Making the decision to stop using drugs or alcohol is a huge decision, and it’s a difficult one for many people struggling with a substance use disorder. When it comes to detoxing, there are two main ways to do so: quit cold turkey or taper off. Each option has its pros and cons depending on how long you’ve been using, the substance(s) you use, and your previous attempts to detox.

Drug And Alcohol Detox Methods

Let’s take a look at some of the most common methods to detox from drugs and alcohol.

Cold Turkey

Quitting cold turkey involves stopping drug or alcohol use suddenly or abruptly. For many people, quitting drugs or alcohol cold turkey is difficult, especially if they’ve been using for a long period of time.

When you stop using drugs or alcohol, it’s likely that you’ll start to experience withdrawal symptoms. The severity and extent of withdrawal symptoms vary from person to person and from drug to drug. The withdrawal symptoms of someone with an alcohol addiction are different from those of someone with an opiate addiction.

Common withdrawal symptoms, regardless of the type of substance used, include:

  • Sweating.
  • Racing heart.
  • Anxiety.
  • Restlessness.
  • Insomnia.
  • Headaches.
  • Muscle tension.
  • Shivers.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Delirium tremens (DT).
  • Hallucinations.
  • Seizures.

Tapering or Weaning

Because of the dangers of quitting certain drugs cold turkey, such as opiates, another common method of detoxing is tapering or weaning.  Instead of suddenly stopping, tapering off drugs or alcohol involves gradually reducing how often or how much you use over a period of time. For example, you might limit yourself to only using heroin once a day instead of multiple times per day, or you might limit yourself to one drink an hour instead of multiple. Also, some people taper off by spacing out the length of time between using drugs or alcohol.

The idea behind tapering or weaning yourself off of drugs or alcohol is that it reduces the severity of withdrawal symptoms. Unfortunately, there is very little research that shows tapering off reduces the effects of drug or alcohol withdrawal. This is likely because withdrawal symptoms vary from person to person, and there’s no way to compare results between people.

It’s worth noting that tapering does not work for everyone, as not everyone is able to limit themselves to “just one.” Sometimes, a person is able to cut back for a few weeks, but after that, they go back to using at their usual level. Also, even by cutting back, some people still find that they experience withdrawal symptoms.

However, tapering may be necessary for some situations, depending on how long you’ve been using or the type of drugs you typically use. For example, tapering is sometimes recommended when people are highly addicted to drugs such as opiates.

Where To Detox

Some choose to detox at home, and some opt to seek medical help when detoxing from drugs or alcohol. But how do you know which option is right for you?

At Home

The thought of entering a treatment facility is scary and overwhelming for many people, which is why they choose to detox at home.

Although there are safe ways to detox at home, it can be incredibly dangerous depending on the severity of your addiction, how long you’ve been using, and a number of other factors. Plus, if you’ve been using more than one substance, withdrawal symptoms can be worsened or unpredictable.

There are many risks of detoxing at home, including:

  • The severity of your withdrawal symptoms may become life-threatening.
  • Underlying (and untreated) medical issues could be present such as bipolar disorder, high blood pressure, anxiety, or other medical issues could complicate your detox.
  • The root of addiction is left untreated, meaning you’re more likely to start using again.
  • Medical and emotional support is not readily available.

At A Treatment Facility

For many people, the thought of detoxing at a treatment facility never crosses their mind, whether it’s due to money, a lack of support, fear, or something else altogether.
medical detox is highly recommended when it comes to quitting drugs or alcohol. Because withdrawal symptoms vary and can be unpredictable, being under the care of a team of medical professionals gives you the best chance of getting through detox successfully and in the least amount of pain.

When you detox at a treatment facility, you benefit from around the clock care from a team of medical professionals who can help you manage the pain of withdrawal symptoms with certain medications. They’ll also be able to help you address any underlying co-occurring disorders you may have.
Depending on the severity of your addiction, you may also be able to go through a medical detox at home with regularly scheduled check-ins.

Getting The Help You Need

If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance use disorder, help is out there. While you may feel hopeless or stuck right now, just know that it doesn’t have to be this way.

At Orlando Recovery Center, we offer a medical detox program to help you safely withdrawal from drugs and/or alcohol. We know and understand that withdrawal is the hardest part of the process for many people, which is why we provide personalized comfort, support, and treatment. To learn more about how we can help you take the first step toward recovery, contact us today.


8: Medical detoxification. (2016, February). Retrieved December 26, 2016, from

Alcohol Withdrawal: Symptoms, Treatments, Duration, and More. (n.d.). Retrieved December 26, 2016, from

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a 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 provider.