Drug and alcohol rehab can be a life-changing experience for someone struggling with addiction. However, the process of weaning off medications or substances is sometimes difficult enough to discourage many people from seeking the help they need. While the symptoms of withdrawal are often uncomfortable, in some cases they can be life-threatening.

To help promote safety and long-term recovery, many treatment programs have begun to offer drug tapering. By tapering off drugs or alcohol gradually instead of discontinuing use all at once, clients have the opportunity to focus on their treatment and begin the lifelong work of recovery.

What is Tapering?

When someone is physically addicted to a drug, their body and brain chemistry can change dramatically. That’s why many people experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop taking an addictive substance, especially in cases of long-term or heavy use, because their body and brain can no longer function normally without the presence of the drug. While some of these symptoms can be uncomfortable, others may be life-threatening. This is especially true in instances involving alcoholopioid and benzodiazepine addiction.

To help alleviate severe withdrawal symptoms and promote long-term recovery, many rehabilitation centers have begun to incorporate drug tapering into their treatment programs. Tapering is defined as the process of slowly decreasing the amount of an addictive substance taken over time. When done under the care of experienced medical professionals, tapering can help the body gradually adjust to sobriety, and allow patients to find relief from many severe withdrawal symptoms. However, because it’s easy to accidentally take too much of a taper medication, it’s important that people tapering off alcohol or drugs only do so under professional care.

In recent years, drug tapering has become a commonly adopted practice in the rehabilitation community. To standardize this practice, the American Society of Addiction Medicine provides clinicians and physicians with a set of guidelines that help them taper patients off drugs in the safest and most effective way possible.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that drug tapering and withdrawal management are not the same as comprehensive drug or alcohol treatment. Tapering is most successful when it is part of a larger program that also involves clinical work, including individual and group therapy.

Tapering Methods

There are three primary methods of tapering: direct tapering, substitute tapering and titration tapering. Which of the three tapering methods are used during treatment is determined on a case-by-case basis depending on the client’s medical history and current condition.

Direct Tapering 

The most straightforward method of tapering, direct tapering involves reducing the amount of a drug that an individual takes gradually. In many cases, the amount of the substance consumed is slowly decreased on a weekly basis, until the individual can stop use completely without experiencing any unmanageable withdrawal symptoms. Direct tapering is most effective in instances where a person has been consuming high doses of a long-acting substance, or a substance that doesn’t build up in the bloodstream.

Substitution Tapering

In cases where people are addicted to illicit, short-acting or low-dose substances, substitution tapering may be used. Substitution tapering involves replacing the drug of abuse with a similar, but more easily tapered substance. By replacing the original substance with controlled amounts of a medication with a lower abuse potential, medical professionals can precisely and gradually decrease an individual’s daily dose.

Related Topic: Opioid replacement therapy

Titration Tapering

Titration tapering involves dissolving a small amount of a low-dose drug in water. Typically, this is done to further dilute a substance and decrease the amount ingested by small amounts on a daily basis.

Titration tapering is rarely used in clinical settings and carries a significant amount of risk. It should never be attempted without professional supervision. Some drugs are not water-soluble, which means that their concentration cannot be diluted in water. This may lead an individual to take a larger amount of a substance than intended, increasing the risk of overdose. Measuring the specific dose ingested in each diluted solution is nearly impossible without professional medical equipment, which can further increase the risk of overdose or ineffective tapering.

How The Recovery Village Uses Tapering

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to recovery. For treatment to be effective, it must be tailored to each individual’s needs. While some people benefit significantly from drug tapering, others do better with more conventional medical detox care.

At The Recovery Village, we meet clients where they are by providing them with comprehensive treatment that works for them. In cases where it is deemed medically appropriate, this may involve drug tapering. However, withdrawal management is only a small part of care at The Recovery Village.

To help clients address both the physical and psychological aspects of addiction, The Recovery Village offers a continuum of treatment with multiple levels of care, including:

During each stage of treatment, clients participate in individual, group and recreational therapies that address co-occurring disorders and identify the underlying drivers of addiction. As they gradually step down to less intensive levels of treatment, clients gain the skills and confidence needed to recognize triggers, resist cravings and lead a rewarding life in recovery.

If you or someone you love struggles with addiction, The Recovery Village is here to help. Reach out to a representative today to learn more about our treatment options, or to get started.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.