Who Should Not Detox from Drugs or Alcohol at Home?

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Who should not detox from drugs or alcohol at home?

Addict experiencing tremors, shakes or confusion when they stop drinking should not detox at home and consider a residential medically supervised detox.  Individuals with dual diagnosis - co-occurring conditions should not detox on their own at home. 

Alcohol detoxification refers to the abrupt cessation of alcohol intake in people suffering from alcohol dependence or alcohol abuse.

It is a process that includes the use of prescription drugs that are used to treat the severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms accompanying quitting alcohol cold turkey. 

Alcohol detox is sort of a misnomer because it actually refers to the first step towards professional addiction treatment that involves the removal of toxic substances for your body after consuming alcohol for a long time. 

Alcohol detox can be done at home, which is called alcohol home detox, or you can go to an inpatient treatment facility where you will receive alcohol addiction treatment. 

In this article we focus on alcohol home detox.  

As mentioned above, not everyone will qualify for alcohol detoxification at home. This is because, while its a great option, where you get to stay at home while going through the professional treatment, it is usually manifested through serious withdrawal symptoms, which can be hard to deal with at home. 

So, you do not qualify for a home alcohol detox treatment if:  

  • You've had a history of seizures, or fits. These could be pre-existing conditions before your alcohol dependence problems. 
  • If you do not have a strong system at home, or a support system. 
  • If you are not willing to set some days aside to go through the alcohol rehab at home 
  • If you are not willing to stop drinking. 
  • You have an abnormal liver 
  • You have a history of DTs 
  • You have A low platelet count 
  • You have a low potassium level 
  • You are old 
  • You have a low sodium level 
  • You have pre-existing dehydration 
  • There is a presence of brain lesions 
  • You use other drugs 

If you find yourself ticking the above points, then you do not qualify for a home alcohol detox, as it is a serious medical condition that requires professional medical advice from licensed medical professionals. 

It's worthy to say, although, we shall talk about this later, that alcohol addiction treatment through a home alcohol detox plan can be dangerous, uncomfortable and has high chances of relapsing. 

Because chronic alcohol use is a serious condition, there are some severe withdrawal symptoms that make it difficult. 

Within a few hours of drinking alcohol, you will start experiencing some physical symptoms and behavioural health conditions. 

Dangers of Detoxing from Home 

When doing a home alcohol detox, you enter a process of quitting cold turkey, without around the clock medical treatment from a healthcare professional.

This is where the danger lies, because detox, as we have mentioned above causes some major symptoms after a prolonged alcohol use disorder, when your body is trying to create a balance. 

So, here are a few reasons why detox from alcohol misuse can be dangerous: 

Lack of medical assistance 

When you suddenly stop drinking, your brain will experience a shock. This is because you have spent months, weeks or even years, allowing it to mingle with alcohol which is a chronic health concern.  

With time, it will have become accustomed to the drug and then one day, even without warning, you start detoxing from alcohol, and this substance, that is has relied on for so long disappears. 

Your brain will of course become disoriented and confused, which will lead to some protests. These will manifest themselves through severe withdrawal symptoms, and unfortunately, you cannot naturally overcome alcohol withdrawal. 

You need addiction medicine, which is usually available at an inpatient treatment clinic, and not an at home alcohol detox. 

Some of the withdrawal symptoms during alcohol rehab treatment include: 

  • Abdominal and stomach pain. 
  • Vomiting. 
  • Migraines and headaches. 
  • Stroke 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Trouble breathing 
  • Dehydration 

These symptoms normally start just a few hours of starting the drug addiction treatment, or the detox.  

You can call these 'mild withdrawal symptoms," because there are some more serious symptoms that come later. 

They can, however, still be fatal, if you do not seek professional treatment, most preferably at a private rehab treatment facility to deal with the medical conditions when you quit drinking. 

Lack of support from a medical professional 

When you are attempting detox from alcohol at home, you should receive support from friends and family, as well as a health professional. 

In the first few days of the at home alcohol detox, you may start feeling depressed and overwhelmed by the onslaught of early symptoms. 

It may be hard to get through them without having some prescribed medication to deal with these early symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. 

It makes you think you don't really need treatment 

Detox, to most people seems like a quick fix to their alcohol abuse and think that they can handle the process on their own. This is a wrong assumption because detox from alcohol needs supervision. 

You should undergo therapy, individual counselling, attend group meetings and see a mental health specialist for any mental health disorder you may have as a result of the alcohol abuse. 

You may assume you are cured a few days into the recovery process, but that is not real, because you have a long journey ahead of you.  

It is not always effective 

As wonderful as this is, it is not always the best way to approach detoxing from alcohol. This is because you cannot get to the root of the addiction, which will happen through the other treatment options. 

Some of the risks include:  

The risk of relapse 

Because you may not succeed at removing all the alcohol at home, you may easily find yourself getting back to the drinking.  

Relapse is actually a pretty common risk of an at home detox from alcohol, and this is because you are surrounded by cravings and triggers. 

When you make this decision, you should remove all the alcohol at home, or reduce your alcohol consumption, eat a healthy diet, and deal with all symptoms, as and when they occur. 

Risk of overdose 

Although this detox takes place within a short period, your body will need time to reset, and you may find yourself abusing more alcohol than before.

If you also use drugs, this could lead to an overdose as the previous dose may not be enough anymore. 

Mental health issues 

It is common to go through frustration, depression, and exhaustion after your last drink, while attempting to detox at home. This therefore requires a strong medical support to achieve. 

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Alcohol Withdrawal Complications 

Seizures 

This is one of the serious symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, and it involves having convulsions or alternating muscle contractions involuntarily. They can occur around hour six of your last drink or within 48 hours. 

Delirium Tremens DTs 

This is one of the alcohol withdrawal medical complications that is extremely fatal and can be characterized by:  

  • Hallucinations 
  • Confusion 
  • Shakiness 
  • High Blood Pressure 

These severe symptoms occur 24-48 hours after the last drink and, left untreated, it could lead to: 

  • Lethal dehydration 
  • Head injuries 
  • Choking on your own vomit. 
  • Stroke or heart attack. 
  • Death. 

Abnormal Heart Rhythms 

This is where your heartbeat is erratic and you also experience unusual shifts in your temperature, circulation and breathing.

Of the more severe symptoms, this one is quite dangerous, and one may experience high blood pressure in the process. 

Excess Nausea and Vomiting 

During a home detox, when your vomiting and nausea lingers on for more than the first week after you stop drinking, then it can be a serious alcohol detoxification complication.

Just like the other alcohol withdrawal symptoms, this one is because of your brain trying to rebalance the neurotransmitters due to the absence of alcohol. 

Dehydration 

Because alcohol is a diuretic that increases your urine, you may find yourself experiencing lots of sweating when detoxing from alcohol and you may end up dehydrated if you are not careful.  

Additional dehydration may occur due to the vomiting and diarrhoea, which is why a medically supervised detox is highly recommended. 

The severity of these conditions is heightened by: 

The type of drugs or alcohol you have been abusing 

The type of drugs or alcohol do make a difference when doing detox at home. 

The most highly addictive and dangerous drugs with potential and serious withdrawal symptoms include: 

  • Heroin 
  • Benzodiazepines (benzos) 
  • Other  
  • Cocaine 
  • opioid addictions ( like codeine, hydrocodone, morphine, , and oxycodone) 
  • Alcohol 
  • Prescription stimulants (ex., ADHD medications) 
  • Methamphetamine 

Length and severity of your alcohol consumption 

The longer you have abused alcohol, the more your body and brain depend on it. This means that a high level of dependence will cause more intense and severe withdrawal symptoms. 

Other medical conditions 

If you suffer from other medical conditions, this could complicate your withdrawal further, and you must treat major symptoms of withdrawal immediately, and with the help of medical professionals.  

An at home detox is therefore likely to be more unpredictable and more dangerous in this case. Substance abuse and mental health disorders tend to co-occur which should be diagnosed first when detoxing from alcohol. 

This is normally known as "Dual diagnosis," and can be treated together when doing a medically assisted detox. 

Use of detox medication 

Medical detox from alcohol program normally makes use of some serious medications that can help in minimizing the effects of alcohol withdrawal.

Most people doing a home detox will try including supplements, vitamins, and some over the counter drugs. 

These will however not be as effective as the prescribed medications by a certified home detox specialist.  

Now, even though you can get the drugs on your own, administration should only be done by a physician who determines how much you need, and the safe doses. 

What is a Medically Supervised Detox? 

Because detox is unpredictable, it may be wise to include some medical professionals to help during the process.

Dealing with the psychological and medical effects is quite difficult to manage alone. 

Medically supported detox programs are excellent as they come with licensed professionals who can also prescribe medication to ease the symptoms.

They will provide a medically supervised withdrawal that may not be as intense as the one you do on your own during the home detox process. 

Why a medical detox is important?

Medical detox is extremely important, because certain withdrawal symptoms can be challenging when you detox at home.  

Now, even when the serious withdrawal risks are not a factor, a detox with medical support helps during the early recovery process and avoids too much suffering when going through the process. 

Many people are surprised how severe these symptoms can be, and they find that nausea, muscle pain and vomiting unbearable.  

There are several medications used during a detox with medical support that detox at home doesn't have. These help in managing the situation. 

Any level of professional detox is uncomfortable, but detox with medical support is easier on your body due to the added level of care during the symptoms.

Medical management is critical for success, and it also minimizes the chances of fatalities as a result of the withdrawal process.  

Experiencing severe withdrawal cannot always be predicted, and you will find people who do not experience any symptoms at all, and medical withdrawal settings are sought for when the symptoms become harmful. 

The most severe risks for complications of alcohol withdrawal arise due to the following reasons: 

  • A longstanding history of regular and heavy use of alcohol. 
  • Prior withdrawal episodes. 
  • A history of seizures or delirium 
  • High dependence on other addictive substances such as benzodiazepines. 
  • Being aged 65 and above.

What Medications Do They Use During a Medically Assisted Detox?

Depending on the type of alcohol you have been abusing, and the length of time you have abused it, there are several medications used to help minimize cravings and also manage the withdrawal symptoms associated with the disorder. 

Other drugs can also be used to decrease the risks of seizures when undergoing alcohol detox. 

Currently however, alcohol symptoms are treated with the following drugs:  

  • Benzodiazepines like lorazepam,  
  • Alprazolam, and  
  • Diazepam  

These are the most common drugs used in reducing the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal and making it easy to go through the rehab process.  

For people who have had alcohol abuse for a long time, the medical professionals will advise you to seek rehab treatment from a residential clinic so they can deal with any of these symptoms whenever they occur.

After the medical assisted detox?

It is wise to remember that detox is only the first step towards a more comprehensive treatment for alcohol addiction, and for most people the aftercare is vital to their long journey towards sobriety.

In addition to the beneficial medications, we have talked about above, some therapy is needed for the person to maintain a sober life. 

They include: 

CBT or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy  

This enables the person to identify that they can better manage the addiction altogether and they can also avoid the triggers to drinking alcohol through identifying the thoughts and situations that lead to this. 

This is a wisely used approach to mental health and it has been found to be effective for anyone who suffers from substance use disorder. 

Motivational therapy  

This is interviewing an individual and giving them positive ideas to change their behaviour. It helps one overcome their ambivalence and gives them an opportunity to engage with more treatment for substance use. 

Contingency management 

This makes use of incentives such as prizes and rewards that help in bringing out the positive behavioural changes related to using drugs and alcohol. 

12- step facilitation  

It is used widely in treatment programs and the participants normally learn the principles of a 12-step program. 

Normally, the support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous use this treatment. The 12-step process encourages sobriety through continued recovery. 

Sober living house 

If you are having trouble staying at home and maintaining your sobriety, then a sober living house would be a good idea. This is because the houses do not allow anyone who is still drinking to reside in them. 

All visitors are also prohibited from bringing drugs and alcohol into the house; neither are they allowed to be under the influence when they visit. 

A majority of these sober homes do not offer overt treatment, and as a tenant, you are expected to find work and keep yourself involved throughout your time there. 

One must deal with their legal problems and help contribute to the home’s upkeep through meal preparations and chores. 

Your life during detox 

When one goes through detox, they open a door in their lives that was previously impossible to attain. People who are new to recovery will need to prepare themselves to make significant changes in their lifestyles. 

Previously, living a clean and sober lifestyle may have seemed boring, but they will soon discover that it is anything but! There are many activities one can do, which do not necessarily include drinking. 

Here are some examples of activities that can help one stay sober after rehab: 

  • Going to the movies 
  • Studying a new course or training in new skills. 
  • Doing volunteer work. 
  • Playing games such as surfing, fishing, or going to the gym. 
  • Taking dance classes such as tai chi, or yoga 
  • Attending the 12-step programs. 
  • Spending some quality time with friends and family members. 
  • Learning how to play a new instrument such as piano or guitar. 
  • Socializing with people who are also in recovery like you. 
  • Having some picnics with family members and friends. 
  • Joining a spiritual group or church. 
  • Befriending like-minded people 
  • Reading new books. 
  • Exploring the world through travels. 

Most people live their lives without centring it on alcohol, and you can too. Soon you will discover that you don’t need alcohol to have a good time and enjoy life. Alcohol addiction will just ruin your life. 

A sober and clean life can be meaningful as it will expose you to new people, new activities and even give you the confidence to tackle different things in life. 

You will end up with a new zest for life because when you are clean and sober, the world is simply your oyster! There is nothing you cannot do. 

Addiction is an undisciplined lifestyle that prevents you from doing some of the things you have always desired. You will find yourself enjoying sobriety! Learn to do what you enjoy and get a new attitude about life. 

How Can One Identify Relapse? 

When one relapses, there are normally signs that are easy to spot. For example, if your loved one starts reminiscing about the times, they used to abuse alcohol, this is a potential sign of relapse. 

If they start reconnecting with old friends they would drink with and visit the former places associated with their addiction, this is a big sign that they are about to relapse. 

Other signs include: 

  • When there is a sudden behavioural change and attitude. 
  • When they have stopped attending their support group meetings 
  • When they suddenly lose interest in their new hobbies 
  • When they start keeping secrets. 

Please note that relapse should not be considered a failure, and it should be seen as an obstacle to the process of overcoming a life-long journey to sobriety. 

It offers you an opportunity to reassess your path and get back into the program to get the help you need and maintain your progress. 

Most people who struggle with addiction tend to undergo more than one course of treatment before finding their footing in the journey to success. 

Ultimately the only person who can help manage their addiction is the patient. Rehab will help give you the skills needed to remain sober. 

Conclusion 

After Detox, now comes rehab. You are not done yet. This was just the first step towards sobriety, and what you need to do now is enrol in a long-term treatment facility, to treat your addiction. 

You cannot do the whole process while at home. You will need help from qualified and certified health professionals who will provide: 

  • Therapy for you and your family. 
  • Counselling. 
  • Support. 
  • Mental health management. 
  • Drugs administration, etc. 

You cannot assume that after rehab you are healed. This will quickly backfire on you, and you may find yourself relapsing because of this. 

So, the most important thing to note is that rehab isn't for everyone, and if it is going to work, alcohol at home cannot be an option. When done right, it has excellent results. 

Abbeycare Pricing Bot

Last Updated: November 3, 2021

About the author

Peter Szczepanski

Peter has been on the GPhC register for 29 years. He holds a Clinical Diploma in Advanced Clinical Practice and he is a Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Misuse for Abbeycare Gloucester and works as the Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Use in Worcestershire. Find Peter on Respiratory Academy, Aston University graduates, University of Birmingham, Q, Pharmaceutical Journal, the Dudley Pharmaceutical Committee, Dudley Council, Twitter, and LinkedIn.