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The Dangers of Detox at Home

While some can successfully detox at home, the process can be dangerous. Luckily, medical detox can serve as a safer alternative.

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Detoxification is the process by which the body rids itself of harmful substances.1 A supervised, professional detox often takes place at the start of a comprehensive substance use disorder treatment plan. When one abruptly quits drinking or using drugs after becoming physiologically dependent, they may experience a variety of withdrawal symptoms that can range to mildly uncomfortable to severe and, in some cases, life-threatening.2 While the severity and types of withdrawal symptom one experiences will depend on a variety of factors, they can make detoxing at home a perilous endeavor. Luckily, withdrawal symptoms can be successfully managed through supervised medical detox programs.

What is Detox?

Medical detox involves a set of medical interventions aimed at safely and comfortably managing the symptoms of withdrawal from drugs or alcohol.1 Though the details of such a process may vary depending on the individual’s needs, professional detox commonly fulfills three important components of care: evaluation, including a test for the presence of substances in the bloodstream; stabilization of symptoms caused by the body withdrawing from the substances present; and finally, helping patients to enter into additional treatment for substance use disorder after successful withdrawal management.1

Though it is an important phase of care for many types of substance use disorders, detox is not a substitute for more comprehensive rehabilitation program. Instead, detox is often just the first step in a broader continuum of addiction treatment care. Once withdrawal has been safely managed, continuing with additional treatment will be helpful in maintaining long-term recovery from substance use.

Is It Safe to Detox at Home?

With certain substances—including opioids, alcohol, benzodiazepines, and other sedatives—attempts at an unmanaged, at home detox can be exceedingly unpleasant and, given the risk of certain withdrawal complications, dangerous. Given the risks in such instances, detoxing from drugs and alcohol without medical management is not advised. Depending on factors such as your substances of dependence, your general health, and other withdrawal management needs, medically supervised detox may be necessary to keep you as safe and comfortable as possible during this challenging period of early recovery.

In addition to having close monitoring and frequent consultation with medical professionals, there are other benefits to pursuing medically managed detox rather than at-home detox. Because detox is just the first step in a continuum of care for substance use treatment, a professionally supervised detox program can facilitate access to additional clinical care, including continued medication support for substance use disorder treatment. Medication can be an important part of treatment and is effective when used in combination with behavioral therapy for substance use disorders.4

Alcohol Detox

Alcohol detox can be unsafe if you are doing a home detox because of the very real risks of severe withdrawal symptoms and related withdrawal complications such as seizures.2 Repeated episodes of excessive drinking and accompanying withdrawal can result in a kindling effect, meaning that seizures become more and more likely each time.1

Medically supervised detox can be a safer option for those withdrawing from alcohol intoxication for several reasons. For one, close monitoring by a team of medical professionals can reduce the risk of complications from severe symptoms of withdrawal. This may include the use of medications to decrease seizure risks and to otherwise reduce the discomfort of acute alcohol withdrawal.1

Drug Detox

Detoxing from drugs at home without medical management can also be risky, in certain cases. The level of risk is dependent on many individual factors, including the specific drug you use, how long you have been using, the size and frequency of the dosages, and any co-occurring physical or mental health conditions you may have.1

What interventions or withdrawal management medications you receive during detox will depend heavily on what substance you misused. For people who use opioids, medically supervised detox may include the use of an opioid agonist medication, such as buprenorphine, to help them manage withdrawal symptoms, including a reduction in urges and cravings to use.3 In other cases, medications may be prescribed as needed to manage unpleasant and potentially severe symptoms as they arise, such as the use of anti-convulsant medications to treat seizures or autonomic symptoms during withdrawal from benzodiazepines or other sedatives.1 Overall, it’s important to discuss your detox treatment options with your medical team to determine the best course of action.

How to Find Alcohol and Drug Detox Near You

If you or a loved one are struggling with a substance use disorder, you are not alone. Help is available for you to find alcohol and drug detox programs in your area today. To ensure that you are linked with the care that is right for your needs, always consult your doctor to determine what treatment options are right for you. You may also find it helpful to use SAMHSA’s Treatment Locator tool to find care near you once you have received a care recommendation from your medical provider.

Another resource that can help you get more information about substance use treatment near you is an addiction helpline, such as the one operated by American Addiction Centers (AAC). You can call today for a free, private phone consultation, and admissions navigators will help by answering questions about at-home detox, connecting you with information about treatment facilities, and verifying your insurance coverage. Don’t delay addiction care; call us today at .