Want Detox? We can get you there.

Dangers of Detoxing from Alcohol at Home

Ready to make a change?
Call to speak to an Admissions Navigator.

man holding bottle of alcohol

Americans incorporate alcohol into many parts of their everyday lives, including celebrations, social events, and relaxation. But for many people, alcohol abuse becomes a source of harm and distress. Some may drink too much on occasion but settle back into their daily lives, with minimal lasting repercussions. But an alcohol addiction is a chronic condition that negatively impacts day-to-day functioning and requires detox and addiction treatment to safely overcome.

According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 70% of people over the age of 18 reported drinking that year, and more than 15 million of them had an alcohol use disorder.1

Many people feel ashamed of their alcohol abuse, which may lead them to try to handle the problem themselves rather than seeking professional help. But alcohol withdrawal treatment at home is not only dangerous, it could be life-threatening.

During alcohol detox, your body adjusts to the absence of alcohol—and things don’t always go smoothly. Suddenly stopping drinking can result in severe withdrawal symptoms that include seizures and delirium tremens.2

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

man suffering from alcohol withdrawalsAlthough many people are able to engage in social drinking without incident or experiencing alcohol detox symptoms, alcohol consumption can lead to addiction and result in serious impairment and disturbances in a person’s life. Alcohol addiction plagued more than 16 million adults in the United States in 2014. Read More

What Are the Dangers of Detoxing at Home?

Alcohol addiction is a progressive condition that—like any other significant health issue—should be treated by qualified medical professionals. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms range from mild to extremely severe, and since there is no way of knowing where you will fall on that spectrum, it’s safest to go through detox under a doctor’s supervision.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually begin within 8 hours after your last drink, but can sometimes occur days later. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually begin within 8 hours after your last drink, but can sometimes occur days later. Symptoms typically peak around 24 to 72 hours into your detox and then subside, but some symptoms may persist for weeks.2

Signs and symptoms of alcohol detox include:3,4

  • Anxiety, irritability, and agitation.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Decreased appetite.
  • Headache.
  • High fever.
  • Tremors.
  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate.
  • Sensitivity to sound, light, and touch.
  • Increased sweating.
  • Impaired judgment, focus, and memory.
  • Hallucinations (olfactory, auditory, visual, or tactile).
  • Delusions, often paranoid or persecutory.
  • Delirium.
  • Grand mal seizures.

Seizures are one of the more dangerous symptoms of severe alcohol withdrawal, which can lead to lasting disability or death without proper medical care. Alcohol detox treatment centers use medications to prevent seizures and other medically dangerous symptoms of withdrawal, such as body temperature and pulse dysregulation.

Other factors that may complicate the detox process after a period of long-term alcohol abuse include low blood sugar, gastrointestinal bleeding, liver failure, pancreatitis, stretching and weakening of heart muscles (cardiomyopathy), and impaired brain function (encephalopathy).3

A severe symptom of alcohol withdrawal is known as delirium tremens (DTs), which is characterized by agitation, severe confusion, fever, seizures, and hallucinations.2 Studies estimate that 3–5% of patients who are hospitalized for alcohol withdrawal experience DTs.4 True delirium tremens (as opposed to “the shakes”) can lead to erratic and unpredictable behavior, which can be very difficult to manage at home, and can be fatal without medical management.4

If you experience DTs, you should seek emergency medical treatment where you can receive continuous monitoring of your cardiac rhythm, pulse, blood pressure, temperature, and respiratory rates. The best treatment for delirium tremens starts early on with alcohol withdrawal medications that halt its progression.3

Trying to detox from alcohol at home can be particularly dangerous for people with co-occurring medical conditions, such as pre-existing heart conditions or anxiety, since these issues can aggravate and intensify withdrawal symptoms. Several other factors can influence which alcohol withdrawal symptoms you get and how severely you get them: your general health, age, the severity of your last withdrawal episode, and the number of previous withdrawal episodes.3

Why Detox Is Necessary for Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol withdrawal treatment at home is risky—professional detox treatment can help mitigate these risks and ensure safety during the process. Other benefits of formal treatment include:

  • Receiving medications to ensure safety.
  • Reducing the risk of relapse.
  • Reducing the severity of withdrawal symptoms.
  • Making withdrawal more comfortable.
  • Serving as an important first step on the road to recovery.
  • Providing a safe and controlled sober environment.
  • Receiving support and care from medical and mental health professionals.
  • Having professional management of psychological issues.
  • Planning long-term alcohol abuse treatment.

Because the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be fatal, experts believe that an inpatient or hospital setting is the safest option.
Alcohol detox can occur in different settings with varying levels of intensity because there is no single program that works best for everyone. Because the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be fatal, experts consistently state that an inpatient or hospital setting is the safest option.3

Alcohol detox program options include:

  • Hospitals: Those with a history of severe withdrawal symptoms, such as seizures and delirium tremens, are safer in a hospital setting. Additionally, people with co-occurring disorders such as heart problems or liver damage will be best served by ICU staff who can administer IV fluids to treat dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.
  • Inpatient detox programs: Specialized inpatient programs are often useful for people with moderate-to-severe alcohol use disorders. You live at the facility for several days or weeks and are constantly monitored by professionals. You will likely receive medically assisted detox support in conjunction with psychological counseling.
  • Outpatient detox programs: Specialized detox and recovery programs are also available on an outpatient basis. Good candidates for outpatient detox have no co-occurring disorders that could interfere with withdrawal, have a sober support system at home, and have little to no risk of experiencing a complicated withdrawal, according to a doctor’s evaluation.
  • Doctor’s offices: Some people may benefit from outpatient detox assistance from their primary care doctor or psychiatrist, but should only do so at their care provider’s recommendation.

Inpatient Detox Centers

detox treatment facilityInpatient detox centers provide medical supervision to addicts who want to break their physical and mental dependence on alcohol or drugs. Inpatient detox usually ranges from 5 to 14 days for alcohol abuse, but the specific length of the detox program is dependent on the type and severity of the substance abuse. Read More

What Medications are Used for Detoxification?

People struggling with alcohol use disorders are often unaware that several medications are available to help them during detox and recovery. The medications used can reduce the risk of dangerous complications and lessen the severity of withdrawal symptoms:3,5

  • Benzodiazepines: A class of sedative drugs widely prescribed in the United States for the treatment of anxiety and seizures, benzos include Librium, Valium, and Ativan. These drugs help to sedate agitated patients, reduce discomfort, and prevent seizures.
  • Clonidine: This alpha-adrenergic agonist is not proven to prevent delirium or seizures, but is often prescribed along with benzodiazepines, especially in an outpatient setting.
  • Anticonvulsants: These are sometimes used to prevent seizures, are less sedating than benzodiazepines, and have little potential for abuse.
  • Antipsychotics: These are sometimes used to treat delirium, delusions, hallucinations, and agitation. However, they can increase your risk of seizure.
  • Relapse prevention medications: After the acute withdrawal period ends, medications like naltrexone, disulfiram, and acamprosate may help reduce your risks of relapse.

Sources

  1. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2017). Facts and statistics.
  2. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2015). Alcohol withdrawal.
  3. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2006). Detoxification and substance abuse treatment.
  4. Schuckit, M. A. (2014). Recognition and management of withdrawal delirium (delirium tremens). New England Journal of Medicine371(22), 2109–2113.
  5. Myrick, H. & Anton, R. F. (1998). Treatment of alcohol withdrawal. Alcohol Research and Health22(1), 38.

You Only Get One Body

Get Clean & Sober With Detox