How to Detox From Alcohol Safely

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What Is an Alcohol Detox?

Alcohol Detox

An "alcohol detox" is when someone stops drinking alcohol after long-term use. A detox removes any toxins from the body.

Alcohol detoxing is a complicated process and could lead to medical complications. Healthcare experts often recommend doing it in a rehabilitation program or hospital. People have different reasons for opting to detox from alcohol.

You might suspect that you are beginning to develop an alcohol dependence, or you simply think it’s a healthy decision to make at this point in your life. However, if you’ve decided to begin an alcohol detox, learn more about its risks and tips to do it safely at home.

What to Expect From Alcohol Withdrawal 

Detoxing from alcohol at home is standard of care in many instances. This process is medically supervised and includes the use of medications and close communication with a physician.

Daily Check-Ins

During medically-supervised at-home detox, you will check in with a healthcare provider daily for several days after stopping or reducing your alcohol use. If you cannot attend an in-person check-in each day, it may be possible to switch between virtual and in-person check-ins on alternating days. 

A healthcare practitioner will assess your health, including your general physical condition, vital signs, hydration, sleep, and emotional status.

At these check-ins, they will also monitor the severity of your withdrawal symptoms using assessment scales. You may also be asked to monitor your symptoms using a self-administered scale such as the Short Alcohol Withdrawal Scale (SAWS).

Withdrawal Symptoms

At the beginning of your alcohol detox, you may experience withdrawal symptoms that range in severity in the first few days of your detox. In the first 24 hours, you will experience mild to moderate withdrawal symptoms. Then, between 48 and 72 hours into your detox, you may experience more severe withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms are typically painful and challenging to manage. Withdrawal symptoms from alcohol include: 

  • Hallucinations 
  • Tremors 
  • Seizures 
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting 
  • Anxiety
  • High blood pressure 
  • Excessive sweating 
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep 

A higher level of care will be needed if you experience symptoms such as agitation or severe tremor, severe or worsening symptoms, existing psychiatric issues, sedation, unstable vital signs, or relapse to alcohol use.

Medications

Medications that may be prescribed to help with medically-supervised at-home detox include benzodiazepines, phenobarbital, carbamazepine, and gabapentin.

How to Detox at Home 

Always consult your doctor before undergoing a detox. It can be dangerous to detox at home without medical supervision, particularly if you are at risk of having a seizure. 

Detoxing from alcohol is a laborious process. If you are a heavy alcohol user, it’s not advisable to quit suddenly. Suddenly stopping could cause complications such as hallucinations, heart failure, and in severe cases, even death.

Your doctor may recommend gradually decreasing your alcohol intake to minimize this risk and prescribe a medication called naltrexone, which blocks the endorphins usually released when drinking alcohol. This helps make consuming alcohol less pleasurable.

One of the advantages of using naltrexone targeted before drinking, often called The Sinclair Method, is that alcohol consumption is gradually reduced, avoiding uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and the need for inpatient detoxification.

When considering detoxing at home, you need to talk to your doctor about specific questions, including:

  • Is medically-supervised detox at home the safest option for you? 
  • Are you equipped with the tools to help you through your detox safely?
  • Why are you detoxing at home instead of a hospital or rehabilitation center? 

Many people who detox at home do it because that’s where they feel safest. Detoxing at home is also cheaper and protects your privacy. You get to be surrounded by close friends and family who support you and will care for you throughout the process.

Discussing these questions with your doctor can help you determine what approach is right for you.

Before You Start 

Before you start detoxing, you should prepare yourself and your home for the journey ahead. You can do this in the following ways:

  • Remove alcohol from your home: Get rid of any alcohol in your home. Completely rid your home and any places you frequent of alcohol. Also, avoid any bars, parties, or social events that might contain alcohol. 
  • Inform your support system: Detoxing is a complex process that can be made even more difficult if you attempt to do it alone. Share the burden with your close family and friends who can hold you accountable through the process, hold your hand and be able to contact emergency services in case of a medical complication. 
  • Take some time off: If you have a demanding job or a hectic daily schedule, detoxing can be a little more complicated. Take some time off to focus solely on your detox and recovery. 
  • Keep a journal: In the weeks or days leading up to the beginning of your detox, keep a journal of how much you drink, how often you do it, and what times of day you drink. 

During Your Detox 

Detoxing at home begins once you decide to stop consuming alcohol. Here’s how you can support yourself during your detox:

  • Stay on top of your nutrition: Maintaining a healthy diet is crucial for the average person. It becomes even more pertinent when you are detoxing. Eat foods and fruits that will supply you with your daily nutrients. Most heavy drinkers are usually deficient in many nutrients, so you should talk to your health care provider about taking multiple vitamins. B vitamins, especially thiamine, can be very important in preventing complications from alcohol withdrawal.
  • Stay hydrated: Some withdrawal symptoms such as vomiting and excessive sweating can easily cause you to become dehydrated. It’s important to keep drinking fluids throughout the process of your detox to prevent dehydration.
  • Ease out of it: It’s not advisable to stop drinking alcohol suddenly if you’ve been a chronic drinker. Going cold turkey can cause severe withdrawal symptoms.You can start your detox by slowly reducing the amount of alcohol you consume daily. 
  • Avoid triggers: If possible, create a strict schedule that helps you avoid triggers that make you drink. Triggers could include interacting with certain people, going to certain places, or being in stressful situations. While you can’t expect to avoid every possible trigger, you can remove the triggers in your control. 
  • Stay activeRegular exercise, even when you don’t feel up to it, will help you through your detox. Exercising is also a great way to keep your mind off thoughts of drinking during your detox. 
  • Make provision for medical assistance: Keep a first aid kit at hand, inform friends and family what to do if they notice any severe symptoms, and find your nearest healthcare provider or call 911.

Risks of Detoxing at Home 

There are several risks associated with detoxing at home. The biggest is that medical complications can arise when you are in alcohol withdrawal. If they do occur, the odds that you are equipped to handle these complications are typically low.

In some instances, you might need certain medications to get you through your detox that is not readily available over the counter and can only be administered by a healthcare provider.

Other risks that could arise when detoxing at home include: 

  • Relapsing: Detoxing is a complicated and often painful process. Detoxing at home without medical supervision, you risk giving up on the process and starting to drink again to avoid dealing with withdrawal symptoms. Research shows that people who detox at home are at a higher risk of relapsing.
  • Difficulty avoiding triggers: Avoiding triggers can be even more complicated when detoxing at home. You are more likely to run into people and situations that make you drink. 
  • Increased risk of worsening mental health symptoms: Alcohol use disorder and alcohol dependence tend to co-occur with mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. Symptoms of these conditions can worsen when detoxing. At home, you might not realize what’s going on with you, but your healthcare provider will be able to mitigate it with medical supervision. 

Additional Detox Options

When detoxing at home, it is important to talk to your doctor beforehand and ensure that you have proper medical supervision and support during the process. While at-home detox is often the standard approach, some individuals may need additional assistance in a hospital or rehabilitation center.

You may begin with a medically-supervised detox and home and later move to a higher level of care if your withdrawal symptoms indicate a need for closer supervision and additional treatment.

If you want to spend more time at home, you can opt for an outpatient program instead of an inpatient one. Outpatient programs allow you to go home to familiar surroundings.

An outpatient program allows you the comfort of doing most of your detox process at home while going into a medical facility to help with treatment and medical supervision. 

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Toketemu Ohwovoriole
Toketemu has been multimedia storyteller for the last four years. Her expertise focuses primarily on mental wellness and women’s health topics.