Alcohol can be addictive, making it difficult to stop using. Additionally, those who consistently drink daily will likely develop withdrawal symptoms when they stop. People often wonder how bad these withdrawal symptoms will be and if they can go through alcohol withdrawal alone at home.
However, alcohol withdrawal is the most dangerous form of substance withdrawal, more hazardous than withdrawal from drugs like heroin or cocaine. No one should ever try to detox from alcohol at home without consulting a doctor first.
The Alcohol Withdrawal and Detox Timeline
Alcohol withdrawal is a serious condition. In its most severe form, it can be deadly. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms differ for each person and are most noticeable in those who drink heavily and for long periods. Those who drink heavily become physically dependent on alcohol, causing withdrawal when they stop drinking or significantly reduce their intake.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms differ for everyone based on their unique situation; however, there is a rough timeline most people with withdrawal symptoms can expect to experience based on when they had their last drink.
- 6–12 hours: Minor hand tremors, sleep disturbances, upset stomach, nausea, loss of appetite, headache, sweating, stress and anxiety
- 12–28 hours: Hallucinations, seizures and worsening of any existing symptoms
- 48–72 hours: Hallucinations may continue, delirium tremens may start, sweating, disorientation, increased heart rate and elevated blood pressure and temperature may develop.
The length and severity of these symptoms ultimately depend on your alcohol use. In the months after detoxification, you may experience psychiatric-related symptoms such as mood swings, sleep disturbances and low energy levels.
Withdrawal symptoms are part of alcohol detoxification or your body’s process of removing all the alcohol from your body. This process can take from three days up to a week or more. During medical detox, you’ll need to control the symptoms of withdrawal.
Medical detox is best done under the supervision of healthcare professionals. Medications may be used to ease the withdrawal symptoms. Another medical detox aspect is maintaining hydration by taking fluids and eating a proper diet. A doctor can provide a list of foods to eat or avoid while you medically detox to give your body the right nutrients.
Completing medical detox is the start of your journey to achieve lasting recovery. Medical detox isn’t a quick fix; it’s the starting point to a better life. So how should you start your journey of healing? At home or in a medical detox facility?
Can You Successfully Detox From Alcohol at Home?
It may be possible for some people to detox from alcohol at home successfully, but it is dangerous to attempt and lowers your chance of successfully detoxing. Alcohol detox includes many hazardous symptoms that, unlike most other forms of detox, carry a risk of causing severe disability or death.
Detoxing at home is incredibly dangerous and much less likely to succeed than a medical detox. Over 30% of people who complete detox will relapse in their first year of sobriety, and the relapse risk is higher in those who do not have professional treatment.
Detoxing at home is less successful for two main reasons. First, it is more challenging to complete without help. Without medical help, your symptoms will worsen, and you will simultaneously have easier access to alcohol during detox. Second, professionals support you during medical detox and give you the tools and resources to maintain sobriety once it is over.
Risks of Detoxing at Home
Several risks to detoxing from alcohol at home include:
- Delirium tremens
- Unsuccessfully completing detox
- Accidental self-injury
- Accidental injury of others
- Increased severity of symptoms
Hallucinations during withdrawal can lead to seemingly irrational actions that can cause injury. In addition to being more dangerous, detoxing at home will likely be more uncomfortable than medically detoxing with professional help and support.
Delirium Tremens From Alcohol Withdrawal at Home
Delirium tremens is a severe and dangerous complication of alcohol withdrawal that can be fatal. Even with treatment, delirium tremens has a fatality rate of about 5%. Without treatment, delirium tremens has a fatality rate of over one-third. Because there is more than a one-in-three chance of dying from delirium tremens without treatment, anyone who may experience this condition should never detox from alcohol at home.
Benefits of Professional Alcohol Detox
Medical detox involves going through withdrawal under the supervision of a healthcare professional who can quickly recognize and treat symptoms and potentially dangerous conditions before they become severe. Medical detox also provides emotional support to help you avoid relapsing during withdrawal.
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Tips for At-Home Detox
People should never try to detox alone at home; however, some may accept the dangerous risks of doing this and attempt to detox by themselves. If you choose at-home detox, some interventions can increase your success, including:
- Consult with a doctor first: It is best to have a medical professional involved, even if you are not going to do a medical detox. A doctor can also give you an idea of the risks you are likely to face.
- Have an emergency plan in place: Detoxing at home is dangerous. You should always have an emergency plan to get medical help if detox symptoms become severe.
- Don’t detox alone: If you choose to detox at home, you should always have a responsible adult with you. Dangerous detox symptoms will likely impair your ability to get help if necessary.
- Empty your house of alcohol: If you have alcohol in your home, there is a very high risk that you will give into the temptation of ending the unpleasant symptoms of detox after a few days, undoing the work that you have done.
While these tips can improve your success while detoxing at home without medical supervision, the best advice for detoxing at home is — don’t do it. Detoxing at home is best avoided, as medical detox is safer, more effective and more comfortable.
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Davis, Chris. “Home detox – supporting patients to overcome alcohol addiction“>Home det[…]hol addiction.” Australian Prescriber, December 2018. Accessed November 16, 2022.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.