Detoxification, often simply called “detox,” involves carefully tapering the body from the harmful side effects of substance withdrawal
In a scene from the famous sitcom “The Golden Girls,” the group of roommates confronts Rose, played by the late Betty White, about her apparent addiction to pain pills. Rose says she would be too ashamed and embarrassed to go to a rehab center and would rather stay home with friends to quit the pills “cold turkey” or detox.
Every reason Rose gave to her roommates after they discovered she was suffering from substance abuse is a reason many people give to justify detoxing at home. You may think detox centers are too expensive. You get to stay home and resume day-to-day activities. Plus, you don’t have to worry about strangers judging you.
Those are all valid concerns and make detoxing at home seem appealing if you or someone you know is struggling with addiction. But the truth is, detoxing from alcohol or benzodiazepines (benzos), for example, can expose your body to harsh symptoms that you may not be able to tolerate without medical attention.
If you prepare yourself, you can detox at home. But you run the risk of experiencing severe symptoms that, if untreated, can lead to hallucinations, an extreme fever or worse, a deadly stroke or heart attack.
For that reason, it’s safer to detox under the supervision and guidance of medical professionals at a detox center or addiction treatment facility like Landmark Recovery.
What is detox?
Detox is a process when you adjust to not having drugs or alcohol in your system. For many people, it’s the first step on the road to treating addiction. In fact, more than 40 million Americans were living with a substance use disorder (SUD) in 2020.
When your body becomes dependent on drugs or alcohol, you may experience physical or mental symptoms that can be tough to manage whenever you try to stop using or drinking.
What detox does to your body
The severity of withdrawal symptoms during detox depends on the substance you use, how long you’ve been using and if you use multiple substances. Withdrawal from certain substances like alcohol and benzodiazepines can be extreme and sometimes fatal if your detox is not medically managed.
The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal during detox can include:
- Extreme fevers
- Organ failure
More severe cases of alcohol withdrawal can cause delirium tremens (DTs), a serious condition that can leave the body in a state of confusion and cause the following symptoms:
- High blood pressure
- Tachycardia (fast heart rate)
- Hyperthermia (fever)
During detox, untreated DTs can provoke a stroke or a heart attack and lead to death. However, the staff at a rehab center like Landmark Recovery might recommend the use of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to help manage withdrawal symptoms and avoid fatal conditions.
Is it possible to detox at home?
It is possible to detox from drugs and alcohol at home. Not all substances need to be medically monitored. Even still, doctors advise against at-home detox without medical supervision.
“Patients should check in with a medical professional to make sure that somebody knows about what they’re going through, and to be able to offer any advice on the next step,” says Dr. Jason Kirby, DO, FASAM, the chief medical officer at Landmark Recovery.
4 tips for detoxing at home
It’s important to consult a physician or a doctor if you make the decision to detox at home. Ask questions to find out exactly what your body will be facing. Here are four tips to consider when preparing yourself for a safe at-home detox:
Clear your schedule for detox
You need to give yourself time to clear the effects of drugs and alcohol from your system. The detox timeline varies from person to person, but usually lasts up to 10 days depending on the substance. For more severe addictions, detox could take weeks, so prepare yourself if you plan to detox at home.
Stock up on healthy food and drinks
For people with alcohol use disorders (AUDs), keep in mind that alcohol is converted to sugar in your body. Withdrawal from alcohol can leave you craving sugar during detox. Therefore, having plenty of fresh fruit can else ease sugar cravings. Nausea and vomiting are also symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, so drinking plenty of water and electrolytes is vital for an at-home detox.
Ask a loved one to check in during detox
Have somebody you trust to check on you regularly if you plan to detox at home. Also, check in to keep them updated during the process. If something goes wrong and they don’t hear from you, medical professionals can be called to help.
Call for medical help if symptoms worsen during detox
If your withdrawal symptoms include seizures, a high fever, or hallucinations, you could be experiencing delirium tremens (DTs), a severe condition that could cause a stroke or heart attack and lead to death. Immediately call for medical attention.
Detox is only the first step
Researchers have come together and acknowledged for years that addiction is a disease of the brain, not a moral failing.
“Withdrawal management is only the first step,” Dr. Kirby explains. “The real work happens after your body is stabilized and your mind is stabilized. Because that’s when you work on the behavior.”
Drugs release 2-to-10 times more dopamine, the chemical responsible for feelings of pleasure, than natural rewards like getting a promotion or watching a sporting event might release.
To treat a behavioral disease like drug and alcohol addiction, you must change behavior to reinforce long-term sobriety, says Dr. Kirby. Changing the patterns of behavior that lead to substance use could take longer than detox, which for most people only takes between 1-to-14 days depending on the substance. However, under the care of residential treatment programs like the ones at Landmark Recovery, patients can stay up to 45 days and gather the necessary tools to help them stay sober.
“In order to change behavior, you have to have reinforcement, you have to have consequences, you have to have boundaries,” Dr. Kirby says. “Residential units are really good places to give people all three of those.”
Learn more about local detox centers
The road to recovery starts with asking for help. If you or someone you know or love is struggling with addiction, call 888-448-0302 to talk to a Recovery Specialist at Landmark Recovery.