When a person is addicted to alcohol, they may feel that their entire existence revolves around having their next drink. They may be desperate to stop drinking and gain back control of their lives. Some people may feel hesitant to reach out for help quitting in a medically supervised setting. Instead, they may try to go through alcohol withdrawal at home.
Detoxifying from alcohol at home, without medical supervision, can be done successfully in some cases. However, a detox from alcohol at home can also be very uncomfortable and even be dangerous. In some cases, unsupervised alcohol withdrawal can be fatal.
Read on to learn more about alcohol detox in the home setting.
Defining Excessive Alcohol Drinking
Alcohol is a part of American culture, as well as many cultures throughout the world. However, even though it is a legal substance that is sold or available to be consumed almost everywhere in the US, this does not mean that alcohol use is benign. Many people struggle with excessive alcohol drinking. That can impact their lives in a big way, and the short-term and long-term consequences of excessive alcohol drinking can also be deadly. In fact, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 95,000 Americans die from excessive alcohol drinking each year.
The CDC defines excessive alcohol drinking in the following ways:
- Binge drinking: 5 or more drinks within a short period (about 2 hours) for men, or four or more drinks within a short period for women
- Heavy drinking: 15 or more drinks per week for men, or eight or more drinks per week for women
- Using alcohol before the legal drinking age
- Using alcohol while pregnant
It’s important to note that not everyone who engages in excessive alcohol drinking gets classified as having a severe alcohol use disorder or being addicted to alcohol. However, according to the CDC, the majority of people who drink excessively (90 percent) are not addicted to alcohol.
The Nature of Alcohol Addiction
People who find themselves physically or mentally dependent on alcohol may be dealing with alcohol addiction or severe alcohol use disorder, a chronic disease. They may feel that when they start drinking, they cannot stop drinking. They may also feel that they need to consume more alcohol to get the same effect that they used to get from a smaller amount. When their drinking begins to cause problems in their personal or professional life or both, they may find that they are still unable to stop drinking. In alcohol addiction, thoughts of alcohol are often all-consuming, and it can be hard to focus on anything else.
The toxic nature of alcohol addiction can make people who are in its throes eager to quit drinking. However, it often gets difficult to quit independently. That is because the physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal can be severe. In addition, taking a drink often can make a person feel better in the short term. People with an alcohol use disorder are often more successful at detoxing from alcohol and reaching sobriety when they have a network of support around them and people who can help them anticipate and safely manage their withdrawal symptoms.
What Happens During Alcohol Withdrawal
During alcohol withdrawal, a person must adjust to the absence of alcohol after their brain has become accustomed to having alcohol—and its neurologic effects—present. For some people, alcohol withdrawal symptoms after they stop drinking may be so mild they are not even noticeable. However, for others, withdrawal symptoms may be severe.
According to the US National Library of Medicine, symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can include:
- Appetite loss
- Becoming easily irritable
- Clammy, pale, or sweaty skin
- Depressed mood
- Enlarged pupils
- Excessive tiredness
- Feeling anxious or nervous
- Feeling jumpy
- Nausea and vomiting
- Shaking or tremoring
- Sleep disturbances
The most severe form of alcohol withdrawal—delirium tremens—can cause abnormal heart rhythms, fevers, hallucinations, severe confusion, and seizures, which can be fatal.
It can be hard to anticipate how a particular individual will handle the alcohol withdrawal process. However, their symptoms may be similar to withdrawals they have experienced in the past. The more heavily a person has been drinking before they suddenly quit, the more likely they will experience a severe withdrawal.
The Risks of Detoxification From Alcohol
Drinking alcohol heavily presents risks of its own, which is why it is so critical to a person’s health to find a supportive community to help them become sober. However, withdrawing or detoxing from alcohol can also be dangerous because it does pose a small risk of a fatal seizure.
Because it is difficult to know how severe a given person’s detox process will be, it is hard to detox without the support of medical supervision. However, in a structured alcohol and substance abuse treatment facility, experienced clinicians can help guide people through the detox process and ensure they remain as comfortable and safe as possible.
Detoxifying From Alcohol in the Home Setting
Some people may get tempted to try a detox from alcohol on their own at home. Some reasons for going through alcohol withdrawal at home may include shame, resistance to seeking help or asking for help, desire for efficiency, or limited time or financial resources. However, in the home setting, the detox process can be very uncomfortable and also potentially dangerous. Aside from the potential for dangerous physical symptoms such as seizure, another risk of detoxifying from alcohol at home prematurely stops the process—detox symptoms may be so pronounced that a person terminates their detox early and begins drinking again.
Additionally, once a person has completed a home alcohol detox, they will have only completed the first step of the recovery process. Typically, a successful progression toward sobriety does not simply end once the alcohol is out of a person’s system. After detox, a person must be immediately connected with resources and support to help them avoid taking another drink in the short term. Evidence-backed recovery programs—such as those that include prescription medication therapy, behavioral therapy, and social support—can help people maintain their sobriety over the long run.
Detoxifying From Alcohol in a Medically Supervised Setting
A safer and more comfortable way to detox from alcohol is in a structured, medically supervised setting. In this type of setting, people with alcohol use disorder can safely remove alcohol from their system and prevent negative symptoms and potential adverse side effects with the help of medications. Individuals can also access specific medications, such as naltrexone, that can help reduce their cravings for alcohol and other drugs.
Many people with alcoholism also struggle with mental health conditions simultaneously, contributing to their alcohol use. However, in a structured setting, mental health concerns and other substance abuse conditions can be effectively addressed and managed so that people have the best possible foundation for a successful journey toward sobriety.
Advantages of Structured Detox Programs
In addition to providing support with prescription medications, a structured detox program can also provide people with non-medication-based backing, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Both forms of counseling can help those who struggle with alcohol addiction identify the behaviors and thought patterns that underlie their addictions and develop strategies for managing negative thoughts and behaviors in the future. Therapy can also help people with an alcohol use disorder manage other coexisting health concerns, such as mood disorders.
Structured detox facilities also offer the advantage of having multiple levels of care available so that a person struggling with alcoholism can fully customize their treatment. For many people with alcohol use disorder, a residential care setting—in which they live at the treatment facility for a period of 30 to 120 days—can help them focus solely on their recovery and staying sober. For others, an outpatient program, such as a partial hospitalization program or intensive outpatient program, can help such individuals access the same forms of treatment available in a residential setting while still maintaining their ties to the outside world.
Finding an Alcohol Detox Program
A structured detox program can help people motivated to quit drinking succeed in their journey toward sobriety. It can also be safer and more comfortable than going through alcohol withdrawal at home.
At The Haven New England, our experienced clinicians help our clients detox from alcohol in a medically supervised setting so that they can begin the journey of recovery from the best place possible. We use evidence-based treatments at our state-of-the-art treatment facility to help our clients achieve successful recoveries and futures free from alcohol dependency.
To learn more about our alcohol detox program, contact us today.