Alcohol addiction, or alcoholism, can significantly impact your life and affect your physical health, relationships, and work. According to the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, almost fifteen million people had an alcohol use disorder in 2019.
Quitting alcohol has numerous health benefits, and in some cases, it is a life-saving decision. The first stage in the recovery process is usually alcohol detoxification or detox. Detox involves removing alcohol and its harmful traces from your body, paving the way for effective addiction treatment and a sober life ahead.
Detoxing from alcohol unsupervised can be extremely dangerous, so you must seek appropriate medical support. However, it may be suitable for you to detox from alcohol at home with the guidance of doctors and other medical professionals. This blog offers advice on whether you can safely detox from alcohol at home and some tips to get you to the other side.
Is It Safe for Me To Detox at Home?
Detoxing from alcohol can be dangerous and even life-threatening. Severe alcohol withdrawal can involve withdrawal symptoms called delirium tremens (DTs), which can cause death without proper medical treatment.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), alcohol detox usually requires twenty-four-hour medical supervision. However, if you have a less severe form of addiction, you may be able to detox from alcohol at home as long as you have access to medical support.
Before starting any detox program, it is essential to seek medical guidance to ensure you detox safely. Professional medics treat every case individually, but they may consider:
- How long you have been drinking
- How much you usually drink
- When you had your last drink
- If you live with a co-occurring mental health disorder
- If you live with behavioral health conditions
- Underlying health problems
- Your medical history
- Your home environment
What Are Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms?
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms greatly vary from person to person. This is because your medical history, drinking habits, biology, and physical and mental health affect the withdrawal process. Withdrawal symptoms can range from minor symptoms to severe symptoms, and they can be physical and mental.
Minor withdrawal symptoms include:
- Feeling anxious, nervous, or irritable
- Feeling depressed
- Feeling tired or exhausted
- Mood swings
- Dilated pupils
- Difficulty sleeping or insomnia
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Reduced appetite
- Faster heart rate
- Pale skin
DTs, which may be fatal without proper medical support, are one of the most severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Physical symptoms of DTs include:
- Extreme confusion or agitation
- High blood pressure
Because of the risk of severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms, you must undergo alcohol detox with professional medical support in an inpatient or outpatient setting.
What Is Outpatient Detox?
If you attend an outpatient treatment program, you remain at home and engage in parts of daily life as you detox from alcohol. It involves visiting an alcohol rehab center or another qualified healthcare provider for regular check-ups, professional treatment advice, and prescription medicines.
Outpatient detox programs, also known as community detox, allow you to balance your work and home responsibilities while ensuring your safety through the withdrawal process. Licensed medical professionals will design a safe detox plan and provide treatment or move you to inpatient facilities if you are experiencing severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Outpatient programs are much cheaper than inpatient detox programs and are usually covered by insurance providers.
What Is Inpatient Detox?
Many people struggling with an alcohol use disorder (AUD) need to attend an inpatient detox program to detox safely. An inpatient medical detox involves a residential stay at an alcohol addiction treatment center under the twenty-four-hour supervision of medical professionals. During this time, doctors and nurses are by your side to safely manage alcohol withdrawal symptoms and help make the detox process as comfortable as possible.
Can I Go Cold Turkey?
No, you should never try quitting cold turkey. If you suddenly stop drinking, you put yourself at risk of potentially life-threatening medical complications such as DTs, seizures, and Wernicke's Encephalopathy.
Safely detoxing from alcohol requires gradually tapering off usage. Doing so involves knowing how many units of alcohol you usually drink. You may want to keep a drinking diary for over a week to track your alcohol consumption accurately.
When you are ready to detox from alcohol, a medical professional should provide you with a detox plan tailored to your circumstances. A common rule is to decrease consumption by 10% every day. So, if you usually drink twenty units a day, you could start by drinking eighteen. When you are drinking less than ten units a day, you may be able to stop drinking altogether.
What Are Some Tips for Getting Through Alcohol Detox?
Reach Out to Your Support System
Detox from alcohol abuse can be challenging, and you shouldn't be ashamed to ask for help. Your friends, family, and other loved ones can provide you with emotional support and encouragement to get you through.
Try Mixing or Alternating Your Drinks
You can try adding water or a mixer to your drinks to reduce their strength if you're trying to taper down at the start. You can also alternate drinking beverages containing alcohol with those free from alcohol.
Eat a Balanced and Nutritious Diet
Eating a healthy diet has numerous benefits for your physical and mental health. Your gut is your ‘second brain,’ and a nutritious diet can help give you the energy and positive mindset to get through the challenges of detox. It can also help you recover from the physical impact of alcohol dependence. In particular, brown rice and wholemeal bread provide vitamin B1 (thiamine) to combat thiamine deficiency and help prevent Wernicke Encephalopathy, an acute disorder involving confusion, ataxia, and ophthalmoplegia.
Make sure you stay hydrated with plenty of water, especially if you experience vomiting or diarrhea. Avoid coffee and energy drinks as these can dehydrate you and cause or exacerbate insomnia.
Stay Physically Active
While it may be difficult to summon the energy to exercise during alcohol withdrawal, staying physically active can help get you through. Light exercise such as walking or yoga can boost your mood, helping you remain resilient and committed. It can also act as a usual distraction when you experience alcohol cravings or an unwanted desire to drink.
What Comes Next?
Alcohol detox is usually only the first part of substance abuse treatment. Long-term recovery from AUD involves identifying the underlying causes of addiction or substance abuse and developing the skills to overcome them. It requires personal growth, coping mechanisms, and re-discovering how to engage in sober life.
Effective addiction treatment programs usually offer a range of treatment options tailored to your unique needs. Treatment options may include:
- Individual counseling
- Group therapy
- Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
- Experiential therapy
- Complementary therapy
- Family therapy
Whether you detox at home with medical support or in an alcohol rehab center, alcohol detox is a life-changing experience. While it can be challenging, it paves the way for long-term treatment and a fulfilling sober life ahead.