Pros and Cons of Tapering Down Alcohol Intake

If you want to quit drinking, you might want to try to taper off first, instead of stopping suddenly, to try to reduce the severity of possible alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

If you are a daily drinker, a long-time heavy drinker, or a frequent binge drinker, if you suddenly stop drinking altogether, chances are you are going to experience some form of withdrawal symptoms and if you try to quit "on your own" without any kind of medical assistance, those symptoms could become very severe.

Unfortunately, there is little if any research that shows that tapering off actually reduces the effects of alcohol withdrawal. That could be because withdrawal symptoms vary widely from one person to the next, and there is no way to compare results between daily, heavy, or binge drinkers.

The Rationale for Tapering Down Instead of Quitting Drinking Cold Turkey

We do know that tapering off is standard medical practice for other drugs. Patients taking antidepressants, for example, are usually not taken off their medication abruptly but have their dosages gradually reduced.

We also know that products used to help people quit smoking, such as nicotine patches or gum, are designed to gradually wean smokers off nicotine by slowly reducing the amount of nicotine they consume.

Common sense tells us that quitting cold turkey from a 12-beer-a-day habit is going to be more stressful than tapering down slowly. That doesn't mean to suggest that home detox is either an effective or reasonable appropriate.

Generally speaking, alcohol home detox is neither the most effective nor safest method of quitting alcohol. However, it is inexpensive and may be suitable for someone whose job, relationships, and well-being are not in jeopardy.

Strategies for Tapering Alcohol Consumption

The simplest way to taper off your alcohol consumption is to gradually reduce the number of drinks that you usually drink over a period of time. For example, if you usually drink five glasses of wine every day, try cutting back to four glasses for several days and then try to reduce it to three.

Some people taper off by spacing out the length of time between each drink. They may limit themselves to only one drink per hour, for example. Or, they may substitute a glass of water, juice or Gatorade between each alcoholic drink. Some cut back by mixing weaker drinks with less alcohol.

Others try to taper off by changing from the alcoholic beverage that they prefer to one that they do not like. For example, they may try to switch from a beverage that they like (like wine) to one they don't (like beer). That rationale is that they are less likely to drink as much of the beverage they do not like.

If you plan to taper your drinking in order to stop, make sure that you limit your intake consistently, avoid fluctuations, and adhere to a weekly reduction schedule with a set date to stop. Tapering is not an open-ended process.

Challenges of Cutting Down on Alcohol Intake

For some drinkers, cutting down on the amount of alcohol they drink simply does not work. They may cut back for a short period of time, but they soon find themselves back to drinking at their usual level. This is especially true of heavy drinkers who are surrounded by the triggers that encourage drinking and lack the support needed to encourage change.

Those who find that they cannot taper off the number of drinks for any significant length of time probably have developed a severe alcohol use disorder or have become what is commonly known as an alcoholic. For others, simply cutting back the number of drinks can bring on alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Moreover, substituting one kind of beverage for another does not help you taper off alcohol if you consume the same number of standard drinks as you usually have. For example, one 12-ounce can of beer contains the same amount of alcohol as a 5-ounce glass of wine or a mixed drink containing 1.5 ounces of alcohol.

With these things in mind, you need to weigh the pros and cons of tapering your alcohol use—ideally with someone you trust—to make a fully informed decision.

A Word From Verywell

If you find that you are one of those drinkers who cannot taper their alcohol consumption consistently or if you find that you begin to experience withdrawal symptoms by merely cutting back, don't give up.

You don't have to let the fear of alcohol withdrawal stop you from cutting back or quitting. You may decide to seek medical treatment for your withdrawal symptoms or decide to enter a professional detox or rehab center.

Whatever you do, it is better to act than not act. Even if you fail, there are still plenty of treatment options you can turn to. Don't give up.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

  1. Wilson E, Lader M. A review of the management of antidepressant discontinuation symptoms. Ther Adv Psychopharmacol. 2015;5(6):357-68. doi:10.1177/2045125315612334


  2. Ferner RE, Chambers J. Alcohol intake: measure for measure. BMJ. 2001;323(7327):1439-40. doi:10.1136/bmj.323.7327.1439


Additional Reading