Alcohol Detox at Home: How To Stop Drinking Safely
Last Updated: November 3, 2023
Although a medically supervised alcohol detox is often best, alcohol detox at home has some benefits for those with mild alcohol addiction.
Detoxing from alcohol is the most dangerous form of withdrawal, even riskier than withdrawal from hard drugs like heroin. Someone with an alcohol addiction may want to detox by themselves at home. While medically supervised detox is ideal, there are some important things to consider if you decide to do it alone.
Alcohol Withdrawal and Detox
Alcohol suppresses brain activity, causing it to decrease. When alcohol is constantly present, your brain artificially increases its activity to adjust for the suppressing effect of alcohol. Withdrawal happens when you stop drinking alcohol because your brain is overactive, having adjusted to the suppressing effect of alcohol, which is now suddenly gone.
Because of how withdrawal works, detox symptoms are generally the opposite of the effects of alcohol. Alcohol makes you fall asleep, so withdrawal keeps you awake. Alcohol makes you relaxed, so withdrawal makes you anxious. The effects of withdrawal caused by an overactive brain continue until the brain can readjust to the absence of alcohol.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:
- Clammy skin
- Rapid breathing
- Elevated heart rate
An uncommon but serious condition called delirium tremens (DTs) can occur during withdrawal. Because DTs is fatal in over one-in-three cases when left untreated, this condition should be considered a medical emergency.
Alcohol Detox Timeline
There are four main stages to the alcohol detox timeline. The timing of each of these stages differs based on the individual.
- Initial symptoms: The first symptoms will begin 6–12 hours after your last drink, depending on how severe your alcohol dependence is.
- Intensification: Symptoms will intensify over the first 12–48 hours after your last drink. New symptoms will develop during this period, and existing symptoms will become more and more severe.
- Peak: Symptoms will reach their most intense 36–48 hours after your last drink. The peak occurs around the same time for all symptoms and is when the most dangerous symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are likely to occur.
- Improvement: After the peak, improvement occurs over the next several days. Symptoms gradually subside and disappear, with most symptoms completely gone 7–10 days after your last drink.
Benefits and Risks of At-Home Alcohol Detox
Detoxing at home has benefits and risks. Because one serious risk of alcohol detox is death, the benefits of at-home detox typically only make sense if withdrawal is expected to be mild. Someone wanting to detox at home should always consult with their doctor to understand the risks specific to their situation.
At-home alcohol detox has some benefits. These include:
- Privacy and confidentiality: While the medical field guarantees confidentiality, it can be nice to go through detox without others around.
- Affordable: Even with insurance, there may still be some out-of-pocket costs when seeking medical detox.
- Comfort and familiarity: Being in familiar surroundings during detox from the comfort of your home can make the process less daunting.
While at-home detox has some upsides, many risks also exist. The risks of at-home detox include:
- Relapse: At home, it is easier to end withdrawal by relapsing, making detox less successful than when professionals support it.
- Discomfort: Unlike medically assisted detox, there is no good way to treat the uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal at home
- Strains on relationships: Detoxing at home can be stressful and difficult on those who live with you, causing strain on your relationships.
- Mental health issues: Withdrawal from alcohol can lead to psychiatric symptoms such as anxiety, depression and hallucinations. When detoxing at home, you may not have the medications, support network or therapies necessary to cope.
- Dangerous symptoms: Alcohol detox can be very dangerous. Detoxing at home can be deadly if you have more severe detox symptoms during withdrawal.
How to Detox From Alcohol at Home
If you are going to detox from alcohol at home, there are a few ways you can ease the process. Your body will detox itself whether or not you take these steps, but you may find the process less uncomfortable if you follow them.
- Consult with your doctor: You should always talk to a doctor, even if you detox yourself. A doctor can help you understand risks and how to avoid them best.
- Taper off gradually: Instead of quitting cold turkey, you can gradually reduce your alcohol consumption over a few days or weeks to minimize withdrawal symptoms.
- Stay hydrated: Dehydration is common during alcohol withdrawal, so be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the process.
- Eat a balanced diet: Proper nutrition is important during detox, so your body can function as well as possible. Focus on eating whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains. At the same time, you should avoid sugary or processed foods.
- Establish a daily routine: A structured daily routine can help you maintain focus and stay on track during detox. Include regular meals, exercise, relaxation techniques and sleep in your schedule.
- Use relaxation techniques: Practice relaxing using techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation. This can help reduce stress and anxiety during detox.
- Have an emergency plan in place: Despite your best efforts, at-home withdrawal can still become dangerous. Have an emergency plan in place and implement it early if you believe it may be needed.
Alcohol Tapering Schedule
There is no medically recommended alcohol tapering schedule, and it is debated in the medical field whether tapering is helpful. If you want to taper your alcohol use, the ideal schedule will differ based on your needs.
One possible tapering schedule is to reduce the number of drinks you have each day by one or two, depending on how much you drink on average. While tapering, you may increase or decrease the speed of the taper. The important thing is always to be drinking less each day than you were the day before.
Benefits of Medically-Supervised Detox
While some aspects of at-home detox may seem appealing, there are far more benefits to choosing a medically-supervised detox, especially if you are likely to have more serious withdrawal symptoms. These include:
- Safety: While serious withdrawal complications, like DTs, can have a fatality rate well over 33%, this rate is reduced to 5% or less with professional treatment.
- Relapse prevention: The structure and support from medically-supervised detox greatly reduce the risk of relapsing during detox.
- Post-detox care: Medical detox doesn’t just focus on getting you sober; it helps you stay sober. It transitions into long-term treatment and aftercare programs that help you to build on the gains you achieve during medical detox.
- Comfort: Unlike home detox, medical detox keeps you as comfortable as possible, making the process more successful and making you feel better during withdrawal.
Alcohol Detox Medications
Several different types of medications can be used during alcohol detox. These include:
- Benzodiazepines: Benzodiazepines act on similar receptors in the brain to alcohol, helping reduce the side effects of alcohol withdrawal by calming the brain.
- Barbiturates: Barbiturates work similarly to benzodiazepines; however, they are less effective and can even have more negative effects. This is why benzodiazepines are preferred for detox. If there’s a reason benzodiazepines cannot be used, barbiturates are a backup treatment.
- Anticonvulsants: Anticonvulsants reduce the risk of alcohol withdrawal seizures but also have other effects on the brain that can reduce alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
- Baclofen: Baclofen is a muscle relaxer that can promote relaxation during medical detox. It also provides other neurological effects that can improve the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
Get Help for Alcohol Withdrawal and Detox
Detoxing at home might sound nice, but it increases your risk of danger and discomfort. At The Recovery Village Kansas City, we are committed to helping your medical alcohol detox experience be as safe and comfortable as possible. Our medical detox programs can improve your experience while increasing the chances of achieving your detox goals. Contact a Recovery Advocate today to learn how we can help you achieve lasting recovery from alcohol addiction.
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Dugdal, David C. “Delirium tremens.” MedlinePlus. January 17, 2021. Accessed May 9, 2023.Sachdeva, Ankur; Choudhary, Mona; & Chandra, Mina. “Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome: Benzodiazepines and Beyond.” Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research. September 1, 2015. Accessed May 9, 2023.