Alcohol detox can be tricky to attempt on your own due to the risk of rapidly worsening withdrawal symptoms.
When you’re addicted to alcohol, the idea of quitting can feel 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 detox 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 others. You should talk to your doctor or a professional addiction treatment provider about a detox plan for you.
Can I Detox at Home?
Do a quick search online and you’ll find that self-detoxing at home isn’t recommended unless you are under a doctor’s care and have round-the-clock supervision. Even if you haven’t been drinking for very long, detox symptoms can change quickly and may cause serious medical complications.
Detoxing at home without the assistance of a doctor or medications is often uncomfortable and can be dangerous. However, if you feel that detoxing from alcohol at home is your only choice, it’s critical that you do it safely, have a support system to rely on, and focus on staying healthy.
Alcohol Detox Symptoms
Alcohol withdrawal is potentially life-threatening with heavy drinking alcoholics. Alcohol withdrawal can begin within 6 hours after your last drink. Symptoms can be most severe between 36 and 72 hours after you stop drinking, and can continue for up to 10 days. They can range from mild anxiety and shakiness to seizures and delirium tremens (DTs). For those considering starting a detox, it’s important to know beforehand what can help with alcohol withdrawal.
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 (DT) is a severe form of alcohol withdrawal and involves sudden and severe mental or nervous system changes. DT is a dangerous complication of alcohol withdrawal and can be life-threatening.
Delirium tremens typically occur 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.
Delirium tremens symptoms can occur as early as 48 hours after your last drink and can last up to 5 days. 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
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 alcohol rehab 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. Seeking medical help for alcohol detox helps ensure your safety and can be much more comfortable, which can also reduce the temptation to abandon the detox process.
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 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.
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 to learn more about our individualized treatment plans and options that could work well for you.
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World Health Organization. “Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Manag[…]e in Closed Settings.” 2009. Accessed August 14, 2021.
Newman, RK; Gallagher, MAS; Gomez, AE. “Alcohol Withdrawal,” StatPearls, May 29, 2021. Accessed August 14, 2021.
Rahman, A; Paul, M. “Delirium Tremens,” StatPearls, August 29, 2020. Accessed August 14, 2021.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Alcohol Withdrawal.” January 10, 2019. Accessed August 14, 2021.
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.