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Getting clean and sober is an important first step in experiencing long-term freedom from addiction. If you think you might be addicted to alcohol or drugs and would like to stop misusing substances, a medical detox may be required. However, it is ill-advised to attempt to detox from home or self-detox, without medical oversight as it can be dangerous. Let us try and understand the five reasons why alcohol detox at home could be risky.
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If you have been misusing alcohol and/or drugs for a significant period, your brain may now be relying on them to maintain a level of functioning. When those substances are removed, the mind and body cannot function as normal, perhaps leading to distressing symptoms. These can trigger a desire to want to drink and use drugs again, or seizures and suicidal ideation, all of which can be fatal.
No medical oversight
A medical detox programme carried out in a treatment centre means you have round-the-clock care from a medical team who can administer detox medication, monitor your vital signs, adapt medication as needed, and make you as comfortable as possible while your body rids itself of substances. Self-detoxing at home means you don’t have this much-needed care leading to serious mental and physical complications. If there is a sudden need for intervention while you are detoxing, medical professionals may not be able to reach you in time.
Lack of therapeutic support
Detoxing can be an overwhelming experience even when managed medically and with therapeutic support from professional and recovering peers. Self-detoxing at home means you don’t have trained professionals to speak to, particularly if you are experiencing cravings or suicidal ideation. Friends and family may want to help and be well-intentioned but are ill-equipped to provide you with the level and type of support required for a successful detox.
Lack of peer support
Detoxing at home rather than at an inpatient treatment facility means you may feel isolated and alone with the experience, potentially causing you to relapse. Particularly during the first few days, you will need a huge amount of support. Unlike at inpatient rehab, at home, you won’t have access to people who have been through a detox process and can provide you with support, encouragement, and hope that it is possible to recover.
Even if you feel like your home is safe, you aren’t protected from the stressors of everyday life and any familiar triggers. This may see you picking up a drink or a drug to soothe overwhelming feelings caused by work, a family argument, an unpaid bill, or even a household item breaking. It is so important to understand how vulnerable you are when detoxing and place yourself in a safe environment away from triggers to ensure a successful detox.
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Do I Need to Detox From Alcohol?
Whether or not you will need to detox from alcohol depends on how much you are drinking. If an assessment reveals that stopping drinking abruptly may be dangerous with the levels of alcohol in your system, it will most likely be recommended that you go through a medical detox. To stop drinking abruptly, in advanced cases of alcohol abuse, can lead to fatalities. Should your misuse of alcohol be characterised by sporadic binges, it may be safe to stop drinking immediately. Whatever your drinking behaviour, it is important to take the advice of medical professionals seriously.
What Is a Home Detox?
A home detox is simply a detox from alcohol in the privacy of your own home rather than in a rehab or medical facility. To be eligible for a home detox, a medical professional will need to check that you haven’t suffered from fits or seizures, whether related to alcohol withdrawal or pre-existing medical conditions, there is someone who can monitor and take care of you for the duration of your detox, that you can dedicate several days solely to the detox process, and you are consuming under a certain amount of alcohol a day.
An alcohol detox from home typically will include 24-hour access to medical support if it is needed, prescription detox medication delivered to your door, plus check-ins and assessments with your overseeing medical professional.
What Are the Risks of an Alcohol Detox at Home?
The biggest risk of detoxing at home is that you experience seizures or fits and aren’t able to access the medical help you need quickly enough to prevent fatalities. Seizures might occur because you are self-administering medication and forget a dose, you aren’t being monitored medically so medication doses can’t be adjusted as easily, and/or you don’t have the emotional support in place to help you through the detox. You may find the detox process too distressing and decide to drink again.
What Is a Medically-Supervised Detox?
A medically-supervised detox intends to help you find abstinence, manage the safe withdrawal from drugs and alcohol and any severe complications, and set you up for therapeutic treatment post-detox.
A medically-supervised detox helps your body rid itself of alcohol and drugs when it has become acutely dependent on these substances. On average, the process lasts from seven to 10 days. The length of your detox will depend on the substances in your system, how much you have been consuming, the length of dependency, and the severity of withdrawal symptoms associated with the substances in your system.
A clinical assessment with a medical professional will help the team understand what substances you have in your system and therefore how to manage the detox safely. The assessment also aims to understand if you are struggling with any co-occurring mental and physical conditions that need to be taken into consideration. Your assessment serves as a basis for a personalised substance abuse treatment plan.
Once the detox process has commenced, you will be assisted through the withdrawal to attain a medically stable state. This is often achieved with medications to minimise the experience of withdrawal symptoms once the level of alcohol and drugs starts to be reduced. Withdrawal symptoms range from minor symptoms such as insomnia and tremulousness to severe complications such as withdrawal seizures and delirium tremens. When withdrawal is handled as part of a detox process, these symptoms can be minimised.
Entry into treatment
Once your system has been safely rid of alcohol or drugs, you are well-placed to start a treatment programme. A written treatment contract (not legally binding) for clients who have a history of completing medical detoxes but not treatment programmes can be helpful and may encourage entrance into a continuum of substance abuse treatment.
Medically Managed Detox
Benefits of a Medically Supervised Detox
The benefits of a medically-supervised detox over self-detox at home are that you are offered around-the-clock medical care, peer support, time away from your usual triggers, and medications that can ease withdrawal and be changed or adapted as required.
The prospect of going through a detox can feel frightening but at Castle Craig we treat our clients with compassion and understanding, providing hope for a future free of drugs and alcohol.
We have a dedicated detox facility so that you can be carefully monitored 24 hours a day for the duration of the detox process by a dedicated team of staff. A doctor is available for you at any time of day or night, ensuring you are physically safe and feel emotionally supported. Find out more about detoxing at Castle Craig.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Alcohol withdrawal is characterised by two (or more) of the following, developing within several hours to a few days after you stop drinking:
- Autonomic hyperactivity (e.g., sweating or pulse rate greater than 100 beats per minute)
- Increased hand tremor
- Nausea or vomiting
- Transient visual, tactile, or auditory hallucinations or illusions
- Psychomotor agitation
- Grand mal seizures
Without a medically-supported detox, you will likely experience these alcohol withdrawal symptoms acutely, but they can be reduced and managed with the right care and support.
Medications Used During Alcohol Detox
A medical detox for alcohol often involves substituting a medication for alcohol before tapering commences or during taper. Certain medications mirror the effects of alcohol which relieves withdrawal symptoms and cravings. If you require a medical detox, medications will be selected carefully and discussed with you.
Benzodiazepines have a sedative effect to reduce anxiety and irritability, common symptoms of withdrawal from alcohol.
Alcohol affects serotonin levels in the brain, a chemical that controls mood. As such, when the use of alcohol is stopped, people often experience low mood or depression. Antidepressants can support the brain whilst it recovers and serotonin levels stabilise.
Clonidine is often used to treat alcohol withdrawal. Clonidine reduces sweating, cramps, muscle aches and anxiety and can also stop tremors and seizures.
Can You Detox Safely at Home?
As withdrawal from alcohol and drugs can be fatal or have serious consequences to health and mental well-being, it is usually recommended that detox is carried out as an inpatient so you can be monitored around the clock, kept safe and supported emotionally.
Outpatient detox may be appropriate if you are expected to have mild-to-moderate withdrawal symptoms from drugs and alcohol, have no significant co-occurring conditions, and have someone willing to monitor your detox progress closely. However, if serious complications – delirium tremens, suicidal ideation, or psychotic symptoms – start to occur, it is important to seek medical support immediately.
Self-detox is dangerous and can lead to fatalities so it is never advised that you detox at home without medical support.
What Can I Do at Home to Stop Drinking?
If you are ready to stop drinking but have been drinking significant amounts for a prolonged period, it is best to seek medical advice on the safest way to stop. It is ill-advised to stop drinking at home on your own if you have been misusing alcohol.
How Do You Remove Alcohol From Your Body?
You can’t actively remove alcohol from your body. Your body is a highly intelligent organism designed to rid itself of toxins such as alcohol. All you need to do is seek the right support physically and emotionally during this natural detoxing process.
How Do You Replace Alcohol as a Coping Mechanism?
When recovering from addiction it is important to be aware of cross-addiction. When putting down one mood-altering substance it can be tempting to reach for a replacement coping mechanism to deal with your feelings. This might look like another substance or new addictive behaviour. As such you may enter treatment for alcoholism and need to re-enter treatment for sex addiction or an eating disorder further down the line. Cross-addiction prevents you from doing the emotional work required for long-term freedom and relapse prevention.
Can You Heal Your Body From Alcohol?
With time your body will rid itself of alcohol. However, the long-term mental and physical effects of alcohol misuse may take time to heal, requiring ongoing support. Your doctor or the medical team at a treatment centre can advise.