependent on alcohol to achieve this feeling, even at the expense of physical health or relationships, leading to alcohol use disorder (AUD).
The Sinclair Method calls for taking a naltrexone tablet about 1-2 hours before drinking. Naltrexone is a unique medication that disrupts endorphin and dopamine activity, meaning you won’t get the same reward as before. By pairing the drug with alcohol use – and avoiding using it at all other times – you retrain the brain and body’s relationship with alcohol. The goal of the Sinclair Method is to reach extinction of alcohol use disorder or excess drinking through a tapering process that’s helped along by the naltrexone, and when employed optimally, usually with the assistance of coaching or counseling, the results are fantastic and can be life-changing. Tapering with medical help is more achievable, helping you to regain control over something unavoidable in our culture.
2. Find productive dopamine hits.
Dopamine is not a bad thing. It’s our body’s original way of rewarding behaviors that kept us alive and allowed us to survive and thrive. Unfortunately, alcohol and other drugs make dopamine hits easier and cause them to fire in response to nothing-activities, where there’s no survival or thriving goal involved. The brain gets tricked to pulsate dopamine when it shouldn’t, and our natural reward cycle gets thrown out of whack. While you taper off alcohol, finding exciting, enjoyable alternatives is essential. Spend your downtime doing activities that you find fun and rewarding on their own, such as exercise, hiking, biking, exploring, learning a new skill, starting a new project, reconnecting with friends, or helping others in your community. The feeling you get from achievement can provide those same dopamine hits while you’re not drinking and these kinds of behaviors naturally thrust you into a higher level of wellbeing.
3. Manage your cravings.
Cravings are one of the most common symptoms of withdrawal, as your body is longing for the substance that it has become dependent on. To manage cravings, replace your first urge to drink with healthier options, such as drinking water, eating a healthy snack, taking a walk, meditating, or simply spending quality time with friends or family.
4. Watch out for anger, stress, and anxiety.
If you are angry or stressed, it’s easy to resort to alcohol to cope with your feelings. These are common triggers, and when they come, hit pause for a moment, then try to find other ways to cope with your emotions such as being present in the moment and letting the emotions come and go, or noticing the trigger but not engaging with it, or distracting yourself with a go-to activity, such as a hobby you enjoy. You can also seek support from friends and family or enroll in a support group where you can connect with other people who are going through the same difficulties as you.
5. Exercise more.
Some studies have found that regular exercise may effectively reduce the craving for alcohol and the risk of relapse. It can also lessen stress and anxiety levels, improving overall health. Try walking or running in the morning to help release pent-up stress and boost your energy levels for the day ahead. Alternatively, you could enroll in a fitness class, take up yoga or pilates, or try light weight lifting to boost your strength and stamina. Make sure to stick to whatever you do for at least 6-8 weeks to reap the benefits.
6. Be persistent.
Let’s face it; you might have a setback or two. But the most important thing is to keep trying and not give up. Remember that you are strong and that your journey to sobriety will be worth it in the end. So stay positive and motivated to achieve your goals.
7. Have some fun!
One of the most crucial steps to tapering off alcohol is to give yourself time to slow down and relax from time to time. Having fun will improve your mood and reduce any stress you are feeling. More importantly, it does not need to involve alcohol. For example, traveling, playing games, art, comedy, or singing. Try one or try all. The goal is to induce endorphin and dopamine activity in other ways than drinking.
Taper off alcohol safely.
Some may be able to quit cold turkey. Others can deal with their addiction independently and be successful in recovery.
However, most people will need help to reduce alcohol use to healthier levels, especially if they already have a long history of alcohol abuse.
If you are struggling to achieve your goal even with the help of family and friends, consider seeking professional help. You can choose on-demand strategies through Alcure to make alcohol use manageable.