How much is too much when it comes to alcohol? The Centers for Disease Control estimates that more than seven drinks a week for women and 14 drinks for men are considered alcohol abuse. People who drink this much or more, or those who binge drink (consuming 4-5 drinks in a short period), are at risk of developing an alcohol use disorder (AUD), otherwise known as alcoholism.
Alcohol use disorder is a disease of the brain. It is characterized by the inability to control the desire to drink, no matter how harmful or destructive the consequences may be. As an individual drinks more they build up a tolerance to alcohol. More of the substance is needed to reach the desired effects. Eventually, the person develops a physical dependence on alcohol that causes uncomfortable and even dangerous symptoms when they stop drinking. Without support, most alcoholics will return to drinking in order to ease the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
So if you think you have trouble with alcohol and want to stop drinking, can you detox from alcohol at home? Or, better asked, can you detox from alcohol at home in a safe manner? The short answer is no. For the addicted person’s health and safety and for the sake of long-term sobriety, a medically supervised detox program is recommended.
What Causes Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal?
Alcohol has a slowing or sedating effect on the brain. In cases of chronic overuse, the brain is exposed to these sedating effects almost constantly. With time, the brain learns to alter its natural chemistry to compensate for the alcohol. In an effort to balance the system, the brain produces stimulating chemicals such as norepinephrine and serotonin in larger quantities than it normally would.
When a person stops drinking, they essentially remove the sedative (alcohol) from their brain without warning. However, the brain does not automatically stop producing higher levels of stimulants. The brain may continue to accelerate for many days as it readjusts to normal chemical levels. This imbalance is what causes a majority of withdrawal symptoms.
Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline
The physical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal last between one and 14 days for most people. However, many factors can affect the process. Duration and amount of use, general health, mental health issues, gender, age, and whether or not the person has gone through alcohol detox at least once before all play a role.
In general, the timeline for withdrawal follows this pattern:
- Zero to 72 hours after the last drink, mild symptoms are present
- Two to five days after the last drink, the most severe physical symptoms are present
- Five to 14 days after the last drink, patients experience more psychologically and mood-related symptoms
A subset of detox symptoms referred to as post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS) may continue in some people for many weeks or months. Depression, fatigue, sleep disorders, and intense cravings for alcohol are among the most common post-acute symptoms.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
The detoxing process is different for every person, but everyone with an alcohol use disorder is at risk for serious side effects if they stop drinking abruptly. That is why going through alcohol withdrawal at home is not recommended. While severe symptoms are more likely for people with a history of heavy and prolonged alcohol use, it is impossible to accurately predict any individual’s detox experience.
Symptoms of detox include:
- Fever, body aches, and other flu-like symptoms
- Emotional instability
- Delirium tremens
- Mood swings
- Brain fog
- Rapid pulse rate and breathing
- Excess sweating
- Increased blood pressure
Severe symptoms such as delirium tremens (DTs), seizures, and rapid heart rate can be life-threatening. Quitting “cold turkey” or undergoing alcohol withdrawal at home can lead to death.
Can You Detox from Alcohol at Home?
If you struggle with alcohol use disorder or know people who do, you have no doubt heard stories about sweating out detox at home. But can you detox from alcohol at home? Without hurting yourself? While it is technically possible to do it, it is unsafe, and that’s the bottom line. No self-help “detox kits” or expert tips will protect a person from the dangerous side effects of detox.
What’s more, addiction is a disease, and every person with a substance abuse issue deserves compassionate medical care. Medical detox protects a patient during potential emergencies and makes the experience of detoxing more comfortable by easing the severity of the symptoms. A positive, stable, and supportive detox experience helps to build a foundation for long-term sobriety.
Benefits of Medically Supervised Alcohol Detox
Detoxing is a part of recovery that can’t be ignored or minimized. Though it is challenging, it can also be a positive experience with the right support. Personal health and safety should be enough of a reason to avoid detoxing from alcohol at home, but there are also many other benefits to a supervised detox program.
Medical Assistance and Therapy are Readily Available
Medications to ease the physical symptoms of withdrawal are a major benefit to medical detox, but many patients also require medical care beyond the discomforts of detoxing.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that 7.7 million Americans have both a substance use disorder and a co-occurring mental illness, yet half of those people will never receive treatment for either of those problems. Alcohol use can hide or alter mental health problems that may be why some people begin drinking in the first place. Medical detox provides the intense observation and care needed to diagnose and treat mental illness accurately.
Like mental health problems, the physical disease can also go unnoticed when alcohol use takes precedent. In some cases, the signs of an illness can be mistaken for signs of alcohol use. Liver disease, brain damage, heart disease, and cancer are common and potentially life-threatening conditions associated with alcohol addiction. During medical detox, patients will undergo a complete physical to ascertain and begin treatment for any underlying health issues.
The lack of an unsupportive environment is a concern for many people thinking about undergoing alcohol withdrawal at home. People with addiction disorders frequently become estranged from family and friends. They may be homeless or live with other addicts as their disorder becomes more severe. A medical detox facility not only provides a clean, safe place to live, it also provides an atmosphere filled with people who support the patient’s efforts at recovery.
Detox facilities are more than just a place to go through withdrawal safely. The detox program at The Haven offers access to medical staff, therapists, and other recovery specialists who develop a treatment plan to meet each patient’s needs. Healthy meals, comfortable housing, and addiction treatment are all part of the detox process.
Going through withdrawals is difficult. The urge to drink can be overwhelming, causing even the strongest person to give in to their cravings. There is no one to be accountable to when a person tries to detox from alcohol at home. At a facility, patients are supervised 24/7. As long as they remain in the facility, they cannot drink alcohol or use other substances without being held accountable for their actions. Accountability is one reason supervised detox is especially recommended for people who have already been through rehab at least once in the past.
Easy Transition to Recovery Programs
Detoxing is only the first step in recovery. Going through alcohol withdrawal at a supervised program makes it easier to transition into a residential treatment program. Many facilities, like The Haven, offer comprehensive services that make it easy for patients to begin participating in evidence-based treatments as soon as they are able.
Working with a team of recovery specialists also helps the patient plan for life outside of the treatment facility. Locating appropriate outpatient treatments, sober living housing, employment assistance, and other long-term support is all part of comprehensive service.
Are You Still Considering Detoxing at Home?
Overcoming alcohol addiction isn’t a matter of willpower. It is a disease that changes the way the brain functions. If it were easy to stop drinking, people with AUD would not lose their jobs, homes, and families because of their alcohol use.
Detoxing from alcohol at home rarely works for a person with alcohol use disorder. Without accountability or a way to manage withdrawal symptoms, it is too difficult. And without a support system, most people don’t know where to go or what to do next, even if they manage to get through detox.
What to Expect During Medically Supervised Detox
If you’ve decided to get treatment, medical detox gives you the greatest chance of success. When you enter a detox facility, you can expect:
- A full evaluation by qualified medical personnel experienced in addiction treatment
- Compassionate care and symptom management
- Constant medical monitoring
- Pharmacotherapeutic and behavioral solutions for handling cravings
- A personalized treatment plan that includes evidence-based therapies and aftercare
- Support from peers and staff
Recovery from alcohol use disorder is a lifelong process that begins with detox. A detox process that includes medical care, treatment for undiagnosed disorders and building a new sober community helps with the successful long-term management of AUD. Contact us today to learn more about our medically supervised detox program.