What Substances Should You Taper Down From in Addictions Rehab?

Overcoming an addiction to drugs and alcohol is difficult under the best of circumstances, especially when you consider how bad withdrawal symptoms can get. Some people think they can just quit their drug of choice cold turkey and tough out the inevitable withdrawal, but that really isn’t an option with some substances.

You might be able to handle something that only makes you sick and irritable for a few days, but abruptly quitting some substances can cause serious and potentially life-threatening complications. You need to taper down from these substances to quit them safely, preferably in a controlled environment as part of a rehab program. If you’re not sure whether it’s safe to quit a drug cold turkey, don’t hesitate to call us at any time or speak to your doctor for advice. Otherwise, you should always think twice before trying to give up these substances on your own.


Opioids include narcotic prescription painkillers like morphine, OxyContin, and Vicodin as well as the illegal street drug heroin. Opioid addiction is an epidemic that affected over 2 million people in 2014, and those numbers have only increased in recent years, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps the most insidious thing about opioids is how addictive they really are.

Even if you take a prescription opioid as directed, it’s still possible to become addicted to it, and withdrawal symptoms can begin about 12 hours after you’ve taken your previous dose. Some of the symptoms of opioid withdrawal include:

  • insomnia
  • chills
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • difficulty breathing
  • nausea
  • irregular heartbeat

As you can probably guess, these symptoms are very dangerous and can be life-threatening in severe cases. The best way to manage these symptoms is to slowly lower the dosage of the medication that you are taking so you can taper off of it with minimal symptoms and side effects. Many of the symptoms can also be managed through medical detox.


Alcohol may be one of the most dangerous addictive substances to quit cold turkey. Roughly half of all people addicted to the substance will experience withdrawal symptoms, and between three to five percent will experience delirium tremens, which can be fatal. Alcohol works by increasing the presence of gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, in the brain. GABA is a natural tranquilizer that slows down the body’s stress response, providing a relaxed and mellow feeling. Alcohol also increases the presence of dopamine, which affects the pleasure center of the brain.

All of this is why you feel relaxed and happy when you drink alcohol. The problem is that when you stop drinking, your nervous system essentially snaps back, which leads to some drastic side effects such as an increased heart rate, sweating, depression, and insomnia. The more you drink, the harsher these side effects can be. In severe cases, alcohol is often replaced in one’s system by another central nervous system depressant. The patient then tapers off of that medication to ease the withdrawal symptoms as much as possible.


Benzodiazepines such as Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, and Ativan work much like alcohol in that they increase the levels of GABA in one’s system. They are very addictive, even when they are prescribed and taken as directed, and they can cause withdrawal symptoms similar to those caused by alcohol. These withdrawal symptoms can be very dangerous and even life-threatening, which is why doctors recommend tapering off of any prescription benzodiazepine when you no longer need to take it.

If you do check into a drug rehab program to overcome an addiction to any of these medications, you generally need to undergo medical detox before you begin the rest of your treatment. While it is possible to overcome a mild addiction to any of these substances by going cold turkey, it is never recommended. The withdrawal effects are almost always too severe to handle on your own, even if they aren’t life-threatening. If you or anyone you know has a substance abuse problem and would like to become sober, do not hesitate to contact us anytime at 833-820-2922. We will be happy to assist you and find a detox program that can help you recover.