Alcohol Withdrawal at Home
An estimated 15.1 million American adults live with alcohol use disorder, making it one of the most commonly used and misused substances. Alcohol-associated deaths are the third most common cause of preventable deaths, occurring at a rate of about 88,000 per year.
Among other factors, one reason for the high prevalence of alcohol use disorder is the difficult withdrawal process that is associated with quitting. Even mild to moderate regular alcohol use can cause major withdrawal symptoms that are difficult to ignore. Withdrawal associated with more severe alcohol use disorders can be profoundly uncomfortable and often dangerous. In extreme cases of withdrawal, death is possible. For these reasons, detox and acute withdrawal should generally be done under medical supervision. Pharmacological interventions are often provided to help ease the severity of the symptoms.
Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal typically begin to appear around 6 hours after the last drink and peak between 24 and 72 hours. Symptoms are fairly predictable and generally subside within 7 days. Mild symptoms of withdrawal include anxiety, tremors, restlessness, insomnia and nausea. In cases of more severe use disorders, symptoms often include pronounced tremors, low grade fever, profuse sweating, rapid breathing, nausea/vomiting and diarrhea and appear within 24 hours of the last drink.
The most severe cases of alcohol use disorder withdrawal can include seizures, heart attack and an altered mental state known as delirium tremens. Severe symptoms are incredibly dangerous. Even under the care of medical professionals, an estimated 4% of patients will die as a consequence of their symptoms, and mortality rates among untreated people are as high as 37%. In light of these statistics, if there is any concern about whether you are experiencing dangerous alcohol withdrawal it is recommended that you seek help from a medical professional.
How Successful is Alcohol Withdrawal at Home?
People with mild alcohol use disorder have a good chance at successfully managing withdrawal symptoms at home. Tips for alcohol withdrawal at home include making sure that there is no alcohol in your home, enlisting support from trusted friends or family, and giving yourself a few days to a week where you can put off your responsibilities.
Having a sports drink to replenish electrolytes and some easy-to-digest, healthy food on hand will help your body recover. Try to drink lots of fluids and eat a little bit, even if it’s the last thing you want to do. Be aware of your symptoms, if you are ever concerned about their severity it is recommended that you seek help immediately.
Unfortunately, relapse rates associated with home detox are high. It is estimated that 50-80% of people who detox without treatment will relapse within one year, underscoring the value that rehab programs can have for someone struggling to overcome alcohol use disorder.
Risks of Alcohol Detox at Home
Prolonged use of even moderate amounts of alcohol causes persistent chemical changes in the brain. Two neurotransmitters in particular are affected by alcohol: The inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA, which normally limits brain hyperexcitability; and the excitatory neurotransmitter NMDA, which heightens brain excitability. Alcohol increases GABA levels and makes NMDA receptors less abundant, leading to persistent inhibition of normal brain activity. Over time, the brain adapts to this alcohol-induced state.
When someone who is dependent on alcohol abruptly stops using it, GABA and NMDA receptor levels return to normal levels. This is where detox can become dangerous: The “brake” that had been keeping the brain at a slow speed is suddenly removed and activity rapidly accelerates into a state of hyperexcitability. The physical manifestations of brain hyperexcitability underlie the symptoms of withdrawal: anxiety, tremors, insomnia, sweating and hyperthermia are all direct consequences of an “excited” brain. In extreme cases, the excitation becomes so strong that seizures, delirium tremens or heart attack may result.
It is important to understand that even mild alcohol detox and withdrawal symptoms can cause medical complications. If you choose to detox at home, it is recommended that you have a medical consultation ahead of time and make sure that someone you trust is aware of the situation and will periodically check on you.
Inpatient Alcohol Detox vs Alcohol Withdrawal at Home
Overcoming alcohol use disorders can be challenging, especially if you do it alone. Rehab programs have been shown to significantly ease the profound discomfort associated with the detox and acute withdrawal phase and substantially increase the odds of maintaining short and long-term sobriety. There are several types of rehab program, including:
- Outpatient Rehab: For people with mild to moderate alcohol use disorders, intensive outpatient care can help them achieve sobriety. At Orlando Recovery Center, outpatient clients participate in individual and group therapy and have access to daily activities without living on-site.
- Hospital-Based Detox: Hospital-based detox offers similar initial care as an inpatient program would, including medical detox, but these are short-term programs that are designed to allow clients to overcome the early days of recovery in a safe environment.
- Residential Rehab: Residential rehab programs start with inpatient alcohol detox and transition into long-term care. Residential rehab offers 24/7 access to medical professionals who can address questions and concerns as they arise. The goal of residential rehab is to provide clients with a safe, secure place that allows them to reorient to sober living.
Alcohol use disorders can be challenging to overcome. If you are concerned about your own or someone else’s alcohol use, The Recovery Village can help. Our comprehensive rehab programs are tailored to suit your needs. Call us today!
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” August 2018. Accessed August 18, 2019.
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Rahman, Abdul; Paul, Manju. “Delirium Tremens (DT).” NCBI StatPearls, updated November 2018. Accessed August 18, 2019.
Rogawski, Michael A. “Update on the Neurobiology of Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures.” Epilepsy Currents, November 2005. Accessed August 18, 2019.
Moos, Rudolf H; Moos, Bernice S. “Rates and predictors of relapse after natural and treated remission from alcohol use disorders.” Addiction, February 2006. Accessed August 18, 2019.
Medical Disclaimer: Orlando Recovery Center 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.