When you’re addicted to alcohol, the idea of quitting is often overwhelming – especially when you think about going through withdrawal. One of the first questions that may cross your mind is, “do I need medical detox or can I safely detox on my own/at home?”
Whether you should seek treatment when detoxing from alcohol depends on a number of different factors, including how long you’ve been drinking, how often you drink, other co-occurring disorders (such as anxiety or depression), how many times you’ve tried to quit, and more.
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Can I Detox at Home?
Do a quick search online and you’ll find that self-detoxing at home isn’t recommended. Even if you haven’t been drinking for very long, detox symptoms can change quickly and may cause serious medical complications.
However, for some people, detoxing at home is their only chance at getting clean. Most people who detox at home quit cold turkey, but some choose the tapering off method instead.
Detoxing at home without the assistance of a doctor or medications is often painful, but it can be done. If you feel that detoxing at home is right for you, it’s critical that you do it safely, have a support system to rely on, and focus on staying healthy.
Alcohol Detox Symptoms
For heavy drinkers, alcohol withdrawal is potentially life-threatening. Alcohol withdrawal can begin as early as two hours after your last drink, continue for weeks, and range from mild anxiety and shakiness to seizures and delirium tremens (DTs).
For most people, the first signs of alcohol withdrawal appear six to 12 hours after you stop drinking. Some of the most common alcohol detox symptoms include:
- Mild anxiety
- Mood swings
- Clammy or pale skin
- Dilated pupils
- Rapid heart rate
- Loss of appetite
Delirium tremens typically occurs when you stop drinking alcohol after a period of heavy drinking, especially if you don’t eat enough food during that time. It’s most commonly associated with people who have a history of attempting alcohol withdrawal. It may also be caused by a head injury, infection, or illness in people with a history of alcohol abuse.
Symptoms typically occur 48 to 96 hours after your last drink, but they may not surface until seven to 10 days later. The most common symptoms of delirium tremens include:
- Body tremors
- Changes in mental function
- Agitation or irritability
- Confusion or disorientation
- Decreased attention span
- Deep sleep that lasts for several days
- Increased activity
- Quick mood changes
- Sensitivity to light, sound, or touch
- Sleepiness or fatigue
- Most often occur 12 to 48 hours after the last drink.
- Most common in people with past complications from alcohol withdrawal.
- Typically categorized as generalized tonic-clonic seizures.
The Recovery Village 2020 Alcohol Survey Results
We surveyed 2,136 American adults who either wanted to stop drinking alcohol or had already tried to (successfully or not). Of those surveyed, 1,559 had detoxed before. We asked them about their alcohol use, reasons for drinking, alcohol-related outcomes, health and more.
Respondents’ withdrawal symptoms lasted for an average of 4.83 days. For 95% of respondents, withdrawal symptoms lasted between 2–8 days. This range stayed the same whether they detoxed from home or at a medical facility.
Respondents who had detoxed from alcohol reported experiencing the following withdrawal symptoms:
- 1 in 2 respondents reported irritability (46.8%)
- 1 in 2 reported fatigue (42.3%)
- 1 in 2 reported sweating (44.9%)
- 1 in 2 reported stress or anxiety (48.6%)
- 1 in 3 reported hand tremors (33.5%)
- 1 in 4 reported nausea or vomiting (23.6%)
- 1 in 4 reported mood swings (23.6%)
- 1 in 5 reported rapid heart rate (22.9%)
- 1 in 8 reported hallucinations (13.4%)
- 1 in 10 reported Delirium tremens (DT) (11.4%)
- 1 in 12 reported seizures (8.2%)
Across the board, heavy alcohol users reported withdrawal symptoms more than average. Heavy drinkers more than doubled their risk for hallucinations during detox, being 2.39 times more likely than other alcohol users to experience them. Compared to others during detox, heavy drinkers were:
- 90% more likely to experience Delirium Tremens
- 45% more likely to experience seizures
- 95% more likely to experience rapid heart rate
- 147% more likely to experience hand tremors
- 69% more likely to experience sweating
- 65% more likely to experience nausea or vomiting
- 35% more likely to experience irritability
- 28% more likely to experience fatigue
- 28% more likely to experience stress or anxiety
- 27% more likely to experience mood swings
Why You Should Seek Out Medical Help for Alcohol Detox
Attending a treatment program is always recommended when detoxing from alcohol, but it’s especially beneficial for people with severe addictions or those who haven’t been able to successfully detox on their own in the past.
There are two types of medical treatment available: inpatient and outpatient. Each type of program has its own set of pros and cons, and ultimately, it’s your decision as to what program is right for you.
- Inpatient Treatment:
Inpatient treatment is most frequently recommended for people who have been drinking for a long time or who consumed excessive amounts of alcohol throughout their addiction.
In inpatient treatment, you receive 24-hour care from a medical professional. Should you need it, a doctor can prescribe you medications that help you safely manage your withdrawal symptoms.
Another benefit of inpatient treatment is that you’ve removed from your old environment, temptations, triggers, and negative influences. For some people, it’s difficult to be away from home, especially if you have a strong support system. However, if you don’t have a positive support system at home, inpatient treatment gives you the opportunity to develop a strong support system of people who understand what you’re going through.
- Outpatient Treatment:
If your addiction isn’t as severe, outpatient treatment is another option. Outpatient detox consists of visiting a treatment facility on a regular basis as you’re detoxing from alcohol. However, for the majority of the time, you’ll detox at home. When you visit the treatment facility, you may be prescribed medications that help manage withdrawal symptoms.
Additional benefits of entering an addiction treatment program include:
- Medical stabilization.
- Peer support.
- A safe and structured environment.
- Relapse prevention.
- Therapeutic intervention.
- Family support.
- Continued, long-term treatment (aftercare).
At the end of the day, only you can decide whether detoxing at home or entering an addiction treatment facility is right for you. However, entering an inpatient or outpatient treatment program is highly recommended and allows you to safely detox from alcohol while giving you the best chance at success in recovery. If you need help deciding if an inpatient or outpatient program is right for you, reach out to our team today to learn more about our individualized treatment.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.