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What is Alcohol Detox?
The detoxification stage is the first step in treating alcoholism. During this period, alcohol is completely flushed from the body.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms typically subside within approximately one to two weeks after beginning detox. However, they may persist longer depending on the severity of your alcohol use disorder.
After detoxification, you can focus on other areas of recovery, such as different activities, therapies, counseling meetings, and support options.
What are the Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal?
Detoxing from alcohol can lead to withdrawal symptoms ranging from mild to life-threatening. In many cases, the longevity and severity of your alcohol use problem will play a role in the withdrawal symptoms you experience.
For example, those who have struggled with years of excessive drinking are more likely to develop severe withdrawal symptoms such as seizures or delirium tremens (DTs).
Minor symptoms of alcohol detox include: 4
More severe alcohol detox withdrawal symptoms include: 4
- Extreme hallucinations
- Delirium tremens (in rare cases)
While uncommon, the most severe symptom of alcohol withdrawal is delirium tremens.6 It can begin within two to five days following your last drink and can be dangerous and life-threatening. However, less than five percent of people will experience delirium tremens after quitting drinking.
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Is it Safe to Undergo Alcohol Detox at Home?
Many people believe that alcohol detoxification is not as dangerous as detoxing from other drugs. However, this is not true. There are severe, potentially life-threatening risks involved with alcohol detoxification, especially when detoxing at home.
When you quit drinking alcohol suddenly, the body reacts with a set of withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms are painful, uncomfortable, challenging to manage, and may persist for weeks. Without any medicine to help you through it, detox is even more difficult.
Additionally, if you used other drugs or substances while drinking, withdrawal symptoms may be worsened or unpredictable. These substances include heroin, prescription medications, meth, and cocaine.
For some people, the pain and discomfort of withdrawal symptoms is so bad that they decide to start drinking again. This may lead to a cycle of trying to quit alcohol but not being able to because of the withdrawal symptoms.
Because of these reasons, it is always best to detox from alcohol under the professional supervision of staff.
However, if you have a mild case of an alcohol use disorder, it may be possible to detox safely at home. Be sure to receive a medical diagnosis if you would like to detox from alcohol at home.
What Precautions are Necessary for a Safe Home Detox?
Many people try to self-detox from alcohol. However, it is often a string of failed attempts of self-detoxing that lead a person to enter rehab in the first place.
If you decide to detox from alcohol at home, you must do it safely. Here are some precautions to take when detoxing at home.
Remove alcohol from your home
This may sound like an obvious step, but it is essential when self-detoxing. When you first start having withdrawal symptoms, you may struggle to control your cravings. Avoid the temptation entirely by removing any alcohol you have on hand.
Clear your schedule
For some, it may seem almost impossible to clear your schedule for days or weeks, but it is essential if you want your detox to be successful. Take some time off work and temporarily put aside your responsibilities so you can focus on getting better.
Just because you are detoxing at home does not mean you should do it alone. Find a family member or friend to help keep you safe and keep an eye on you during the process. If your withdrawal symptoms become too severe, they can seek help from medical professionals.
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What to Expect During Home Detox
The first 48 hours of detox are the most challenging. They usually involve many physical symptoms that lead to discomfort and pain as your body tries to adjust to no drinking.
These first symptoms usually persist for three to seven days following your last drink. During this period, it is common for people to have issues sleeping. It is essential to drink plenty of fluids to help with the detox process, such as water.
It would be best if you also tried to avoid drinking a lot of coffee or energy drinks with caffeine as they can lead to dehydration and interrupt sleep patterns. Many people do not feel like eating during the first few days of detox, but you should try to eat something even if you are not hungry.
Detoxing can be an emotional and stressful experience, so be sure to have support if you are doing it alone.
Try listening to some relaxing music, do some light exercise, and if you cannot speak with anyone, try to write down your feelings so you do not bottle them up inside.
How to Manage Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms at Home
Here are some ways to help you manage alcohol withdrawal symptoms at home:
When you are dehydrated, you may experience irritability, tiredness, and confusion. Some people mistake symptoms of dehydration as symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. When you are detoxing at home, make sure to drink plenty of water to replenish your body.
Drink Beverages Containing Electrolytes
Drinking water is essential, but individuals should also consume beverages with electrolytes. Electrolytes are important nutrients, including calcium, sodium, and potassium.
Alcohol intoxication and withdrawal can produce electrolyte imbalances, which leads to side effects like muscle spasms, seizures, and numbness.
Consume a healthy diet
A healthy and balanced diet includes consuming foods that contain the proper balance of vitamins, carbohydrates, minerals, proteins, and fats. These nutrients help the brain and other organs work properly. If someone is malnourished, the body does not have the energy it requires to recover from alcoholism.
Take a Shower
Taking a shower does not help you sober up, nor does it help alcohol leave your body more quickly. However, it can relieve some symptoms of alcohol withdrawal by providing relaxation.
Taking a shower that is too hot or cold can lead to dangerous shifts in body temperature, but a lukewarm shower may help relieve some minor withdrawal symptoms.
Breathing deeply can help with the stress that comes with alcohol withdrawal. Deep breathing helps the body receive oxygen, which can normalize heart rate and blood pressure. On the other hand, shallow breathing limits oxygen intake and can lead to anxiety.
Additionally, meditation can help you clear your mind and focus on the advantages of detoxing from alcohol.
What NOT to Do While Detoxing at Home
While you should try to eat during detoxification, do not force the food down. You may feel nauseous during detoxification. It is essential to eat what you can, but do not make yourself sick.
Pros and Cons of Home Detox
There are both pros and cons of home detox:
- No financial obligations
- Anonymity and confidentiality
- Higher risk of unwanted mental health effects
- Higher risk of dangerous physical health effects
- Lack of medications, which means limited withdrawal symptom relief
- Increased possibility of relapse occurring
- Possible harm to relationships during the discomfort of withdrawal
If you decide to stop drinking after daily and heavy use, you will likely experience withdrawal symptoms.
The time it takes to detox from alcohol depends on several factors, such as:
- How much you drink
- How long you have been drinking
- Whether you have gone through detox before
Most people stop experiencing detox symptoms four to five days after their last drink.
When Should You Detox at a Professional Facility Instead?
In most cases, you should detox at a professional facility. Medical professionals at recovery facilities and hospitals can help patients with the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
For example, doctors and nurses usually provide patients with benzodiazepines and other medications to help them deal with anxiety and avoid seizures.5 They also check their patients’ blood pressure and other essential signs to ensure they stay hydrated.
When you enter an inpatient alcohol treatment center, you are taken from your environment and bad habits. Many people who struggle with quitting alcohol are also dealing with other medical conditions like depression, anxiety, or personality disorders.
By entering an addiction treatment program, you can benefit from medical help that addresses alcohol withdrawal and any underlying co-occurring health problems.