Dripping sweat, headaches, overcome with guilt, shame, and emotion, unsure about what direction your life is taking. Detoxing from alcohol can be tough. What’s even tougher is making the decision to get sober. When you decide enough is enough and you’re ready to make that change, there are a lot of unknowns ahead. If you’ve become physically dependent on alcohol, you may experience a period of withdrawal, followed by detoxification. This is a necessary stage of your recovery to rid the body of harmful substances. There are safe and dangerous ways to do this. Here’s what you can expect when you detox from alcohol:
Alcohol withdrawal and detox timeline
Alcohol withdrawal is a serious situation. At its extreme, it can be deadly. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms vary widely. They are most noticeable in people who drink heavily and for long periods of time. Their bodies become physically dependent on alcohol, and when they stop drinking or significantly reduce their intake, withdrawal can begin. If you have other health conditions, these can make alcohol withdrawal worse.
Common alcohol withdrawal symptoms you can expect within six to 12 hours of taking your last drink are minor hand tremors, sleep disturbances, upset stomach, nausea, loss of appetite, headache, sweating, stress, and anxiety. Within 12 to 28 hours you may experience hallucinations and seizures. Within 48 to 72 hours of your last drink hallucinations may continue, delirium tremens may start, and you could experience sweating, disorientation, increased heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature. The length of these symptoms again depends on your alcohol use. In the months after detoxification, you may still experience mood swings, sleep disturbances, and low energy levels.
Withdrawal symptoms are the first step of alcohol detoxification, a process that removes all harmful substances from your body. This process can take from three days up to a week. During detox, you’ll need to keep the symptoms of withdrawal under control. This is normally done by medical professionals, in an area where they can monitor you. Medications may need to be used to ease the symptoms of withdrawal. Another aspect of detox is maintaining hydration by taking in fluids and eating a proper diet. A doctor can provide you with a list of foods to eat and foods to avoid while you detox to provide your body with the proper nutrients.
After detox is the start of your lifelong journey in recovery. Detox isn’t a quick fix; it’s the starting point to a better life. How should you start your journey of recovery? At home or in a medical detox facility?
Risks with detoxing at home
When you decide to get sober, you’ll be feeling a range of emotions, including the desire to isolate and deal with the burden yourself. This may lead you to make the decision to detox from alcohol at home. Going cold turkey after drinking heavily for a long period of time can be dangerous, and there are risks to doing it at home by yourself without medical help. Even if you have a support system at home, these people may not be medical professionals who can give you the proper medical care if needed.
Here are some of the risks associated with detoxing at home:
- The symptoms of withdrawal can become severe enough to be life-threatening.
- Underlying untreated medical issues could be present. Other conditions like bipolar disorder, high blood pressure, anxiety, asthma, or any variety of other medical issues can complicate your alcohol detox.
- Detox isn’t as simple as quitting the substance and riding it out at home. Detox is not a quick fix solution.
- The root of addiction is left untreated. Detox doesn’t treat the causes and trauma behind addiction.
- Medical and psychological support is not always readily available. At-home detox doesn’t provide you with a safe environment where you can be monitored by medical professionals and therapists.
Benefits of medical detox
As you can see, detoxing at home is not recommended. Medical detox is a safe way to rid your body of harmful substances and begin your journey of recovery from addiction. In a medical setting, you’ll be in the care of professionals who are training to treat you with medications, fluids, and any other medical treatment that is necessary. Medical professionals can also monitor your food intake and provide healthy meals that are rich in vitamins and minerals. They will also give you the proper testing to see if there are any other medical conditions at play with your physical state. Another benefit is that you removed from your current environment where you might be surrounded by triggers and alcohol cravings. Being removed from this environment can help you concentrate solely on your recovery.
Medical detox is generally part of a longer inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment program. Ridding your body of alcohol is only the first step. You’ll then need to go on to address the trauma and causes of your addiction. This requires group therapy, peer support, a safe and structured environment, new coping skills, and one-on-one therapy. These are all the components of a good treatment program.
Addiction is an isolating disease. That’s why it’s natural to want to detox at home, by yourself. But you don’t have to. You don’t have to do this fight alone. There is help available and professionals and peers who want to see you get well.
Written by: Kelly Fitzgerald