Alcohol abuse or addiction can be manifested in many ways and has devastating effects on the individual’s physical and mental health, relationships, social life, and work. It is a legal substance that lowers anxiety and inhibitions. Furthermore, everyone whose life is negatively affected by this substance on a regular basis is considered to have a problem with alcohol use.
What is Alcohol Self-Detox, also called Alcohol Detox At Home?
Simply put, self-detox from alcohol is an approach to giving up drinking that involves either stopping alcohol use “cold turkey” or tapering use off gradually, with minimal to no outside help.
Here’s how the process typically works: the person sets a “quit date,” and then either stops drinking instantly or gradually reduces their intake over time. People attempting alcohol detox at home try to avoid the triggers that force them to grab a drink, so they often keep themselves busy in their favorite activities to keep the cravings at bay, use vitamin supplements, start doing exercise, and eat a healthier diet, all to hopefully facilitate a successful detox from alcohol at home.
While some of the people who use this approach to stopping drinking talk to their doctors to assess how to detox from alcohol at home safely and whether self-detox is a viable option for them or not, most do not. So in far too many cases, the only outside help they get is from friends and family.
This article is for them. At AddictionResource, we feel that medically-supervised alcohol recovery programs are much less risky, and have FAR greater chances of succeeding. But because we know that many alcoholics won’t ever take the step of talking to a professional, and will instead try to “do it themselves,” in this article we provide a kind of short “Alcohol Detox At Home Guide” to help them do it safely.
Table of Contents
How Successful Is At-Home Alcohol Self-Detox?
The success rate for alcohol self-detox is only 30%, and continued sobriety for over 4 years after self-detox is less than 90%, according to a study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence. It is rarely successful and many people give up within the first 24 hours.
In addition, if the person is heavy into alcohol addiction, and drinking because they have severe symptoms of withdrawal when they don’t, they should heed this warning:
Detoxing from alcohol can be a painful process, and it is more dangerous for heavy drinkers, those who consume alcohol to avoid symptoms of withdrawal.
How To Detox From Alcohol At Home – First Steps
If one has read the cautionary warning in the preceding section and still wish to pursue self-detox from alcohol, here are a number of preliminary steps one should undertake to make sure the process is safe, and to increase its chances of success:
- Remove ALL alcoholic beverages from home – this is obvious, but a crucial step.
- Clear the schedule – the time required for complete detoxification could take weeks. Make sure nothing stands in a way.
- Get support – make arrangements with family members or friends who will make sure a detoxing person is OK, and who will be there if the individual needs anything.
- Focus on hydration – make sure a detoxing individual drinks enough fluid, because this will help to rehydrate the body and get rid of toxins.
- Take vitamins – B-complex, Niacin, vitamin C, magnesium, and zinc. Experiment to see which ones work best.
The Two Main Types of Self-Detox From Alcohol
- Cold Turkey – fast, abrupt, more painful way to stop alcohol consumption
- Tapering Off – gradually stopping, using less and less alcohol
Alcohol detoxification can be done at home, under very limited circumstances.
Alcohol detox at home is usually safe for the binge-drinker who only parties on the weekend because their bodies have not developed the full-blown addiction. These drinkers may become seriously uncomfortable while attempting self-detox from alcohol, but most likely this discomfort will not move into the life-threatening category.
That said, a person should NOT attempt to cope at home without an overseer, a supervisor per se.
This is especially true of the “Tapering Off” approach to self-detox. It can be done safely IF there is someone else present monitoring the quantity of alcohol consumed, and IF the person is allowed to drink only a beverage with a lower alcohol content, like beer, and IF this consumption is doled out by the supervisor only. If the alcohol-dependent person is left to monitor himself or herself, in most cases the individual will increase consumption to avoid the pain of withdrawal.
The Cold Turkey Approach
“Cold Turkey” implies sudden secession of alcohol consumption. This method can be effective for some because it quickens the path to recovery. It is much harder than the second “Tapering Off” method, but it has proven to be the right choice for some.
It is important to understand, however, that withdrawal symptoms can be very severe. The body of an alcoholic is accustomed to large amounts of alcohol, which is why a sudden discontinuation of consumption can act as a shock to the body. The Cold Turkey method can cause the following withdrawal symptoms:
- Heart rate increase
- Hallucinations (audio-visual-tactile)
It is not recommended to quit alcohol cold turkey. One never knows how exactly an individual’s body is going to react, and thus one cannot precisely know what to anticipate. This is one of the reasons why alcohol detox should be professionally monitored.
The Tapering Off Approach
Tapering off is a method of alcohol detoxification that consists of slowly reducing one’s amount of daily alcohol intake. It is a less severe approach with regard to unwanted side effects such as stomach pains, nausea, and other uncomfortable symptoms. Many people choose beer as a tapering off tool, so if a person is a beer lover, this could work in their favor. If they opt for this detox method, make sure to limit a daily alcohol intake consistently and not fluctuate back and forth.
Overall, alcohol home detox is neither the most effective nor the safest method of quitting alcohol addiction, but in some cases, it is an inexpensive and efficient one. Having someone around to make sure a detoxing individual stable is always a good idea, so if one chooses to undergo self-detox from alcohol, they should remind their best friend, family, or even a doctor to check on them regularly, just in case. This is essential if a person wants to practice safe alcohol detox at home.
Risks of Alcohol Detox At Home
The risks of alcohol detoxification at home far outweigh the benefits for a number of reasons. First, detoxing at home is rarely successful. Many individuals quit the process and resume drinking as usual within the first 24 hours, just from the difficulty of managing the symptoms. Part of the issue is that the alcoholic does not have the support at home that he or she would have at a treatment center. There is a need for counseling, friends, helpful mentors, and group support that is rarely present in the home situation, and certainly not present 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The alcoholic needs to be away from the trigger situations that are cues to drinking, like people, places, and bottles. The drinker may also need medical attention, because of the life-threatening physical and psychological symptoms that can happen during detox.
Remember, it is NOT recommended that heavy drinkers perform detox on their own, without professional guidance.
Side Effects Of Detoxing From Alcohol At Home
Just as a reminder why the answer to the question “How to safely detox from alcohol at home” has to be “One can’t always be sure it will be safe,” Common side effects of self-detox include:
- Pacing, restlessness, and irritability.
- High blood pressure
- Muscle cramps, body pain, and tremors
- Increased heart rate
- Diarrhea and other bowel crises
- Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar level
- Headaches, dizziness, and confusion
- Hot and cold flashes changes of body temperature
In many cases, it is the serious and disabling physical symptoms of detox that change the drinker’s mind about continuing with the process. These symptoms are often severe and should ideally be monitored by medical staff. Some of the physical problems include:
- The need to move around, restlessness and irritability
- Feeling as if the skin is crawling and being agitated
- Blood pressure can increase to very high levels
- Aches and shakes, and feeling as if “every muscle hurts” as alcohol is flushed out of the system
- Pulse rate increases with the stress of the withdrawal
- The digestive system moves into crisis; diarrhea is common
- The blood sugar drops, because alcohol is a form of sugar in the body
- The individual may have symptoms of hypoglycemia
- Headaches, dizziness, and confusion
- Tiredness, temperature changes in the body, hot and cold flashes
- Shaking and cramping muscles
There can be serious psychological symptoms as well, including:
- Generalized anxiety – feeling like a hammer is hanging over the head and bad things are going to happen
- Intense cravings to get relief
- Feeling like the body is coming apart.
- Mood swings – from depressed to hopeless to suicidal
- Paranoia often accompanies the hallucinations and can escalate into defensive actions
The symptoms of delirium tremens can occur within 72 hours of alcohol withdrawal and can appear with no warning. DTs can happen at any time during the withdrawal period but are more likely to present during the first ten days.
Signs of delirium tremens during self-detox include:
- Grand mal seizures characterized by loss of consciousness and violent muscle contractions
- Compromised heart functions including high blood pressure, suppressed breathing, and low oxygen levels
- Anxiety and agitation
DTs need medical intervention and monitoring because they have many dangerous attributes, such as:
- Grand mal seizures, during which a person can thrash about, swallow their tongue or bite it off, lose consciousness, or become physically hyper-strong.
- Heart functions can be compromised as pulse rate and blood pressure rises, and breathing may be suppressed, which causes the oxygen supply to the heart to decrease. The possibility of stroke or heart attack is increased.
- The alcoholic experiencing DTs may have hallucinations such as bugs crawling on their skin or spiders in the room. They may claw at their faces and rip at their skin. The individual can also do permanent damage to their eyes, believing that their eyes have become damaged because of the hallucinations.
- The alcoholic can become paranoid and attack someone because they believe they are being hunted or threatened.
- The alcoholic will be confused by the sugar withdrawal, which can result in an impaired judgment in critical situations.
- The individual may be anxious and agitated, not able to cope with social situations.
Reasons People Take the Risk Of Continuing To Drink
The number one reason that people with alcohol abuse problems continue to drink is that they believe they “have it under control.” This is a dangerous thought because these individuals are likely to die from alcohol poisoning, like Amy Winehouse. The following are the most cited reasons that someone continues with their addictive behavior:
- Denial: They deny the problem, ignore their behavior, and withdraw from criticism and those that confront them with their addiction issues.
- Lack of control at a treatment center: They want to control the issue themselves as they have already lost control of their bodies and relationships.
- Fear of change in their lives: They fear the pain and discomfort of withdrawal and the process of rehabilitation. Any type of change moves them out of their “comfort zone.”
- Fear of life: The individual knows that they don’t have the coping skills to have a normal life, so they choose a dysfunctional pattern. It may be bad but it is better than appearing inadequate.
- Self-defeating attitude: Many people with an alcohol dependency believe they are past all help and hope. These people need mental health treatment and counseling for depression, simultaneous with addiction rehab
- Stigma: Many people fear “what other people will think” if they go to rehab for help. They don’t realize that these “other people” they’re worried about already notice the addiction problem.
- The desire to die: The addicted individual has lost the desire to live and is using alcohol to commit a form of “slow suicide.” This type of person will drink until they die unless they receive an unwanted intervention.
- Cost: Many alcoholics will say that the cost is too prohibitive for them to seek professional help through a rehab center, but this is erroneous. Insurance will cover 30 days of rehab, Medicare will cover 30 days and if someone has no insurance at all, a judge can order rehab at no cost to the individual seeking help.
- Davis C. Home detox - supporting patients to overcome alcohol addiction. Aust Prescr. 2018 Dec;41(6):180-182. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6299173/
- Tam CW, Knight A, Liaw ST. Alcohol screening and brief interventions in primary care - Evidence and a pragmatic practice-based approach. Aust Fam Physician 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27695730