March 4, 2023

Dangers of Detoxing at Home

an image of an IV representing the dangers of detoxing at home

While drug or alcohol detox can take place in various settings, it is almost never advisable to detox at home.

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NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse), defines addiction – substance use disorder – as a chronic, relapsing brain disorder that frequently involves physical dependence. In order to disrupt the vicious cycle of addiction, it is first essential to address the physical issue of drug or alcohol dependence.

Detoxification, usually abbreviated to detox, is the first crucial stage in the recovery process. During drug or alcohol detox, your system is purged of the toxins and toxic metabolites accumulated following sustained substance abuse. Once these toxins are eliminated from your system, you can then unpack the psychological component of addiction in an inpatient or outpatient treatment program.

Is it safe to detox from alcohol at home or should you kickstart your recovery at a medical detox center? This guide outlines the dangers of detoxing at home and shows you how to withdraw safely under medical supervision.

Why You Should Never Detox at Home

Some substances of abuse are associated with more severe presentations of physical dependence. Withdrawal from alcohol, opioids, and benzodiazepines is associated with potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, meaning that you should never detox from these substances at home. Withdrawal symptoms are likely to be so intense that you are at increased risk of relapse when detoxing at home. You are also at risk of medical complications if you are tempted by the idea of a home detox.

Data from SAMHSA’s most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicate that 17 million U.S. adults reported addictions with co-occurring mental health disorders in 2021. Co-occurring disorder, also known as dual diagnosis, requires a supervised clinical detox followed by integrated treatment of both conditions.

Chronic substance abuse brings about structural and functional changes in the brain. When physical dependence develops, the withdrawal symptoms that present during detox are a physical and psychological response from a system struggling to cope without the addictive substance.

Withdrawal symptoms are unavoidable if you moderate or discontinue the use of a substance on which you are dependent. That said, a supervised detox will reduce the intensity of symptoms, while at the same time minimizing dangers and complications. The treatment team may administer prescription medications and FDA-approved medications to streamline the withdrawal process. Medications may also help you to manage drug or alcohol cravings more effectively.

A home detox offers none of the clinical and emotional care available at a licensed medical detox center. Withdrawal will be much more uncomfortable if you choose to detox at home, and you are at risk of complications during detox, potentially fatal if untreated. You should never risk a home detox unless you first consult your primary healthcare provider. Attempting to abruptly stop using drink or drugs using the cold turkey method is dangerous and could be deadly.

A tailored withdrawal plan depends on many variables, including:

  • Substance of abuse
  • Duration of substance abuse
  • Extent of substance abuse
  • Physical health
  • Pre-existing or co-occurring mental health conditions
  • Present state of substance use
  • Medical history
  • Previous attempts at detox and withdrawal
  • Home environment
  • Support network

Unless you factor in these elements when detoxing at home, you will not be taking the easiest or most effective pathway to recovery.

Beyond this, there are some specific dangers of detoxing from alcohol at home.

Dangers of Alcohol Detox at Home

Alcoholism is clinically described as AUD (alcohol use disorder) and diagnosed as mild, moderate, or severe according to the criteria outlined in DSM-5-TR (the fifth revised edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).

Severe alcohol use disorder involves the presentation of six or more diagnostic criteria. Those with severe AUD are at risk of DTs (delirium tremens) during detox. Among those detoxing from alcohol, roughly 5% will develop delirium tremens. DTs can be life-threatening if not medically managed.

Delirium tremens typically manifests from 48 to 96 hours after the last alcoholic beverage. The most reported symptoms of delirium tremens include:

  • Delirium (extreme confusion)
  • Hallucinations
  • Tremors
  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Deep sleep
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Seizure

Up to 15% of those who develop DTs during alcohol detox die as a result. Medical supervision can lower this rate to 5%.

The medications used for the treatment of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Benzos
  • Antipsychotics
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Anti-nausea medications
  • Antidepressants

Detoxing at Home: Alcohol

Choosing to detox from alcohol at home will be uncomfortable and dangerous and could be life-threatening. A supervised detox, by contrast, allows you to take advantage of medications to reduce discomfort and the medical oversight to minimize complications.

In some extremely limited cases, someone who is otherwise healthy and not physical dependent on alcohol may find that home detox offers an effective route to recovery.

Here are some general guidelines for detoxing from alcohol at home:

  • Consult with a medical professional: Before attempting to detox from alcohol at home, discuss your situation with a medical professional and develop a plan that is tailored to your needs.
  • Plan ahead: Make sure you have a safe and supportive environment in which to detox. You may need to take time off work or arrange for someone to help you during the process.
  • Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of water can help flush toxins from your system and prevent dehydration, a common side effect of alcohol withdrawal.
  • Eat a balanced diet: Eating a healthy and balanced diet can help your body heal and recover from the effects of alcohol, both during detox and ongoing recovery.
  • Avoid triggers: Avoid situations or people that may trigger your desire to drink. Create healthy coping mechanisms that you can rely on when cravings for alcohol strike during detox.
  • Consider support groups: Joining a support group like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) may provide valuable emotional support and accountability during the detox process.
  • Be patient: Detoxing from alcohol can be a long and difficult process, but with the right support and mindset, it is possible to overcome addiction and lead a healthy, sober life.

Note: severe alcohol withdrawal can be life-threatening, and a medical detox is the safest way to withdraw from alcohol.

Get Detox Help at Gratitude Lodge Today

When you are ready to reclaim your life from drug or alcohol addiction, build the firmest foundation for ongoing recovery by choosing a supervised medical detox program. At Gratitude Lodge, we have pet-friendly rehab centers dedicated to whole-body recovery from addiction recovery located in:

  • Newport Beach
  • Long Beach
  • San Diego

All Gratitude Lodge treatment centers offer a supervised medical detox program. After a week or so, you can then move directly into an inpatient or intensive outpatient program in Orange County.

For those with dual diagnosis, we offer coordinated treatment programs that begin with a supervised detox.

All treatment programs at Gratitude Lodge draw from these interventions:

  • Medication-assisted treatment
  • Psychotherapy
  • Group therapy
  • Individual counseling
  • Family therapy
  • Holistic therapies
  • Aftercare

When you are ready to detox from drugs or alcohol safely, reach out to Gratitude Lodge by calling 888-861-1658.

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Joe Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
Jenni Bussi

Jenni Russe MS, LPCC

Jenni Busse MS, LPSS is the Clinical Director at Gratitude Lodge. Jenni oversees the clinical program and the clinical team at Gratitude Lodge as a whole. Jenni has worked in treatment for almost 14 years. Her background as a licensed therapist and her passion for helping others intersected with addiction recovery when she started working primarily in detox residential treatment.

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