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The Dangers of Detoxing from Alcohol at Home

Alcohol has one of the most dangerous withdrawal syndromes of all substances. Read on to learn why alcohol detox at home can be dangerous with many risks.

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Detox in a medically supervised setting is often the first step of the addiction treatment process. Simply speaking, detoxification (commonly called detox) is the process by which drugs and alcohol are removed from the body and as a result, your body may go through withdrawals.1 Detox is often an important first step in a continuum of care for alcohol addiction. However, many may seek to undergo detox at home or on their own, without medical supervision or consultation. This can lead to dangerous situations such as complicated withdrawal symptoms and negative health outcomes.

During alcohol detox, one may experience a wide range of withdrawal symptoms that can range from mild to severe and potentially life-threatening. It is due to these symptoms that many recommend medical detox. Medically managed detoxification services, known simply as medical detox, involves the use of medical interventions and patient monitoring in order to mitigate the effects of withdrawal symptoms.1 As a result, medical detox is often a safe and effective way to begin one’s treatment plan, giving a sense of security that may not be present when detoxing at home.

What Is Alcohol Detox?

Alcohol detox is the process by which the body removes substances, oftentimes in preparation of a larger treatment program. Detox alone does not constitute a complete treatment program, nor does it guarantee sobriety, as detox doesn’t address the underlying behavioral, mental, and social challenges that contribute to the development and maintenance of an addiction.2

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is a condition that can result from the cessation in alcohol use, and is characterized by the appearance of withdrawal symptoms.5 These withdrawal symptoms usually present within a few hours after you last use alcohol and can include:3, 5

  • Sweating.
  • Increased heartrate.
  • Insomnia.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Seizures.
  • Delirium tremens, in severe cases.

Types of Alcohol Detox

There are several treatment settings available for alcohol detox. In fact, before the 1980s, inpatient detox was the primary option for detox.3 The main differentiator between the different types of detox is what type of setting they take place in. For example, for those who are at risk of mild withdrawal symptoms, may participate in outpatient detox.4 Outpatient detox allows patients to live at home while checking in at certain points during the treatment process.

Those at risk for more severe withdrawal symptoms may be better suited for inpatient medical detox. Inpatient detox may take place in a hospital, a rehab center, or a designated detox facility.4 Inpatient programs are able to provide patients with 24/7 medical supervision, allowing a medical team to respond quickly to the emergence of new withdrawal symptoms.4

Alcohol Detox Medications

Oftentimes, medications may be used during alcohol withdrawal to help mitigate any potentially uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.2  Benzodiazepines are the main class of medications used under medical supervision to lessen the severity of withdrawal symptoms and prevent life threatening seizures and delirium tremens.

Depending on the situation, the patient may also be prescribed certain other types of medications to help manage withdrawal symptoms, such as naltrxone, acamprosate, and disulfiram. Depending on the situation, one may be prescribed antipsychotics, anticonvulsants, clonidine, or other types of beta-blockers in order to help manage withdrawal symptoms.4

Can I Detox from Alcohol at Home?

It is possible to detox from alcohol at home; however, this can be incredibly dangerous due to the lack of medical support and potentially fatal withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome can occur when you abruptly stop drinking alcohol or drastically cut down; quitting abruptly can increase your risk of experiencing significant withdrawal symptoms.3

At home, you don’t receive the support and monitoring that you would at an inpatient detox program. Detoxing from alcohol may result in severe symptoms such as delirium tremens and seizures, conditions which can be life-threatening and constitute a medical emergency. As such, inpatient detox is sometimes considered the safest environment for treating alcohol withdrawal due to the support and medical interventions provided.3

Is It Ever Safe to Detox at Home?

The discomfort from alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be incredibly difficult to manage on one’s own. Those who undergo detox without medical supervision or consultation may find the process highly unsettling, even with mild or moderate symptoms. They may quickly seek to return to drinking in order to mitigate the symptoms, delaying critical addiction care.

Those who develop more severe withdrawal symptoms while detoxing at home may be in a dangerous situation. Delirium tremens, seizures, and a dysregulation of bodily temperatures and functions can all be fatal.4 Medical detox allows a treatment team to respond to these withdrawal symptoms with treatment and can greatly reduce the risk of death. As a result, medical detox can be a much safer option than detoxing at home.

What Type of Detox Should I Choose?

What type of alcohol detox is best will depend upon where you are at the time of the treatment. While some may be able to do outpatient detox, those at risk for severe withdrawal symptoms may be more comfortable in a supervised medical detox program. Those who have a heavy alcohol intake before detoxing are at a higher risk for developing alcohol withdrawal symptoms.5

How to Find Detox for Alcohol

Once you’ve decided to attend alcohol detox, you’ll first need to find a treatment facility that suits your needs. A good first step would be to reach out to your doctor or a trusted medical professional. They may be able to help determine your treatment needs, and may be able to refer you to an alcohol detox facility near you. Another good resources is the SAMHSA online treatment locator. This tool can help you find local or out-of-state detox facilities.

Addiction helplines are available to provide information to those curious about the alcohol detox process. American Addiction Centers (AAC) operates an addiction helpline that runs 24/7. Our admissions navigators can help answer any questions you have about detox, help you find nearby facilities, and help you determine what costs your insurance may cover. Don’t delay critical care, call us today at .