Updated: August 3, 2023, at 1:29 p.m.
Understanding the Chances and Dangers of Detoxing At Home From Drugs and Alcohol
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 drug detox center like Landmark Recovery and would rather stay home with friends to quit the pills “cold turkey.”
Many people, including you, if you’re thinking about detoxing at home, often give the same reasons Rose did to her roommates when they found out about her substance abuse.
Here are some common reasons people use to justify detoxing at home:
- Cost concerns: You may think detox centers are too expensive.
- The comfort of home: You can stay home and resume day-to-day activities.
- Avoiding judgment: You don’t have to worry about strangers judging you.
Those are all valid concerns and make medical versus at-home detox 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.
Can you detox at home?
Detoxing from addictive drugs at home is possible for some substances, but it’s not advised 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. “Even with substances that primarily cause psychological withdrawal, [like marijuana and cocaine], checking in with a medical professional is important.”
However, attempting at-home detox from alcohol or benzodiazepines can be dangerous. Withdrawal from these drugs can lead to severe, even life-threatening symptoms.
“I’ve been practicing addiction medicine for eight years,” Dr. Kirby explains, “I never advise patients to just ‘brave the storm.’ Withdrawal management is only the first mile of a marathon. Real work on behavior change – the crux of this disease – happens post-detox.”
Consider detoxing under medical supervision at a detox center like Landmark Recovery for safety and effective, long-lasting recovery.
What is detox, and how does it work?
Detox is 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. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported that over 46 million Americans aged 12 and older had a past-year substance use disorder (SUD) in 2021.
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 happens to the body during detox
The severity of withdrawal symptoms during detox depends on your substance, how long you’ve been using it, 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 the following:
- 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, alcohol and drug rehab centers like Landmark Recovery might recommend medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to help manage withdrawal symptoms and avoid fatal conditions.
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
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. For example, alcohol withdrawal can leave you craving sugar during detox. However, dietary experts like Kayla Risteen, the Director of Dietary Services at Landmark Recovery, say the fiber in fresh fruits can help keep you full longer and ease sugar cravings. Nausea and vomiting are also symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, so drinking plenty of water and electrolytes is vital to avoid dehydration.
Ask a loved one to check in
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
If your withdrawal symptoms include seizures, a high fever, or hallucinations, you could be experiencing delirium tremens (DTs), a severe alcohol withdrawal condition that could cause a stroke or heart attack and lead to death. Immediately call for medical attention. Then, consider drug or alcohol detox at a certified rehab facility like Landmark Recovery.
Detox is only the first step to recovery
Researchers have come together and acknowledged for years that addiction is a disease of the brain, not a moral failing.
“The real work happens after your body is stabilized and your mind is stabilized. Because that’s when you work on the behavior,” Dr. Kirby explains.
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 residential treatment programs like 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 detox centers near you
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 Patient Navigator at Landmark Recovery. Visit our locations page to find a drug and alcohol detox center near you.
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