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Self Tapering Off Alcohol With Alcohol

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Self Tapering Off Alcohol With Alcohol

Tapering is the process of gradually decreasing your consumption of a substance over time to lessen the withdrawal symptoms if you're physically dependent. The goal is to drink less every day until you hit zero. This is the same thing they'll do if you go to a detox facility or hospital, except they'll use medications instead of alcohol for the taper. It requires a lot of willpower and you will be uncomfortable, but it can be done. I know because I've done it and I've met others who have done it.

Before We Begin...

My first recommendation is to seek professional help at an inpatient rehab facility, a dedicated detox center, or, in severe cases, the emergency room.

You can also go to the ER or your PCP and see if they will prescribe you medications (benzodiazepines (benzos), barbiturates, and other medications) to taper with. This is a safer, proven alternative to tapering with alcohol.[1]

Note that in some states, doctors may commit individuals at risk of harming themselves to 72 hours of involuntary treatment for addiction. These states include, but are not limited to, California, Colorado, Delaware, DC, Florida, Maine, Mass, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Washington. Check your state's regulations if this is a concern to you.

From what I understand, most hospitals WILL give you 3-5 days worth of benzos to taper with at home. Most doctors would rather save the beds in their psych wards for people who are actually suicidal and send you home.

If you decide to taper with benzos, don't mix them with alcohol. Mixing alcohol with benzos is very dangerous and will land you in the hospital really fast.

The rest of this guide addresses pre-planning, withdrawal symptoms, planning, creating a taper schedule, and next steps after a taper. I'd encourage you to read them all, but at the very least please read the sections on withdrawal symptoms and the schedule itself.

Do I Need to Taper?

Not everyone needs to taper. If you can get through a day with no physical withdrawal symptoms, you probably won't need to taper. If you get moderate tremors or start hallucinating six hours after your last drink, you probably need to taper. Everyone is different, so it's ultimately up to you to decide if you want to taper or not.

As a general rule, if you've been drinking an average of 10 drinks or more a day every day for more than a couple of weeks, you will need to taper. If you've been binge drinking 15-20+ drinks a day for 2-3 days, you will need to taper. The numbers may be less for women, individuals with smaller bodies, and people who are underweight. These are just educated guesstimates, not scientific facts.

If you're not physically addicted, but still psychologically addicted, tapering or reducing your use over a few days probably won't hurt you, but check your motives and make sure you're tapering for the right reasons. Are you tapering because you physically depend on alcohol, or are you tapering because you want an excuse to drink longer? If you taper when you don't really need to, you might be subconsciously giving yourself an excuse to continue drinking, which will lead you back to your baseline high drinking levels.

Do You Have The Will?

Alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder, is a mental health issue. You've been conditioning your brain to work on alcohol, and over time, its structure has physically changed[2]. Overcoming this with sheer willpower is going to be difficult, but it can be done. You'll be tempted to drink every step of the way. It is possible to get through. I have some tips to help. You must commit to doing this every day for several days.

It can take six months to two years before your brain gets back to normal.

Find a reason to stay sober and keep that in mind as you go through this process. Treat each drink like medicine instead of an intoxicant. Ultimately, you need to decide to get sober for yourself, but if getting sober for someone else or something else motivates you in the beginning, it's still a step in the right direction.

Drink Over A Handle A Day?

If you regularly drink a handle of liquor (around 40 standard drinks) or more per day, please seek professional help. I'm not saying you can't taper down yourself. It's certainly been done. But you've been drinking so much you likely have other severe physical health issues going on other than just standard withdrawal, and your risk for severe withdrawals is much higher than most.

Withdrawal Warning / Disclaimer

It's not common, but withdrawal from alcohol can literally kill you. If you're a heavy drinker, you could die going through this process.

I AM NOT A DOCTOR!!! The information in this guide is not medical advice. If you decide to taper yourself, you do so at your own risk. This is entirely based on my personal experiences and what I've heard and read from others. A small percentage of people experience seizures even during medically supervised tapers.[3]

Withdrawal Effects

There are several withdrawal effects you should know. It's important to understand what to look out for and what to expect. Some withdrawal is normal, and some symptoms can be potentially life-threatening.

The idea of detoxing or tapering is to prevent the more severe withdrawal effects. You may still experience some of the less severe withdrawal symptoms. If you notice any severe withdrawal, you may need to slow your taper, drink alcohol immediately, or seek medical attention.

Standard Withdrawal

These withdrawal effects are almost unavoidable. You will probably notice them if you've been drinking for extended periods of time. They might not mean you need to call 911, but you may need to slow your taper if they're bothering you too much. My best advice on dealing with these is to buck it up, hug someone if possible, and try to distract yourself.

  • Mild tremors - Having the shakes is normal to a certain extent when detoxing from alcohol, even when done in a medical setting. When I say "mild tremors" I mean your fingers wobble a bit, and maybe it's a little hard to write. I don't mean they're shaking so much you can't hold a cup of water or function. If you have severe shakes, you need to drink more alcohol. These should start getting better a few days into your taper.
    • Extend your arms forward and try to keep your hands outstretched and level. If your fingers wobble back and forth a little, like an uncontrollable twitch, that's normal. If they're all over the place, very shaky, you can't even write a sentence, then have a drink.
  • Difficulty sleeping - Insomnia is common when you're detoxing, especially for the first few days.
    • If you have auditory hallucinations, hear sounds that aren't there, you may need to slow your taper or have one of your daily drinks in the middle of the night. This could be a warning sign for more severe withdrawal.
    • The first few nights will be rough. You may lie awake, anxious, and feel like you're dying.
    • Auditory hallucinations may sound like light static, incoherent voices talking outside, or like a radio station from the 60s is playing in the background. If it's fairly quiet/mild, you may be able to ignore it. If it's louder or more severe, you should probably have a drink.
    • Take Natural Sleep Aids - Like chamomile tea or melatonin. You can also use over-the-counter sleep aids or Benadryl, but do not overuse them or take more than recommended. Do not use over-the-counter sleep meds on an ongoing basis.
    • If you can't fall asleep, consider listening to calm music or watch your go-to mindless TV show. It's better than lying in bed for hours trying to fall asleep.
  • Anxiety - You have been suppressing your central nervous system for some time using alcohol. Without the alcohol, your brain is going to "fire" faster. This can lead to racing thoughts and severe anxiety.
    • Ignore any non-essential activities or obligations. Just focus on getting better for now. It's easier said than done, but try not to worry about the things you screwed up or need to work on. You can worry about all that stuff when you're done detoxing.
    • Give yourself a break. Trying to stop drinking is a monumental step, regardless if this is your first time or your fiftieth time. Don't be too hard on yourself.
    • Take time off work or school. Say you're dealing with a family emergency and need to go away for a while, use your vacation time, or start your detox on a long weekend if you can. 
    • Try distracting yourself by watching TV, taking a bath, or doing other relaxing activities. You probably won't be up to it, but light exercise may help, even if all you can do is stretch or go for a short walk around the block.
    • If you're experiencing heightened social anxiety, avoid people while you're detoxing. If you have to go out for something, buy enough to last you the next few days. Order grocery or food delivery if you can.
    • Avoid stimulants like caffeine. Stimulants will only heighten your anxiety and dehydrate you.
  • Depression - If you've been drinking for an extended period, you're likely somewhat depressed. You may have been self-medicating your symptoms with alcohol and over time, it's caused you to be even more depressed. Unfortunately, with less alcohol, your depression will probably worsen before getting better. However, there is hope at the end of the tunnel. It isn't forever.
    • It takes time for life to be enjoyable again. It may be several months before you feel normal emotions. You may find that things you used to do when you were drunk aren't fun, TV shows you used to like seem stupid, and people that used to delight you are incredibly boring. This is all normal. Unfortunately, the best thing you can do is bear through it and put one foot in front of the other until it goes away.
    • After completing your taper, consider looking into psychiatric medications, meditation, support groups, or therapy to help deal with any underlying depression issues you're experiencing. 
    • If you get severely depressed and think about hurting or killing yourself, please get help. Go you an ER. Look for psychiatric referrals from your doctor. Reach out to a trusted person. Say something. You're not alone!
  • Cravings - You have been conditioning your brain to work on alcohol. That's why your tolerance is so high and you need to drink so much to feel drunk. Now that you've removed some of the alcohol, your brain is screaming, "Where's my alcohol?!" This is completely normal.
    • To deal with cravings, you can try out anything listed in my guide on alternatives to inpatient rehab. There are free support groups available that may help, and coping strategies you can use.
  • Other Physical Symptoms: Raised blood pressure, upset stomach, possible vomiting, and lots of sweating.

Severe Withdrawal Symptoms

If you notice any of the following, you need to take action immediately.

  • Severe Shakes - If your hands are shaking so much you practically can't hold an object in your hand, can't use your phone, can't write a sentence. You need to up your alcohol intake immediately or seek professional medical attention.
  • Delirium Tremens (DTs)- This is a potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptom.
    • Warning Signs:
      • You start to feel weird. Like very weird. Like the world is slowing down around you and you're very confused.
      • You start slurring your words when you try to talk, even though you're only buzzed or slightly drunk.
      • You cannot string a coherent sentence together.
      • You feel excessively dizzy.
      • You get tunnel vision and have difficulty seeing straight.
      • You notice severe auditory or visual hallucinations.
    • Most likely to happen 2-3 days after your last drink, or after you cut back substantially.
    • If any of the above warning signs happen, drink alcohol immediately and seek medical attention if the feeling doesn't stop.
    • One in five people who experience DTs do not survive.
  • Seizure - You'll likely have the symptoms above before a seizure, but not always.
    • If a seizure pops up out of the blue, call 911 when you come to.
    • If you live with somebody, tell them you're detoxing yourself and instruct them to call 911 if they notice you having a seizure.
    • Do not continue trying to detox yourself at home after having a seizure. Get professional help.
    • If you taper too aggressively, like going from 30 drinks to 10 in one day, you are at higher risk.
    • You're at most risk of a seizure 6-48 hours after your last drink.
  • Hallucinations - You may experience some level of mild hallucinations when withdrawing, especially auditory hallucinations late at night while you're trying to sleep. They may sound like an inaudible radio playing outside, or a group of people talking (usually negative conversations about you). This doesn't always mean you're going to have a seizure or DTs, but it can still be scary. If they're subtle, you might ignore it and slow your taper. They usually go away after the first two or three nights. If they're severe or start getting worse, drink more and seek medical attention.

Check out this medical article which provides further detail on withdrawal from alcohol.

Getting Ready

Before you start your detox, ensure you have enough alcohol on hand to last you a few days. Always keep some extra alcohol available in the event you experience severe withdrawal symptoms. The last thing you want is to run out of booze at three in the morning thinking you're about to have a seizure.

Pick a drink that goes down easy and has a high concentration of water so you don't get too dehydrated. I would go with hard seltzers because they have a decent amount of water in them and I don't really enjoy drinking them, so I drink them more slowly. Pick a drink with between 4.5% and 5% alcohol by volume (ABV).

I wouldn't recommend doing this with vodka shots, hard cocktails, or something similar, except maybe at the start if you really can't keep anything down and you believe you're at risk of severe withdrawal. The idea isn't to get drunk. The idea is to religiously take this like medicine for the next week or two.

Health Monitoring

If possible, buy a blood pressure monitor. You can find them for under $50 on Amazon or pick one up at your local pharmacy. I've had good luck with this one. They're easy to use. Check your blood pressure regularly to make sure it's not too high. If it gets too high, you may need to slow your taper. If it hits around 150/90, you may need to drink more. If it reaches above 170/100, get emergency medical attention. It's normal to have high blood pressure when you're detoxing, but if it's severe, get help or go to detox.

If you are already at risk of heart attacks or strokes because of conditions such as obesity or preexisting high blood pressure, monitor your blood pressure carefully.

If you have a history of seizures, or have had seizures while detoxing in the past, do not, under any circumstances, attempt a self taper.

Useful Apps

You can use an app like AlcoTrack (Android) or DrinkControl (Apple) to keep a log of your daily drinking and see your progression. You can enter in the type of drinks you consume and when you drink them to determine the total amount of alcohol you consume each day. This will help you figure out a baseline to start your taper.

Tell Someone

If you're lucky enough to have a supportive friend, a roommate, or a family member that lives with you who can assist, that is ideal. Tell them what you're planning on doing, give them a copy of your planned taper schedule, and have them hold all the alcohol to portion out and give to you as needed. Ideally, pick someone who doesn't also have a problem with alcohol.

Remember that this puts some pressure and responsibility on them. It may stress them out. Don't ask for this lightly. Accept the help if it's offered and only ask someone you can trust.

Make sure they're aware of the severe withdrawal symptoms that can occur and tell them what to do if you experience them (get a drink and possibly call 911). If you have a seizure, the best thing they can do is stay with you, move any hazardous objects out of the way, prevent you from falling on anything hard, and call 911. They shouldn't hold you down and there's no real need to worry about choking on your tongue.

Selecting a Tapering Schedule

Everyone metabolizes alcohol differently. You may need to do a slower taper than someone else who was drinking the same amount as you. Remember, you can always slow your taper, drink more alcohol, or seek medical help if needed.

Below is a table of sample tapering schedules. These schedules are largely based on my experience of self tapering, what I've read on r/dryalcoholics and HAMS Harm Reduction Guide to Tapering. 

Sample Taper Schedule

The HAMS tapering guide suggests dropping your consumption to 16 drinks the first day if you were drinking more than that, and then reducing your consumption by two drinks per day. The taper schedule below is slightly less aggressive than that. In this schedule, the biggest drop occurs during the first couple days. During this time you'll likely experience the worst portion of withdrawal symptoms. You then get a couple days where the drop is not as much to stabilize. It finally drops off again significantly towards the end.

If you are a woman or at risk of complications due to high blood pressure, you may want to consider tapering slower than this.

Starting AmountDay 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5Day 6Day 7Day 8Day 9Day 10
30 Drinks 24 (20%) 20 (16%) 16 (20%) 14 (13%) 12 (14%) 10 (17%) 8 (20%) 6 (25%) 4 (33%) 2 (50%)
20 Drinks 16 (20%) 13 (19%) 11 (15%) 9 (18%) 7 (22%) 5 (28%) 4 (20%) 3 (25%) 2 (33%) 0 (100%)
12 Drinks 10 (16%) 8 (20%) 7 (13%) 5 (28%) 4 (20%) 3 (25%) 2 (33%) 0 (100%) 0 (100%) 0 (100%)
8 Drinks 6 (25%) 5 (16%) 3.5 (30%) 2 (43%) 0 (100%) 0 (100%) 0 (100%) 0 (100%) 0 (100%) 0 (100%)
6 Drinks 4 (33%) 3 (25%) 2 (33%) 0 (100%) 0 (100%) 0 (100%) 0 (100%) 0 (100%) 0 (100%) 0 (100%)
4 Drinks 3 (25%) 2 (33%) 1 (50%) 0 (100%) 0 (100%) 0 (100%) 0 (100%) 0 (100%) 0 (100%) 0 (100%)
Numbers in parenthesis are percent decrease per day from the last day.

I'd like to reiterate that this is a sample schedule. You need to make your own schedule and determine what's best for you. You can try a more aggressive taper, or a slower taper. The choice is yours. If you try a slower taper, you risk dragging it out too long and decreasing your chances of quitting. If you do it too fast, you increase your chance of severe withdrawal.

Will I Have a Seizure? Will I have DTs?

I don't know.

The chance of experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms increases if you've had them before, or if you're older.

The chances of seizures and DTs are low if you're tapering, but they happen even in controlled rehab environments. In this study on tapering with a benzo, about 1% of patients had a seizure after completing their taper. So the chance is always there. You probably won't have one, but you might. This does not, by any means, mean that you have a 1% chance of a seizure if you taper with alcohol according to the schedule above. The actual percentage could be significantly higher for tapering with alcohol. I couldn't locate a study on people who tapered at home with alcohol, because it's kind of hard to assess the topic, and no rehabs are detoxing people with alcohol.

If you notice severe hallucinations, extreme brain fog, the world slows down around you; you feel drunk when you're not, you may have warning signs of delirium tremens (DTs). Slow your taper and drink immediately. Seek medical help if necessary. Always have one of your drinks late at night before you go to bed, to prevent this from happening while you're sleeping. 

Remember to stay hydrated and drink lots of water or juice. Dehydration increases seizure risk.

Alternative Taper Schedules

Linear or Percentage Taper

You may find success decreasing your number of drinks by a set amount each day. I'd recommend doing 2 a day if you use this method. You could do one a day if you're very weary of withdrawal symptoms, but you might drag it out unnecessarily. You don't want to be tapering for a month straight. Aim to complete your taper in two weeks or fewer.

You may also taper by decreasing your percentage each day. For example, if you decreased by 15% each day, it could look like this: 20, 17, 14, 12, 10, 8.5... and so on. I wouldn't recommend tapering any slower than 1 drink a day (don't do half a drink per day, unless you're very lightweight or a little person), or any faster than 33% per day at the beginning.

Rapid Taper

I don't recommend tapering yourself at all, and I especially don't recommend doing it rapidly, but it has been done. Some people have done a rapid taper in which they go from their baseline to zero in a weekend or so. They usually cut it in half each day. So they'll do something like 20, 10, 5, 2, 0. While this probably still reduces the risk of a seizure or DTs, it's certainly better than just quitting completely on day one, you're going to be putting your body and brain through hell doing this.

I once went from averaging 25 a day to 10 the first day and five the second day. I told myself I'd do a fast taper. There's no such thing as a fast taper. Don't do this. I was shaking like crazy. The first night I barely slept because of auditory hallucinations and the second night I had tunnel vision and felt like a stroke victim. It was scary. I took a few shots and luckily nothing bad happened, but something easily could have happened. I repeat, I do not recommend.

I've also heard of people successfully stopping by reducing their moderate drinking (8-10 a day) to 5-6 a day for a couple days, and then quitting entirely. I've done this before. Although I didn't experience any seizures, I certainly wouldn't recommend it.

If you have the balls to do this, I admire your commitment. But I'd heavily advise against it.

Step Taper

The final way you might taper is to go down in "steps" where you start off at one level, spend a few days drinking at that level, decrease by some percentage, spend a few days drinking at the next level, and so on.

This might be a pretty safe way to taper, as long as you're not decreasing by over 20-30% per step. I've heard of some people doing 10% a week and having success that way.

The problem is that this can drag your taper out for several weeks or even months, depending on how slowly you've tapered and how much you've been drinking to start. Your chances of completing the taper successfully may be lower, but your risk of withdrawal symptoms may be lower too, since you're giving your body more time to acclimate to the lower amounts of alcohol. I don't think I could go through more than a couple weeks of tapering, but you do you.

Changing Your Taper Schedule

You can taper however quickly or slowly you want. If you notice yourself going through severe withdrawal in the beginning, slow down. Drink more. That's okay.

You can also take break days, where you drink the same amount as the previous day to sort of level yourself off. For example, if you notice your tremors are getting pretty bad three days in, drink the same amount you drank on the third day for the following day. Once you stabilize, lower your dosage again. Try not to do this for too many days, though, or you may get stuck at that point. Remember, your goal is to quit.

During this taper, you may notice you're feeling pretty good again. The first days were miserable, but now you're a week in, you're at the 5-6 drinks a day mark, and you feel fine. Your addicted brain may use this as an excuse to increase your dosage. You may feel you're in control of your addiction, and that it's okay to have a cheat day and drink a little more. Don't do this. Easier said than done, but if you go down this path, you'll be right back where you started. Remember, you probably just felt horrible a few days earlier. You don't want to feel like that again. If you need to taper in the first place, you have already proven that you can't drink like a normal person. You NEED to stop.

Printable Tapering Guide & Worksheet

I have created a printable tapering guide you can download. It includes a logging section you can use to keep track of your daily alcohol intake, along with some withdrawal warnings.

Download Tapering Worksheet

If You Mess Up

If you mess up once or twice and drink more than you intended to, don't be too discouraged. This happens. You can continue your taper the next day from whatever point you think is appropriate. I'd try to shoot for your original goal the following day if the physical withdrawals were subsiding. As long as you are trending downward overall, you're doing well. If you go over early in the day, you can always slow down. Don't just give up and drink a fifth because you had your 6 drinks before noon when you meant to have 6 drinks over the whole day. If you must get drunk during your taper, do yourself a favor and just get buzzed, not completely trashed. 

Remember, you can change your taper schedule. If you think you're tapering too quickly, it's okay to slow down. Just because you had 8 drinks instead of 6 one day doesn't mean you've failed, especially if you still drank the same or less than the previous day. Maybe you just need to set more realistic goals for yourself and slow your taper.

If you repeatedly cannot cut back on your drinking or otherwise cannot get lower than a certain point in the taper, this might not be the right method for you. You can look into medication assisted treatment, such as getting the anti-craving medication Naltrexone, see if your doctor will give you benzodiazepines to taper with, or go to rehab/detox.

Don't get too down on yourself. Alcohol is a powerful drug. You may be biologically predisposed to abusing it, and if you're physically addicted, your brain isn't working right. Go get help, whatever that may be.

Getting Through Time Between Drinks

Drink Slowly

Select a drink you're not fond of. If you don't really like hard seltzer, like me, drink hard seltzer. It has a lot of water and you can find them in the 4.5-5% range. I wouldn't recommend getting anything above 7% for your taper. If you don't like beers, drink beers (find ones with lower alcohol, some have high concentrations).

Try to make your drink last longer. If you're making mixed drinks, only use half a shot instead of a full shot, and turn it into two drinks (still count both as one combined). Force yourself to sip slowly on your drink. It's okay to have a little drink, set it down, leave it for fifteen minutes, and come back to it later. Just don't convince yourself that you can be a normal drinker after stressfully forcing yourself to do this a few times.

Distract Yourself

Do anything and everything you can to distract yourself from drinking. Whether that's watching TV, cooking dinner, cleaning the house, going for a walk, or taking a bath. Force your self to do normal activities, but nothing too strenuous or physical beyond what you might normally do.

If you're tired and can sleep, take a nap. Sleeping too much can become an unhealthy coping mechanism, but during your detox, it's okay to sleep as much as possible.

Don't Quit Weed or Cigs (yet)

Don't quit other lighter substances while you're detoxing from alcohol. I'm specifically talking about things like weed, cigarettes, and vaping. Do one thing at a time.

If you're cross-addicted to harder drugs like stimulants or opiates, you need to stop using those. Experience has shown me most people who continue using other hard substances simply get high and then continue drinking.

I'm not saying smoking weed all day is a healthy coping skill. It's not. But from a harm reduction standpoint, it's much less likely to get you into trouble than alcohol, pills, or harder drugs.

If you're a stoner, don't quit smoking now. Smoke all you want. Consider quitting it later, after you get sober from alcohol. You don't have to, though. I'd recommend finding a better way to cope with your issues, but if weed keeps you off alcohol and harder drugs, go for it!

Find Support

Where you get support is entirely up to you. You could try therapy or AA meetings. You could try Smart Recovery. Some individuals find church and reconnecting with God to be helpful. You could post about your experiences anonymously online in r/dryalcoholics, they're a fairly open and supportive group of people. When I was down and super depressed, talking about my experiences on there helped get me through and made me feel less alone.

If you're self-tapering, I assume you don't want to go to rehab. You can try out any of the things in my guide on Alternatives To Inpatient Drug Rehab.

Your friends and family may not be the best support system, unless they're also recovering addicts/alcoholics. They may have trouble relating to you and you could feel out-of-place talking to them about your problems.

When You're Done

Once your taper is complete, discard or immediately give away any remaining alcohol in your house and try to avoid high-risk environments such as bars, liquor stores, casinos, etc. The hardest thing will probably be to stop yourself from starting again. I'll be honest, your chances of staying sober on your own are slim to none. You need support and help. It doesn't mean you have to go to rehab (though that's certainly an option). You can try support groups, therapy, psychiatrists, spiritual groups, and outpatient rehab services. I have a complete guide on Alternatives to Rehab, which has over a dozen different options to select from.

Also, consider getting a physical. You don't have to mention anything about your drinking if you don't want to, but make sure you're in good shape. Remember, doctors are (usually) intelligent people who spent over a decade studying medicine to help people. Everything you say is confidential and you're paying them to HELP you. They won't force you to do anything you don't want to. It's OK to seek their professional opinion.

Further Reading

Final Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. This is not medical advice. I do not endorse self tapering. The best option is ALWAYS to seek professional medical attention.

If you have personal questions, reach out to me via the contact form (no account required and your info will remain private) or submit a comment below (site account required).

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