How Tapering Medications Can Help Beat Drug Addiction
Drug and alcohol withdrawal can be extremely painful, and in some cases, fatal, especially when done alone or “cold turkey.” Thankfully, many methods of drug and alcohol detoxing exist which allow you to safely withdraw in a controlled environment.
One such method is tapering, a strategy used to help you safely detox with minimal pain and discomfort. In relation to medication, tapering means gradually weaning off a substance in order to minimize withdrawal symptoms.
What is drug and alcohol tapering?
Be it alcohol, opioids, benzodiazepines or the like, a sudden shift from routine usage to no usage can cause the body to go into a state of shock. The substance it has relied on for so long is suddenly gone, and the brain can’t be expected to return to its natural ways of functioning that quickly. For this reason, tapering may be the best strategy to safely wean yourself off substance use.
Drug and alcohol tapering means slowly reducing the dosage over a scheduled period of time to help ease the body away from relying on the chemicals and instead training it to return to producing those chemicals naturally. This benefits the body by decreasing withdrawal symptoms and limiting cravings for the substance.
Tapering is often used when detoxing from a wide range of substances, including:
When withdrawing from these substances, any number of withdrawal symptoms may arise depending on the substance, including the following:
Changes in mood and appetite
In severe cases, withdrawal can lead to seizures, hallucinations, and suicidal thoughts. Although many people try to taper drugs on their own, you should always consult a doctor before tapering. This is especially true when you are addicted to illegal drugs, any kind of opioid or benzodiazepine, or alcohol.
Is tapering only for those struggling with addiction?
While tapering is often effectively used with detoxing from drug and alcohol addiction, it is also a method many doctors use to help their patients stop pain prescription use. Drugs like opioids and benzodiazepines, for example, can create drug dependence and withdrawal—even with perfect prescription use.
If addiction is not a concern, you may be able to slowly taper off your prescription without too much intervention. Nevertheless, you should always taper under the supervision of your doctor by closely following your personalized tapering plan.
What if drug tapering isn’t an option?
Sometimes it’s simply not safe to continue using a drug at all. Heroin, for example, is often manufactured and sold on the street, so doctors and addiction professionals have no way of knowing if the drug is pure or safe to use in any capacity. For this reason, safely weaning off heroin isn’t an option.
Instead of giving you more heroin in smaller doses over time, doctors may use opioid replacement therapy. This alternative to tapering replaces the illegal opioid you are using with safer, non-addictive prescription medication. Once you have stopped using heroin, your doctors will use the replacement medication in your tapering plan to help your body’s systems return to their natural state.
Similarly, alcohol is usually not involved in alcohol detox, even though the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be fatal. Instead, doctors use controlled doses of benzodiazepines to help you through the worst parts of withdrawal. This is usually referred to as medication-assisted treatment.
Is tapering an option for me?
Tapering – especially if you are beginning to feel dependent on a substance like prescription medication – is an effective method of slowly training your body to return to its natural processes with minimal withdrawal symptoms. However, it may not be a possible treatment for everyone depending on the nature of the addiction; this is why it’s important to work closely with your doctor or mental health therapist to create the best plan for your detox process and recovery.
If you are struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, the best place to taper or access medication-assisted treatment is an accredited detox facility. At Freedom Detox, all our treatment programs are designed to help you manage your withdrawal symptoms and get unwanted substances out of your body. Detox is one of the hardest steps of recovery, but we will help you get clean and prepare for the next step of your recovery journey.
The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as medical advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, a doctor-patient relationship.