If you’re considering quitting heavy drinking, you may have questions. How long will your detox last and how can you do it? Is it safe to go through alcohol detox at home on your own?
How to Detox from Alcohol at Home
First of all, it is 100% possible to get through alcohol detox and withdrawals with the right medical care. A healthcare provider can tell you whether you can or should go through alcohol detox at home or if you must do so at a medical or rehab facility. Ask your doctor before attempting a self-detox.
What’s a self-detox anyway? Well, a self-detox is when a person tries to stop using alcohol or drugs without professional help. That person might go “cold-turkey” or taper his or her use of alcohol alone. Some people plan carefully when self-detoxing and others don’t do anything to get ready. It’s an individual’s own method without any medical support.
Self-detoxing from any substance, especially one as addictive as alcohol, is never advised. In fact, it is always best to detox at a medical detox facility or rehab facility that offers medical detox services. But, if one is set on performing an alcohol detox at home, there are measures that one can take to make the process more safe.
Before You Quit
If you suffer from alcohol dependency or an alcohol use disorder (AUD), it can be dangerous to stop drinking suddenly. Instead, try to reduce the amount you drink slowly over a few weeks. This will require some preparation, but it is safer than just stopping suddenly.
After cutting down your drinking, it will be much easier to stop drinking completely when the time comes. Here is a step-by-step process to taper your alcohol use while performing an alcohol detox at home that you may find helpful:
1. Keep a Drinking Diary
Before you begin to taper off your drinking, it’s important to know how much you actually do drink in a day. Without changing your habits, keep a drinking diary for one week. Write down:
- Every drink you have
- When you have it
- How much alcohol was in each drink you had
In the U.S., one “standard” drink contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol. This amount of pure alcohol is typically found in the following:
- 12 ounces of regular beer, which is typically about 5% alcohol
- 5 ounces of wine, which is usually about 12% alcohol
- 1.5 ounces of distilled liquor, which is usually around 40% alcohol
- 8-9 ounces of malt liquor, which is usually about 7% alcohol
2. Start Reducing Your Intake
After you stabilize your drinking level for a week, you can start cutting down the amount that you drink. Start by reducing by about 10% per day. Keep drinking at that level for 4 days then try to cut back by another 10%.
If you start to have withdrawal symptoms, you are cutting down too fast. Cut back by less each week and then try to stop completely.
Tips to Help You Cut Down
- Ask a loved one or trusted friend to help. He or she can help measure your drinks and record your intake.
- Slowly switch to a lower-strength drink. You could replace a high alcohol content beer with a lower one.
- Add water or a mixer to your drinks. You could also alternate one non-alcohol drink for every alcoholic drink you have.
- Eat healthily, avoid sugar, and try to eat plenty of brown rice and wholegrain bread. These foods are good for your vitamin B1 levels.
- Take a vitamin B1 supplement
- Stay hydrated with plenty of non-alcoholic drinks. However, avoid coffee and energy drinks because they can cause problems sleeping.
3. Quit Drinking
When you think you have cut back on your alcohol through tapering sufficiently, try quitting completely. However, you may still need support in case of an emergency. Tell the people you live with, or anyone helping you to call an ambulance if you:
- Have a seizure
- Become confused
- Have double vision
- Become unsteady when standing
- Experience hallucinations
Clearly, you will need help even if you choose to do an alcohol detox at home. Still, the safest way to experience alcohol withdrawal during alcohol detox is with the supervision of a healthcare professional. Detoxing in a medical detox facility or rehab facility with medical detox services setting can make sure that qualified professionals are always on hand to help you be as safe and comfortable as possible.
In addition, you should be particularly careful about going through alcohol withdrawal if you’re at high risk for developing delirium tremens (DTs). Factors that put you at high risk for experiencing DTs include:
- You’ve been drinking alcohol every day for a long period of time
- Experiencing DTs before while going through withdrawal
- You’ve been having seizures or have a history of seizures
- You have an infection
In the end, only a healthcare provider can evaluate your risk for having alcohol withdrawal complications like delirium tremens. They are the only people who can sufficiently monitor you to make sure your withdrawal symptoms don’t become too intense. If left untreated, DTs can lead to stroke, heart attacks, and death. But, if it is treated in a facility with medical supervision, delirium tremens can be treated and their symptoms will subside in about a week.
What You Need To Know
Alcohol Detox Isn’t Immediate
Now that you’ve been informed on the risks of performing an alcohol detox at home and you are armed with a method to go about it, one of the main things you need to know is that alcohol detox is a longer road than you probably think. Many newly sober people feel defeated because they still feel emotionally and physically awful even after several days without alcohol.
It will be great to wake up without a hangover when detoxing from alcohol, but your body is still adjusting to not having alcohol in its system. Therefore, the average physical withdrawal lasts about 4 to 5 days.
For the first 6 to 36 hours after your last drink, you will probably feel the following:
- Mild anxiety
- Heart palpitations
Take it easy on yourself the first several days. Try to avoid stress and “shame spirals.” Beating yourself up won’t help you get better any faster.
Withdrawal Symptoms That Can Be Life-Threatening
Some alcohol withdrawal symptoms are life-threatening in and of themselves. Thus, if you do choose to perform alcohol detox at home, it’s best to have medical professionals and family and friends that you can call on if things go wrong.
Some life-threatening alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:
The threat of withdrawal-related seizures is very real for about the first 48 hours when detoxing. It’s important to remember that withdrawals from alcohol and benzodiazepines are the only types of withdrawals known to actually kill with seizures. In fact, hundreds of deaths occur every year in the U.S. due to withdrawal-related seizures. If you or a family member have a history of seizures, talk to a doctor before you suddenly stop drinking or perform alcohol detox at home.
Another scary alcohol withdrawal symptom is hallucinations. Hallucinations due to alcohol withdrawal can last up to 12 to 48 hours after a person consumes his or her last drink.
According to Medscape, as many as 25% of patients with a long history of alcohol abuse suffer from alcoholic hallucinations. When suffering from hallucinations due to alcohol withdrawal, your skin may feel itchy and you may believe there are bugs crawling on you.
In the early stages of alcohol withdrawal, you may realize that you are only hallucinating. As hallucinations caused by alcohol withdrawal become more and more advanced though, you may start to believe that your hallucinations are real. This may cause you to experience extreme fear and anxiety. If the hallucinations that you experience due to alcohol withdrawal start to feel dangerous, contact medical help immediately.
Delirium Tremens (DTs)
People often describe delirium tremens as the “big bad wolves” of withdrawal symptoms. People that experience DTs due to alcohol withdrawal usually do so for about 2 to 3 days.
DTs are severe and about 5% of people in alcohol detox experience them. They can cause heart attack, stroke, and death.
Signs of delirium tremens include:
- Extreme confusion
- Excessive sweating
- High blood pressure
Heavy drinkers (15 drinks/week for men and 8 drinks/week for women) have the highest risk to experience DTs. People with seizures or people who have gone through alcohol withdrawal before, along with white male adults, are also at high-risk of experiencing delirium tremens.
Treatment for DTs usually includes:
- Taking benzodiazepines
- Taking antipsychotic drugs
- Blood pressure medication
- Pain management medication
Don’t Detox Alone
Although the alcohol withdrawal symptoms that we just talked about are horrible, they can be overcome. Luckily, they don’t last as long as the shame and dread that goes along with suffering from an alcohol use disorder.
Beware that many people that try to perform alcohol detox at home end up in the hospital. Such people do though usually walk out of the hospital with a better idea of how they ended up there in the first place.
Support groups are beneficial for all people that are experiencing alcohol detox and addiction treatment. Support groups are especially beneficial though for people that are planning on experiencing alcohol detox at home.
Some simple pieces of advice for people that plan to experience alcohol detox at home are:
- Drink lots of water
- Eat digestion-friendly foods like soup
- Take lots of naps
- Have a family member or friend close by in case of emergencies
What Causes Alcohol Withdrawal?
People experience alcohol withdrawal when minimizing or no longer drinking alcohol because their brains and bodies have become accustomed to functioning with alcohol. In fact, withdrawal from any drug happens because a person’s body has become physically dependent on the substance. For example, If you suddenly quit drinking coffee after a 10 cup a day habit, you will probably get a headache.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur because of a central nervous system depressant that changes the way your brain works. Technically, drinking alcohol causes your brain to produce more GABA (a neurotransmitter that causes you to feel calm and euphoric) and less glutamate (a neurotransmitter that makes you feel excited). Thus, when detoxing from alcohol, the brain starts producing less GABA and more glutamate to balance things out.
When you suddenly stop consuming alcohol, your brain can’t keep up with the changes and you feel the effects of unbalanced neurotransmitters. This causes individuals that detox from alcohol to often experience the alcohol withdrawal symptoms of jumpiness, tremors, and anxiety.
Whether you experience many alcohol withdrawal symptoms or not, when you stop drinking often depends on a few factors including:
- How much you typically drink
- How long you’ve been drinking
- Other health conditions
Generally speaking, if you’ve been drinking heavily for a long period of time, you are more likely to experience more intense alcohol withdrawal symptoms when you stop.
Medications for Alcohol Withdrawal
Medications are the front-line treatments for serious alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol withdrawal medications can literally save your life, especially if you suffer from delirium tremens.
As mentioned previously, doctors often prescribe benzodiazepines to individuals that are suffering from alcohol withdrawal symptoms. This is because benzodiazepines are anti-anxiety medications, or medications to help people’s brains adapt to the sudden absence of alcohol.
Other alcohol withdrawal medications can include:
- Vitamins that doctors prescribe to help address nutrition deficiencies
- Anticonvulsants that doctors often prescribe to individuals to prevent seizures
- Disulfiram (Antabuse), that reduces cravings by helping to restore balance to the brain
- Naltrexone (Vivitrol), which reduces cravings by blocking the pleasure alcohol causes
Alcohol Addiction Treatment
After you’ve gotten through alcohol withdrawal safely, that is just the beginning of your recovery journey. Now it’s time to address the psychological and emotional aspects of your addiction. There are several ways to address those aspects of addiction while in one of the following treatment programs.
- Residential or Inpatient treatment programs
- Intensive outpatient programs and regular outpatient programs
- Sober living
Going through an alcohol addiction treatment program after detox greatly reduces your chances of relapsing. Many people who leave the structure of a rehab program though still do not feel confident enough to go back to their previous situations.
Such people could benefit from living in sober living facilities post-rehab. Sober living homes make it easier for people to transition into regular life once rehab is over.
The Bottom Line
Performing alcohol detox at home is dangerous and can even be deadly. Therefore, if you’re a lifelong heavy drinker, you should not perform an alcohol detox at home. Instead, perform alcohol detox at a medical detox facility or rehab facility with medical detox services.
Proper medical treatment can help you get through alcohol detox and withdrawal safely so that you can continue on your recovery journey.
Receive Alcohol Addiction Treatment At Tulua Health After Completing Alcohol Detox
Before you try to perform alcohol detox at home, you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to first check in with a medical detox facility or rehab facility with medical detox services. Once you do that, you can safely perform an alcohol detox.
Once alcohol detox is complete, it’s time to receive alcohol addiction treatment. Luckily, we here at Tulua Health offer high-quality alcohol addiction treatment.
For example, we offer intensive inpatient program treatment for alcohol addiction. Taking part in such alcohol addiction treatment programs will hopefully help individuals learn to live without drinking alcohol.
Here at Tulua Health, we understand that substance use disorders such as alcoholism commonly co-occur with mental health conditions. While we don’t offer addiction treatment, we do treat mental health disorders. Contact us here at Tulua Health today. We will be happy to talk with you about your fears and answer any questions that you have about treatment.