Dangers of Detoxing from Alcohol at Home
Living an alcohol-free life by committing to sobriety is not only a positive action that affects multiple aspects of your own life, but your sobriety can also greatly benefit others around you.
If you think you may be suffering from alcohol use disorder (AUD) because you are experiencing signs and symptoms of alcohol dependence such as the intense urge to use alcohol, alcohol cravings, and the inability to stop drinking, then you may want to consider entering into a professional treatment program.
When your body becomes physically dependent on alcohol, you are at risk of alcohol withdrawal if you quit drinking suddenly. Alcohol withdrawal can be uncomfortable, dangerous and even fatal if not properly monitored by medical professionals, which is the safest way to detox from alcohol. 2 Due to this, alcohol detox at home isn’t advised because of the medical complications that can potentially arise.
What Is Alcohol Withdrawal?
Alcohol withdrawal is a set of symptoms that may occur when a person who has become physically dependent on alcohol suddenly stops drinking.2 These symptoms can range from mild to severe and life-threatening. When a person suffers from AUD and stops drinking alcohol, symptoms of withdrawal can begin as early as 8 hours or up to a few days after the last drink.2 Withdrawal symptoms usually last for 24-72 hours but continue for weeks.2
Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal
The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal may vary depending on an individual’s chronic use and time from the last drink. Some common withdrawal symptoms may include:2
- Mild anxiety and nervousness.
- Mood swings.
More serious symptoms may include insomnia, sweating, nausea and vomiting, muscle aches, rapid heart rate, tremors, seizures, confusion or delirium tremens (rare).2
What Is Delirium Tremens (DT)?
Delirium tremens (DT) is a severe form of alcohol withdrawal that can be life-threatening and may last up to 5 days.3 Before developing DT, you’ll likely experience some form of minor alcohol withdrawal symptoms. You may be at risk of developing DT if you have:4
- History of chronic alcohol use.
- History of alcohol withdrawal seizures.
- A previous history of DT.
- Presence of other concurrent chronic illnesses.
- Elevated blood alcohol levels.
- A longer withdrawal period since the last drink.
- You are 30 years of age or older.
Symptoms of Delirium Tremens
Symptoms of delirium tremens include the following:3
- Delusion and incoherent thoughts and speech (delirium).
- Elevated heart rate.
- Elevated body temperature.
Typically, DTs are present in only 5% of patients experiencing withdrawal.5
Risks of Detoxing from Alcohol at Home
Trying to do alcohol detox at home can be dangerous since you may not have the support you need to overcome your body’s psychological and chemical dependence on alcohol. Severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous and need prompt medical attention, such as:8
- High blood pressure and heart rate.
- Delirium tremens.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) advises against home detox as a treatment for AUD.4 You should not try and quit drinking cold turkey if:6
- You have a history of withdrawal seizures or DT.
- You have experienced alcohol withdrawal symptoms in the past.
- You use other drugs, specifically benzodiazepines.
- You have a co-occurring mental health disorder.
- You have other serious medical conditions.
Additionally, the relapse rate for people who do not seek professional detox and therapy for their alcohol use is much higher than those who do seek professional treatment.7
To help you safely withdraw from alcohol, addiction treatment centers are designed to assist individuals in detoxing in a medically safe environment. The goal of treatment is to reduce withdrawal symptoms, prevent the complications that can arise from alcohol withdrawal, and help you enter therapy to begin your path to sobriety.2
How to Safely Detox From Alcohol
To minimize the risk of serious complications from arising during detoxification, the safest way to detox from alcohol is for individuals to undergo alcohol detox in a supervised medical setting. This involves a medical provider and trained staff who can provide medications that ease withdrawal side effects, reduce alcohol cravings and minimize the potential harm caused by the abuse of alcohol or other substances.8
While undergoing alcohol detox, you may be evaluated for co-occurring mental disorders and other substance use disorders. These co-occurring disorders can potentially interfere with your alcohol use disorder, alcohol detox and long-term treatment, and therefore it is important to diagnose and treat any other underlying disorders that are present.
Detoxing at a treatment facility can help you establish the personalized treatment you need to successfully maintain sobriety.8 There are many levels of treatment settings that offer detoxification as the first stage of treatment, depending on your unique circumstances:8
- Medically managed-intensive inpatient detoxification involves 24-hour care in an acute care inpatient setting with psychiatric services. This can take place at a psychiatric inpatient hospital.
- Medically monitored inpatient detoxification provides 24-hour medically supervised detoxification within a detoxification treatment center.
- Ambulatory detoxification offers onsite monitored care.
Treatment for Alcoholism
Most people with AUD, even those with the most severe alcohol use problems, will benefit from professional alcohol addiction treatment following their completion of detox.
Treatment for alcoholism includes:9
- Group therapy.
- Individual counseling.
- Support group meetings.
- Wellness activities.
- Medication treatments.
- Behavioral therapies to help those struggling with alcohol focus on identifying the root causes of their addiction. Learning and adopting healthy coping skills through behavioral therapy will help change past behaviors that were linked to the addiction and replace these behaviors with positive actions and thought patterns.9
If you’re ready to seek treatment for alcoholism, American Addiction Centers (AAC) can help. Alcohol.org is a subsidiary of AAC, a nationwide provider of treatment centers and is available to chat with you about your treatment options. Our admissions navigators can be reached 24/7 at or through text as some of these individuals have been in your shoes before, so they know what you’re going through.