Different medicine bottles an various pills

What is a drug taper and why is it used?

A medical professional may oftentimes utilize a drug taper while treating a patient who is overcoming a drug addiction. It is often administered when a patient is suffering withdrawal symptoms and the treatment facility seeks to reduce these symptoms.

How does a drug taper work, and what are the benefits of using one?

The medical specialists at the treatment center begin drug tapering by giving the individual a specific amount or dosage of the drug(s) they were taking, and then gradually weaning them off the drugs day by day. This helps to alleviate the withdrawal symptoms that typically accompany drug addiction treatment. The withdrawal symptoms tend to be more extreme the longer a person has been dependent on drugs and the more intense the amount or level of drug usage. The process of tapering a drug helps to alleviate withdrawal symptoms and prevents them from becoming more extreme.

What are the risks associated with tapering off drugs, and how can they be minimized?

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there may be significant hazards associated with tapering, particularly when reducing without the assistance of experienced medical experts at a treatment center. These hazards include acute withdrawal, exacerbation of pain, anxiety, sadness, suicidal ideation, self-harm, and breach of trust (Department of Health and Human Services, 2019). Some useful approaches to prevent or limit these risks include drinking more water or other non-alcoholic drinks, eating healthier and more nutritious meals, practicing deep breathing and stretching, engaging in moderate exercise (including walking), and engaging in positive self-talk (Mayo Clinic, 2021).

How long does a drug taper typically last, and what should be done at the end of it?

Tapering should be planned and performed to reduce withdrawal symptoms and should be tailored to the individual seeking treatment (Department of Health and Human Services, 2019). Common taper lengths include a 5% to 20% reduction in dosage every 4 weeks (Department of Health and Human Services, 2019).

There are “slow tapers” and “fast tapers,” each of which taper off the drug at a different rate (s). The preferred strategy for drug users who have used substances for at least a year is slow tapering (Department of Health and Human Services, 2019).

In slow tapering, there are longer gaps between dosage reductions, and tapering can take anywhere from a few months to several years, depending on the drug and the intensity and length of use (Department of Health and Human Services, 2019).

In fast tapering, the dose is reduced by 10% or less per week. Typically, this occurs until around 30% of the initial dose is achieved or met, followed by a 10% weekly decrease of the remaining dose (Department of Health and Human Services, 2019). This is less likely to trigger withdrawal symptoms for individuals who have used drugs for a much shorter period of time, specifically after only weeks or months of use (Department of Health and Human Services, 2019).

Are there any alternatives to drug tapering that can be used instead?

There are particular circumstances in which tapering is ineffective for certain people. If the individual is unable to taper off the drug(s) despite worsening discomfort and/or the ability to function with the drug(s), it is likely that the physician will switch the patient to buprenorphine (Department of Health and Human Services, 2019). Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist (most often used to treat opioid addiction) that can treat both pain and opioid use disorder (Department of Health and Human Services, 2019). After a period of time being treated with this substance, buprenorphine can start to be tapered gradually (Department of Health and Human Services, 2019).

Who should consider using a drug taper and why?

Anyone who has been addicted to a drug or numerous substances for a long or short length of time should inquire with their physician and treatment center staff about the possibility of drug tapering. The length of time a person has used and abused drugs, as well as the degree of their abuse, determines how long it will take to taper off. This is due to the fact that their body has become accustomed to the drugs and has established an elevated “baseline” for them. Tapering is one of the safest methods for detoxing from drugs and other addictive substances. Tapering reduces the severity of withdrawal symptoms. The individual will still experience withdrawal symptoms, however tapering reduces their intensity greatly.



Department of Health and Human Services. (2019, October 10). Guide for Clinicians on the Appropriate Dosage Reduction or Discontinuation of Long-Term Opioid. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved August 27, 2022.

Department of Health and Human Services. (2019, October). HHS guide for clinicians on the appropriate dosage reduction or … – CMS. CMS. Retrieved August 28, 2022, from

Mayo Clinic. (2021, May 20). Tapering off opioids: When and how. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved August 27, 2022, from