If you’re clicking on this article, you probably want to detox from alcohol, and you likely want to do it at home, on your own. While there are pros and cons to doing so, this article will cover the basic tips to help you make the most of a “self-detox” at home. Many people attempt to detox at home out of shame, inability to leave a work situation, or responsibilities at home. But, with over 15 million Americans struggling with an alcohol use disorder, and laws like the ACA and Family and Medical Leave Act in place to guarantee time off work, there’s no reason not to get medical attention during detox.
If you’re determined to detox on your own, here are a few tips to help you move through the process as safely as possible.
Why Alcohol Detox?
Alcohol is a tolerance-inducing substance, causing chemical dependence or reliance, eventually resulting in seeking behavior and physical withdrawal symptoms when stopped. Alcohol interacts with serotonin and dopamine production as well as GABA receptors in the brain and central nervous system. When you go into withdrawal, these receptors trigger, resulting in cold and flu symptoms, mood swings, nausea, diarrhea, tremors, and in some cases, more severe symptoms like paranoia, hallucinations, seizures, and other problems.
Detox is the process of medically monitoring that withdrawal to manage side-effects, reduce symptoms, and to ensure that physicians can act quickly when complications like seizures or delirium tremens happen. In short, there’s no such thing as self-detox. You can withdraw on your own, but you are doing so without the medical safety that detox provides. In fact, more than 5% of people who detox at home develop delirium tremens, a complication of alcohol withdrawal.
In many cases, withdrawing alone is okay. If your addiction is relatively light, you don’t drink very heavily, or you haven’t been drinking heavily for more than a few years, you’ll likely have a relatively moderate withdrawal period. Risks are moderate and you can most likely move through withdrawal safely, on your own. While you won’t benefit from any of the medical assistance or therapy that comes along with professional treatment, you can quit and have alcohol out of your system. Unfortunately, that’s just step one of a long process of resolving the behavioral addiction that makes up most of a substance use disorder.
Tip 1: Taper Down Your Drinking
If you drink heavily, it’s important not to go cold turkey. While it is harder to quit over time, cutting your drinking down over time will reduce the risk of seizures and other major complications. Tapering is the major way to get off hard prescription drugs like benzodiazepines because it’s the easiest and safest way to prevent seizures.
How do you taper? In most cases, you cut your intake completely in half every 2 weeks, until you’re down to enough where you can more easily put it down completely. What does that mean for you? Honestly evaluate how much you’re drinking on a daily basis and then cut it in half immediately. Maintain that lower dose for 2 weeks. Then cut it in half again. If you trip up once, immediately correct yourself. Falling down doesn’t mean you can’t get back up and keep going. Set reasonable goals for yourself and remember that without professional help to keep you going, you will fall. Most importantly, you don’t have to start back over at the top every time you binge or drink too much. Go back to what is “normal” for that two-week period.
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Tip 2: Take a Week Off
Alcohol withdrawal can be extremely severe. Many people compare alcohol withdrawal to having the flu on steroids. Others experience even worse symptoms with seizures and tremors. You can expect your mental health to hit rock bottom. If you can, talk to a friend or a family member and have them check up on you, bring you food, and give you encouragement. Detoxing alone is mentally and emotionally taxing and it’s good to have support, even if it isn’t professional.
4-24 Hours – You’ll experience cravings, stomach pains, cramping, nausea, and diarrhea or vomiting starting 4-24 hours following your last drink. Chances are, you’ll also get anxious and paranoid. These will be light at first, but they’ll start to escalate.
24-72 Hours – Symptoms should peak and reach their worst point over the first 3 days. Here, you can expect extreme anxiety and paranoia, sleeplessness, nightmares, and worsened symptoms from the first few hours. Most people experience body pains, confusion, and panic. Seizures can start in this period so it’s important to have someone checking up on you. Diarrhea and dehydration are a major health risk here so be sure to drink plenty of water even if you can’t keep food down.
3-5 Days – Symptoms should stop getting worse but will remain steady for a 2-3-day period. It’s crucial to stay hydrated and to try to get enough sleep during this period. Most people break here, because the worst is over and they made it, they can have “just one drink” and keep going. Don’t give in.
5+ Days – Symptoms gradually begin to recede and slowly vanish over about 14 days. Most people feel okay enough to go back to work at about day 7-8, although you might want to tell colleagues you have the flu. If you develop delirium tremens, symptoms will not abate but will continue to worsen.
Tip 3: Get Accountability
Detoxing alone is difficult, traumatic, and often painful. Physical symptoms are bad but for many of us, the mental ones are worse. Asking for help, even from friends and family, can be crucial to making it through. Many people find it easier to rely on others who have experienced similar things than people we may feel are judging us. You might find support at a local Alcoholics Anonymous or SMART Recovery group, you might find someone you know who’s willing to get sober with you, or you might disclose your addiction and your attempt at sobriety to someone close you can trust. Whatever you choose, make sure you have someone to help you stay accountable, to check up on you, and to offer emotional support.
Self-detoxing from alcohol is not always recommended – it can be serious and even deadly. You may need a medically supervised detox program for alcohol. Make sure you talk to your doctor or a general physician before attempting to withdraw from any substance at home. This is especially important if you suffer from a pre-existing condition such as anxiety, a cardiac disorder, or already have poor health. You
No matter how much work withdrawal is, the real work in alcohol addiction recovery is long-term maintenance. It’s crucial to follow up a detox with therapy and counseling to resolve the underlying issues behind your addiction. Otherwise, you’ll likely relapse and have to detox again and again. For most of us, alcohol use stems from self-medication, escapism, and expressions of pain. No one chooses to be an addict, no one chooses to rely on or be dependent on a substance, there’s something deeper pushing you to use. Resolving that should be key to quitting alcohol and building a new, better life without alcohol.