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Detoxing From Alcohol Safely

It is never safe for someone with an alcohol use disorder (AUD) to detox at home without medical supervision. 

With appropriate supervision, outpatient detox might be an option for some people. Safe detox from alcohol can include medications, nutritional support, and therapy.

Rarely is sobriety successful when someone tries to manage their addiction without professional treatment. 

Most successful recovery plans include medically supervised detox and professional recovery services. Support groups, including Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), can help with long-term recovery. 

What is Outpatient Alcohol Detox?

Outpatient alcohol detox provides non-residential treatment to people with alcohol use disorder (AUD). This allows them to return home at night. 

In many cases, alcohol detoxification is a dangerous phase of recovery. This is because the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be life-threatening. However, there are instances in which someone can safely detox from alcohol on an outpatient basis. 

These programs vary in intensity and frequency. Most detox programs require daily participation, although that’s not always the case. Outpatient programs are never on-site or monitored around-the-clock like inpatient alcohol treatments. 

Outpatient detox treatment might be preferable due to its lower cost and convenience. People in these programs can go to work or school and keep up with familial responsibilities. 

Pros and Cons of Outpatient Alcohol Detox

Outpatient programs have advantages and disadvantages for treating alcohol addiction. 

The benefits include:

  • The ability to balance recovery with work, home life, and school
  • Fewer disruptions to daily life
  • Lower cost
  • Connection with family and community
  • Immediately practicing what you learn in “real life”
  • Participating in counseling with loved ones

However, outpatient detox treatment isn’t right for everyone. Some people need constant supervision and medical attention, especially during the early days of recovery when the risk of health complications is high. 

These people must fully remove themselves from temptations and triggers until they gain control of their addiction. 

It’s also important to understand that alcohol detoxification is dangerous. In many cases, people need inpatient detoxification, even if they eventually participate in an outpatient recovery program. 

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Who is Outpatient Alcohol Detox For? 

Outpatient alcohol detox is best for people who have strong support systems. It’s also for those who are not at risk of serious health complications during the initial detox phase. 

A doctor must determine if outpatient alcohol detox is a safe option. In most cases, people in the immediate stages of withdrawal are not ideal candidates. 

It’s also important to consider the likelihood of relapse in an outpatient program. People in outpatient treatment have greater exposure to triggers and stressful experiences that can cause them to relapse. 

For outpatient detox to work, a person must have a strong support system with people who encourage their sobriety. 

If someone’s only option is to live in an environment filled with triggers to drink alcohol, they’ll likely benefit more from inpatient treatment. 

Outpatient alcohol detox is ideal for people who have:

  • Strong support systems
  • A safe home environment
  • Life responsibilities, like jobs, children, or school, that make inpatient difficult

Types of Outpatient Programs for Alcoholism

There are several different types of outpatient programs to help people detox and recover from alcohol use. 

When choosing a program, it’s important to consider:

  • Cost
  • Resources available at the facility
  • Obligations at home or work
  • Doctor recommendation(s)

Outpatient programs include:

Day Programs

Day programs are the most intensive outpatient rehab option. Participants attend their program 5 to 7 days a week. Programs might be full- or half-day. 

Treatment is structured and participants spend their time:

  • Attending counseling
  • Receiving medications
  • Participating in support groups
  • Engaging in various therapies

Day treatment programs can last a few weeks to several months, depending on the severity of someone’s addiction.

Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs)

IOPs are intensive but offer more flexibility than day programs. Most include meetings during the day or in the evening. This makes them a good option for people with work, school, or family obligations.

Meetings are frequent during the first few days or weeks of treatment. Participants learn how to prevent relapse and apply the skills they learn to their everyday lives. As participants achieve treatment goals, they attend meetings less frequently.

These programs are ideal for people with a safe, stable home environment.

Continuing Care Groups

Continuing Care Groups tend to be the final step in treatment. 

The goal of these programs is for participants to maintain sobriety and have a resource they can use when they’re tempted to drink. Groups vary but tend to meet for about an hour or two once a week.

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What to Expect During Outpatient Alcohol Detox

Outpatient detox programs include a team of professionals who help participants with their recovery goals. Initially, this involves assessing the person’s medical history and determining the safest and most effective approach to detox.

People in these programs must have a safe and stable home life. Inpatient treatment is recommended for anyone who lives in an unsafe environment and/or lives with people who drink alcohol and/or use drugs at home.

During outpatient alcohol detox, medical professionals may prescribe medications to ease alcohol cravings. People also attend therapy sessions and work with professionals who can help them achieve their treatment goals.

Outpatient alcohol detox programs vary based on a person’s:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Metabolism
  • History of substance use
  • Overall physical and mental health
  • Access to resources

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Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) in an Outpatient Setting

Yes, MAT is an important part of outpatient alcohol detox. Medication helps ease withdrawal symptoms and manage cravings. 

Common medications used during alcohol detox include:

1. Disulfiram (Antabuse)

This is one of three FDA-approved medications. It alters how alcohol breaks down in the body, which makes alcohol consumption unpleasant.

2. Naltrexone

An FDA-approved medication that has a similar effect as Disulfiram, but works differently. People will still feel drunk when they consume alcohol, but there is no sense of euphoria.

3. Acamprosate (Campral)

This is prescribed once the detox process is underway to ease the various associated effects of withdrawal. 

These symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiousness
  • Inability to sleep

4. Ativan (Lorazepam)

Ativan calms the central nervous system (CNS) and eases muscle spasms and insomnia.

5. Librium (Chlordiazepoxide)

This is prescribed to treat associated symptoms of withdrawal, such as anxiety.

6. Xanax (Alprazolam)

This is prescribed for people detoxing and experiencing severe anxiety as a result.

7. Gabapentin

This anti-seizure medication eases central neuropathic pain and offers other detox benefits.

8. Thiamine

Otherwise known as vitamin B1, it is also sold as a “natural remedy” for alcohol detox. 

How Long Does Outpatient Alcohol Detox Last?

Outpatient alcohol detox program durations vary. Most programs last less than a week.

Participants typically attend treatment daily. As their withdrawal symptoms subside, they transition to long-term recovery support. 

Other Alcohol Detox Options 

Here are some other detox methods for alcohol:

Inpatient Detox

Inpatient alcohol rehab and detox offers round-the-clock supervision and support. Healthcare professionals are present 24 hours a day. They provide medication, behavioral support, and attention if there is a medical emergency.

By the end of the detox, people no longer depend on alcohol, and they are not at risk if they do not consume alcohol. However, the vast majority still need addiction treatment to maintain sobriety.

Inpatient treatment is intense and very successful. However, it’s not right for everyone. It’s more expensive than outpatient options. It also requires people to remove themselves from their regular lives.

Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs)

A PHP offers a blend of inpatient and outpatient detox support. People spend the majority of their day in the program but return home in the evening.

In most cases, these are not detox programs. Instead, they serve as a transition between inpatient detox and outpatient recovery.

At-Home

It is possible to detox from alcohol at home, but medical professionals do not recommend it. 

This is because alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous or even life-threatening. Symptoms include shaking, tremors, and confusion.

Ideally, anyone addicted to alcohol will have medical supervision 24-hours a day as they detox. 

But if you experience only mild symptoms, it might be possible to gradually stop drinking and detox at home. Speak to your doctor before attempting an at-home alcohol detox.

Updated on March 29, 2022
6 sources cited
  1. Newman, Richard K, et al. “Alcohol Withdrawal.” Nih.gov, StatPearls Publishing, 27 Oct. 2019.
  2. Attilia, Fabio, et al. “Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome: Diagnostic and Therapeutic Methods.” Rivista Di Psichiatria.
  3. Hayashida, Motoi. “An Overview of Outpatient and Inpatient Detoxification.” 
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Alcohol Addiction.” National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  5. Harvard Health Publishing. “Alcohol Abuse - Harvard Health.” Harvard Health, Harvard Health, 5 Dec. 2014.
  6. Mayo Clinic. “Alcohol Use Disorder - Symptoms and Causes.” Mayo Clinic, 11 July 2018.

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