The seasoned alcoholic usually can’t stop drinking cold turkey. It’s too painful. The body has acclimated to alcohol and without it, it goes through withdrawal – a process where the body, which is in shock due to not having alcohol, tries to reestablish homeostasis.
Quitting drinking cold turkey is dangerous because it can cause heart palpitations, seizures, and delirium tremens (the DT’s). Any of these things can be fatal. I was lucky and made it through the DTs with only a couple of concussions.
Tapering involves a lot of math and timing. I’ve tapered successfully only a handful of times – slowly cutting back on the number of drinks over a period of days, but it’s a calculating and frustrating endeavor. How much next and when?
But I could never stop cold turkey. I knew better than to try.
Medical detox is the smart move, although it’s not one very many alcoholics want to make. I can’t speak for anyone else, but medical detox for me always brought the idea of never drinking again a whole lot closer to home base. Nurses and doctors and questions. Lots of questions. It’s a real ego ball-buster.
Some people get sober their first time around – regardless of the method they use. Others try different routes and it takes longer. Some don’t make it. It took me 11 years to get sober.
I tried to taper this last time and couldn’t manage it. Quitting gets harder and becomes more painful each time. I had to go to the ER. I spent 10 days in the hospital and another five weeks in my seventh residential treatment center.
That was a year ago this past May and I’ve been sober ever since. Alcohol and drinking must be replaced with something that brings fulfillment, but that’s another blog post.
So – to quit cold turkey or taper? Speak with someone first who knows the difference and can explain the consequences. It’s a ten minute conversation. Try medical detox! And keep trying until it sticks.