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07/07/2012 11:04 AM

How I "Tapered Off" Alcohol

MoonWatcher
MoonWatcherPosts: 742
Group Leader

This forum is about alcoholic liver disease, not detox and recovery, but I wanted to document how I got free for the benefit of those still drinking who may surf through this forum looking for help. There's very little written about alternatives to the traditional benzodiazepine/medical detox, and I had to learn from trial and error.

The medical detox train can take you away from alcohol in the blink of an eye with the help of prescribed benzodiazepine drugs which prevent withdrawal symptoms and "tranquilize away" anxiety. The problem with this form of detox is the high doses of these benzos that are required, and the risk of addiction if you remain on them for too long. Doctors typically try to wean you off the benzos in two weeks or less, leaving you shaken and sick, dealing with Post Acute Withdrawal from alcohol and a big benzo let-down as you try to live without them at the same time.

Some doctors will extend the benzo prescription when patients run into trouble, often winding up with a patient who is now addicted to benzos and also prone to alcoholic relapse, as so many alcoholics are. This type of relapse all too often results in disaster, and there have been several well publicized accounts of this in celebrity deaths in the past year or so. I work in "security sensitive" jobs (teaching and medicine), so I was worried about the implications substance abuse treatment might have on my employment. With very little help written on alternative detox methods, I set out on my own, after over 30 years of alcohol dependence to see if there might be another way.

As most drinkers know, once you have your first drink of the day willpower vanishes into thin air, so I figured delaying the time of my first drink might be the key. I did not drink during the day all week, as my workday starts at 6:AM, but weekends were another matter altogether. Saturday and Sunday brunch were less about what I wanted to eat, and more about what I wanted to drink! I still remember ordering my first "ice tea" at lunch one fine Saturday. I saw my girlfriend out of the corner of my eye lowering her menu and looking at me with surprise. I think I was actually more surprised by the words coming out of my mouth than she was. "I'm thinking on cutting back dear, I'll have a drink with you tonight after dinner". With these words I started a process in motion I was determined to follow through with... And I DID! I hadn't a clue if it would work at the time, but I wanted to try before I admitted I was "helpless" as the first step in most recovery programs require.

Rule #1: If you can't stop drinking during the day, a taper detox isn't going to work for you! Most distressing alcohol detox symptoms do not begin until 18 to 24 hours after your last drink, so this should be a doable thing. If you're an all day drinker and can't get past this, then "get thee to a doctor" for a proper medical detox!

With the weekend behind me, I set out to work on my evening beer-fest issues. Popping a brewski shortly after walking in the door after work was a habit ingrained over several decades for me, and getting around this would be difficult. I wanted to wait till after dinner to have a few drinks before bed, but sitting in my magic chair sipping water and watching the clock wasn't cutting it for me. I found some help in purchasing some non-alcohol beer, and drinking this before dinner. It tasted like water that may have had some bread soaking in it, but the bubbles and routine of having something to quaff worked. I was now down to about half my weekly alcohol consumption. Hey! This detox stuff is easy (I thought to myself). It actually wasn't that easy at all, but I was doing it, and it was working!

When it came to not drinking immediately after dinner was done, I began running into trouble. Going back to the non-alcohol beer and watching the clock after dinner was driving me insane. I had been good all day and all afternoon; I had finished my dinner and it was time for a drink! Tincture of time did not solve this problem and I was having a terrible time getting below my 50% alcohol consumption rate. I was also starting to get withdrawal symptoms! Breaking into sweats at work, anxiety, and anorexia, and something I never experienced before in my life... Depression!

It was "do or die" time, and after about a month at my 50% drinking level, with my withdrawal symptoms easing up a bit, I finally found a solution to my problem... Delaying dinner! This wasn't easy as I had been tucking into dinner a bit early in order to get at my little ration of alcohol after dinner. The fix for this issue turned out to be not going home right after work, but going to the mall, for a walk in the woods or by the waterfront for a couple hours after work. The waterfront turned out to be a remarkable therapy as there were a lot of homeless alcoholics there. I would look at them and think to myself, NOT ME! I'm going to get past this!

It was Springtime, and the long hours of daylight helped a lot. I would get home from my "wandering therapy" around sunset, have a light dinner and tuck into my now REDUCED ration of alcohol. I was soon down to 3 light beers a night! I was still having some distressing symptoms... PAWS! (Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome) so I now relaxed my determination and adopted a kinder/gentler scheduled reduction in my evening tipple. I would allow myself several weeks between each step down now. The countdown took a couple more months to complete, but went remarkably well. As I was drinking less, I had more willpower. I became so confident I wasn't even worried about a relapse at this point and I didn't sweat extending the taper.

I had thought making the final jump to sobriety would be the hard part of this detox but it turned out the end of my drinking days was more of a non-event. I was down to 1 (ONE) light beer a night for several weeks and had been surfing the web for a while after dinner when I realized it was bed time and I still hadn't had my evening treat. I smiled to myself and thought "do I really need this?" The answer to this question was a surprising NO! I hit the sack without any alcohol at all and slept like a baby.

I was free! No doctor, no drugs, no cold turkey withdrawal, no time off work, and no record of substance abuse/detox in my medical records or at work! Was it easy? Noooo! Would I recommend this? Yes! If you've been drinking for many years, detoxing off alcohol can be very traumatic to your body, brain and spirit. If you have the willpower to do this over several months (rather than only 2 weeks in a medical program), I have found it to be a more rewarding rather than traumatic experience. I felt like the king of the world when I realized I had the power to do this on my own.

The interesting thing about a taper detox is, even if you find you can't manage to follow this method to sobriety, If you can get down to the 50% level for 30 days or so, you'll have a much easier time with a medical/benzo detox. You'll need lower doses of benzodiazepine drugs, which will mean less likelihood of addiction and an easier time coming off these meds.

Perhaps the best thing abut a taper detox is... You don't have to talk with your doctor... You don't have to talk with your boss... You may not have to discuss it all that much with your family... You don't even have to set a date... You can start TODAY!

Best of Luck to you, however you go.

Post edited by: MoonWatcher, at: 09/30/2012 10:43 PM

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11/16/2012 10:02 PM
MoonWatcher
MoonWatcherPosts: 742
Group Leader

Hi mike221, and thanks for visiting my little post!

A "benzo detox" is the standard of care for alcohol withdrawal... Most recommend some kind of supervision/caregiver or program included with the meds, and a lot depends upon what kind of relationship you have established with your doc.

I had only one benzo detox back in 1991. I had my wife with me at the doctors office and she is an RN, so he didn't think twice about prescribing the Librium.

Things may be different now. I've read in England a home health care nurse stops by every day during the first week or two to drop off your daily dose of benzos and some require an alcohol breath test before you get your pills. They then usually want you on antabuse to keep you off alcohol if you require an extended prescription of benzos.

Age may be another factor... A lone young patient looking for drugs to get off alcohol may not have much luck, but it's surprising how free and easy doctors are about prescribing meds with older patients. When I first started my detox odyssey, I wanted some Librium on hand in case I got into trouble. My doc was very casual about it and zipped off a scrip for 3 fills of 30 pills each.

Once I got home with my Librium, I realized I really didn't want to quit drinking "today", so I started my taper. I knew if this didn't work I'd be on the pills, and no more alcohol ever; and it was this desire not to have to quit drinking for good today (or even tomorrow) that motivated me to keep working with my taper. Picking a quit date is hard... Starting a taper is easy... You start today!

Two mistakes I made when I started weaning were: 1, starting to drink at my normal time, and trying to hit the sack early. When I did this, I found I couldn't sleep, as it wasn't bedtime, and not having my normal buzz only complicated things. Mistake #2 was starting to drink at my normal time, but drinking my reduced ration much slower, so I could try to sleep at my normal time. What I found when I tried this was, my body was metabolizing alcohol literally as fast as I was drinking it (at the slower rate), and although I had drank enough alcohol to get a good buzz at my normal rate, I now had no buzz at all and again could not sleep.

What worked was delaying the start of my evening tipple, and then drinking at my normal rate, timing my reduced ration of alcohol to end right at my normal bed time. When I did this, I found that although it was rather distressing climbing into bed without being sloshed, I could in fact get to sleep! Yes, I then started waking up feeling incredibly sober in the middle of the night, but instead of getting up and drinking more, I would lay in bed and think about what would become of me if I failed to detox this way. I would have to switch to a benzo detox, and no more alcohol ever!

When I started my taper, I thought the first part would be the easy part, and as my ration dwindled down to 1 or 2 drinks a night, I would have problems. What I learned was, exactly the opposite was true. Getting down to 50% of my old daily dose and never backsliding was the hardest month. Once I got past this, I became very empowered and continued the countdown... 3, 2, 1, ZERO!

No one was more surprised than I was once I got free... I just tried really, really hard to do it "my way", and this is what worked for me. What ever way works for you is the way you should go. You've just got to keep trying until you succeed.


11/17/2012 06:56 AM
mrultra
Posts: 89
Member

For sure the physical aspects are probably the initial immediate problem but i have to think the recurring issues stems more from the associations and habits made with sustained daily consumption. I had no issues at all with a cold turkey approach but even two months post it's the associations and habits that were formed over the years that prove to be more of a challenge. For instance, used to love a beer or two after a good hard run. Cut the grass, have a beer or two. yard work all day splitting/stacking wood, beer. I'm told by ex-smokers this is true for them. they're used to lighting up after a meal or with a cup of coffee or whenever.

Habits are formed over long periods and not easily overcome.

One thing i found is that, while i never substituted beer for meals i would over the course of a long day doing yard work or after a long run never get hungry because of the calories and full-feeling beer provides. So - now i make sure when i feel the least bit hungry to get something in the stomach immediately.

Being only two months post i'm sure if or when these issues will ever resolve. i do know now that, thanks to sites like this and being armed with the specifics just how horrible liver disease is i'm confident i'll never go back to those old habits.


01/27/2014 09:05 PM
healthchoice
Posts: 1
New Member

Thanks for all the info. You are an amazing writer and I am not!! LOL

I have been a drinker for many years. I have however quit a few times during those years.

Usually I can make it to the six month period and then fall on my face. Each time I start drinking again, it gets worse. I drink MORE!

My drinking career started out with beer, than I graduated to wine and this last time went straight to tequila. The last time I quit I had started to drink during the day. This time I've been drinking 24/7 for about the last month or so. I don't know the time frame because I don't remember.

I did notice one thing though....my drinking is up and I am a functioning alcoholic. No one even knows I have a buzz on. As an alcoholic you can be very sneaky.

So in the last few weeks I have been experiencing the shaking thing. Today I had some withdrawals FIRST THING IN THE MORNING. I felt like I had been run over by a freight train. I went to my personal trainer to do a one hour workout and I was dizzy to the point were I had to sit down between sets. I was also very out of breath. We cut the workout at 45mins because she could see I was really struggling.

When I arrived at work, I felt nauseous, dizzy and my husband said I looked pale. Luckily we have a couch in the office, so I laid down and took a nap. The rest of the day I felt jittery and wiped out. Oh and one of my employees asked me why I was shaking. To my fear....it's noticeable! Crap!

I'm very scared now and I know I NEED to quit, but I don't think I can go cold turkey this time. I'm strong willed and determined when I choose to be.

I didn't drink during the day today and I only had enough tequila for one shot and enough wine to have one glass. So it was less than the 50%.

Thank you for your help and instructions. I'm going to try this! Wish me luck! Smile


01/28/2014 07:21 PM
MoonWatcher
MoonWatcherPosts: 742
Group Leader

Hello healthchoice, and thanks for the kind words.

Sorry to hear you seem to have wound up in the deep end of the pool... I work in healthcare so I never got to the point where I drank during the day (during the week at least), but I've read detox from the place you're in must be handled very carefully.

When your brain reaches a state where it never experiences complete sobriety for at least 6-12 hours/day or so, physical dependence becomes much more profound. Combine this with the substantially greater depth of intoxication hard liquor can produce and you're probably dealing with a different kind of detox experience than you had in the past.

Getting the shakes when moderately sober is a sign of withdrawal and I've read accounts of some who said they eventually got to a point where they had to set their alarm to wake them up in the night for a drink so they didn't wake up too sick with withdrawals later in the morning.

I got very excited when a taper detox worked for me and wanted to shout from the rooftops: IT CAN BE DONE! This said... I've never tried/experienced a taper detox from a state of prolonged/continuous intoxication, and as I'm not a doctor, I simply couldn't recommend anyone attempt this without medical supervision.

There is a site called "HAMS" http://hamsnetwork.org/ which has a detailed description of an alcohol "weaning detox" you might be interested in here: http://hamshrn.org/taper/

I have NO experience with this type of detox myself and can not endorse their methods, but I found it interesting and wanted to provide the link for those researching different ways to get clean and healthy. Their description of the dangers of "kindling" and the increased risk of substantial withdrawal symptoms in those with a history of multiple detoxes is especially important to consider.

Safety should always be the prime directive of any form of detox one might consider and when one finds themselves in the deep end of the pool, a medical setting is probably the safest way to go.

Good Luck and GodSpeed to you as you seek a better future for yourself, those you love, and those who love you!

Post edited by: MoonWatcher, at: 01/28/2014 07:27 PM

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