Many people wonder if it’s possible to avoid going to a treatment facility and just deal with alcohol detox and withdrawal at home on their own terms. Some have tried and been successful, but it’s never recommended because so many others have failed for a number of reasons.
Coming to terms with the disease of alcohol addiction is never easy. There are usually feelings of guilt and shame associated with the condition.
It’s important to understand, though, that addiction is a chronic illness, like asthma or diabetes, and a successful recovery often depends on proper treatment.
Still, some people may try to beat their addiction in secret, by overcoming withdrawal symptoms on their own and trying to handle alcohol detox alone at home. This is a very dangerous and potentially fatal idea.
Though it’s unfortunate, it’s understandable why anyone would be embarrassed about battling addiction.
Often, society’s view is that substance abuse is a moral failure. Many perceive it as if someone is weak-willed rather than battling a scientifically recognized disorder that is, in fact, treatable.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reports that more than 14 million people suffered from a diagnosable alcohol use disorder in 2018. That number is generally considered underreported.
While there’s been some progress made in reducing the stigma associated with addiction, remorse about the past and the fear of embarrassment can, and does, keep people from getting the help they need.
There are other factors as well, such as a lack of health insurance or the possibility of losing a needed job.
There’s a laundry list of reasons why a person might attempt to battle alcohol detox and withdrawal by themselves at home. However, with alcohol dependency, going “cold turkey” and trying to tough it out can be incredibly dangerous and even deadly.
Potentially Fatal Risk of Alcohol Withdrawal at Home
For some people, alcohol dependency is a burden they carry with them, but are still able to function day-to-day. They are sometimes referred to as “functional alcoholics.”
Others find that chronic alcohol use wholly consumes and damages every aspect of their life. In either situation, quitting cold turkey can lead to serious symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
Alcohol is a depressant, meaning it slows down or sedates the brain. In long-term drinkers, the brain releases higher than normal amounts of serotonin and norepinephrine, which is similar to adrenaline. This occurs to compensate for alcohol’s depressant effects.
“If alcohol is withdrawn suddenly,” according to Harvard Medical School, “the brain is like an accelerated vehicle that has lost its brakes. Not surprisingly, most symptoms of withdrawal are symptoms that occur when the brain is over stimulated.”
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can vary based on a person’s level of consumption, as well as the length of time they’ve been physically dependent. But even mild withdrawal can be painful and scary.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Can Include Some of the Following:
- Heart palpitations
- Tremors (shaking) in the hand
- Excessive sweating
- Loss of appetite
- Digestive issues
- Sensory overload or hyper-excitability
- Severe mood swings and irritability
- Bouts of depression
- Anxiety or agitation
Long-term, chronic alcohol abuse comes with an even more serious risk known as delirium tremens (DTs). With this condition, the brain is unable to regain its normal, healthy chemistry.
As a result, brain functions that control blood circulation, breathing, and even memory and cognition can begin to fail, which can be fatal.
Symptoms of Delirium Tremens Often Include Several of the Following:
- Increased risk of heart attack
- Possibility of a stroke
- Extreme agitation
- Confusion, loss of memory or an inability to make new memories
- Body tremors
- Profuse sweating
- High blood pressure
- Accelerated heart rate
Delirium tremens has an estimated 5 to 15 percent mortality rate for people who develop DTs.
It is an extremely serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. Early detection of DTs can be key for treatment and recovery, though it will usually require hospitalization. Sadly, even with treatment, some patients may suffer permanent brain damage if they survive.
Why Shouldn’t I Withdrawal and Detox from Alcohol at Home?
Part of the disease of addiction is denial. In many cases, people who clearly struggle with alcohol abuse might not believe their condition is very serious.
They might think they have their drinking under control and can quit at any time, without understanding the risks of suddenly stopping alcohol. This is especially true for people who are physically dependent.
Withdrawal from other substances like opioids can be extremely uncomfortable but they usually aren’t as dangerous as withdrawal from alcohol. This is one of the most important reasons to undergo an alcohol detox program in a qualified detox treatment facility.
Going through detox and withdrawal in a medically supervised setting is without a doubt the safest and most effective approach for recovery.
An alcohol detox program also places an emphasis on the patient’s comfort. Withdrawal symptoms can be physically and psychologically demanding, so finding ways of keeping a person comfortable throughout the entire process will prove to be more successful.
If a person is safe and comfortable during alcohol withdrawal, they will be much more likely to continue treatment, instead of reaching for the comfort of another drink to thwart the pain.
A big reason many people fail while detoxing at home is because they start drinking again to ease the symptoms.
What’s Next After Alcohol Detox and Withdrawal?
For those few who are able to detox at home, they may have made it through the difficult part of withdrawal, but they haven’t worked on the reasons why they were addicted to alcohol in the first place.
After alcohol detox and withdrawal has been completed, it often takes time for the brain’s chemistry to return to normal. There are usually unresolved issues of addiction also looming in the background during this time.
Without working on these issues during and after detox, many people return to drinking after a short period of sobriety, and the cycle begins all over again.
This is why continued treatment at a residential treatment facility is suggested. If residential treatment isn’t needed, an outpatient IOP or PHP program might be a better fit.
Most alcohol detox programs offer several approaches for continuing addiction treatment at the same facility. The staff and support team will already be familiar with the patient during detox and they will provide a friendly environment to continue working on a full recovery.
Making the choice to seek treatment and commit to recovery will take patience and support, but there is a much more rewarding and fulfilling life on the other side.
Getting through alcohol detox and withdrawal safely and comfortably is the first important step to recovery.
Dr. Elena Kapustina found her true calling and completed her PsyD in Clinical Psychology after earning her MBA and spending years working as the CFO for major corporations. She founded Iris Healing to holistically work with dual diagnosis patients in order to create a more sustainable recovery. From managing 1,000 employees to creating a top of the line treatment center, Dr. Kapustina harnesses her passion to create positive experiences for others.