The Dangers Of Detoxing from Alcohol at Home

Detox from alcohol is a difficult period of time for individuals beginning recovery. Throughout the detox process, the likelihood of experiencing negative symptoms of withdrawal is high and can be dangerous. An attempt to detox at home can lead to far greater risks. It is best to seek medical help when detoxing from alcohol.

The Dangers Of Detoxing From Alcohol At Home

Detox from alcohol can be a very difficult period for individuals beginning recovery from an alcohol use disorder. Throughout the detox process, it is likely that one will experience negative physical and mental symptoms. These symptoms can raise the risk of potential relapse, as returning to alcohol use will ease the symptoms of withdrawal.

Some may attempt detox on their own at home. It is highly recommended that one receives an intervention and undergo detox at an accredited treatment center, in order to prevent more dangerous and potentially life-threatening symptoms from occurring.

What Is Alcohol Detox?

The period of time during which alcohol leaves the body is known as detoxification. Withdrawal is the effects an individual will experience as a result of detox.

Depending on a person’s tolerance and the length of time they have abused alcohol, withdrawal symptoms will be more or less severe. The more frequently a person drinks and the greater the amount of alcohol, the higher the risk of withdrawal symptoms.

Detox is often undergone in an accredited treatment center, but some will attempt to detox on their own. Due to the potentially dangerous effects of alcohol withdrawal, it is important to have medical support.

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What Is Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome?

The effects of withdrawal are symptoms that can prevent a person from entering recovery. For a person that is struggling with alcohol addiction, the effects of alcohol withdrawal can be stopped by returning to alcohol use. This is why many who attempt to go through detox at home often cannot successfully go through the withdrawal process alone.

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is a series of symptoms caused by stopping use of alcohol. Even milder symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be too uncomfortable to tolerate. Withdrawal from alcohol can also cause psychological symptoms of depression and anxiety. When a person has been self-medicating with alcohol to deal with symptoms of mental illness, it is easier to continue using alcohol than it is to stop.

The following are potential symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome:

  • tremors
  • sweating
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • insomnia
  • anxiety
  • agitation
  • restlessness
  • tachycardia (increased heart rate)
  • raised blood pressure
  • visual disturbances (such as sensitivity to light)
  • auditory disturbances (sensitivity to sounds)
  • disorientation (confusion)
  • hallucinations
  • delirium tremens
  • death

Delirium Tremens (also known as DTs) is a potential side effect of withdrawal from alcohol. DTs are characterized by severe tremors, sweating and severe dehydration, and even hallucinations.

DTs are one of the most severe effects caused by alcohol withdrawal. When you experience DTs, it is crucial to have a medical professional on-hand to help ease potential symptoms with medical support and medications.

At worst, an individual can potentially die from severe withdrawal symptoms. A combination of dangerous symptoms can cause them to experience seizures, heart problems, and many other potential side effects. For these serious symptoms, medical support is necessary.

Medications Used To Detox From Alcohol

Medication is typically necessary in the alcohol detox process. With medication, physical and mental symptoms can become easier to tolerate.

Depending on how long an individual has been abusing alcohol, symptoms will be more or less severe, and medications will be adjusted accordingly. When a person enters addiction treatment, a clinical assessment will be conducted in order to understand their history with alcohol abuse.

From there, medical professionals can determine which medications are most appropriate to use in an individual’s detox process. Depending on the withdrawal symptoms the person is experiencing, some medications will be more appropriate to administer than others.

If a person is experiencing heart problems as a result of withdrawal, they may be prescribed a beta-blocker, such as atenolol. If they are experiencing seizure-related symptoms, an anticonvulsant medication may be prescribed.

For symptoms of anxiety, benzodiazepines are known to help throughout the withdrawal process. Benzodiazepines are also understood to be a replacement mechanism for the effects of alcohol. Since alcohol and benzodiazepines have similar effects, substituting a benzodiazepine for alcohol helps to ease the effects of alcohol leaving the body.

The following are medications typically used in alcohol detox:

  • diazepam (Valium)
  • lorazepam (Ativan)
  • chlordiazepoxide
  • carbamazepine
  • propranolol
  • atenolol
  • haloperidol

If a person has undergone withdrawal multiple times, symptoms can become increasingly severe. Multiple episodes of withdrawal can cause changes in the brain that increasingly affect the person more severely. Increased effects of withdrawal over multiple episodes is known as “kindling.”

This is why it is important to undergo withdrawal in a medically supervised environment, so the individual does not return to using alcohol to ease potential withdrawal symptoms, and be forced to undergo withdrawal multiple times.

Additionally, continuous medical support is offered in a treatment facility. A medical professional will monitor a person throughout the period of detox, checking up on an individual every few hours or so. Medical treatments will be administered, such as IV fluids and the checking of blood pressure.

When a person attempts to detox at home, they will not have the medical support necessary to prevent more dangerous symptoms from occurring. Medications can greatly decrease the pain associated with withdrawal.

Medical professionals can also help to assure that dangerous symptoms do not seriously affect one’s physical and mental health. By undergoing detox in a treatment center, the risk of future relapse greatly decreases.

What Happens After Detox From Alcohol?

The treatment process for alcohol addiction does not end with detox. Rather, detox is only the beginning to an ongoing treatment program.

Treatment For Alcohol Abuse

Solely undergoing the detoxification process is not sufficient for maintaining long-term sobriety. This is why many alcohol treatment centers will not only provide a medical detoxification program, but also a secondary process of treatment that includes therapy, counseling, and other modes of treatment.

When one has undergone the detox process and is no longer experiencing uncomfortable symptoms, they may be more likely to continue on with the treatment process for addiction to alcohol.

Benefits Of Medically-Assisted Detox And Treatment

There are many benefits to completing a detox program at a treatment center:

  • a safer environment
  • peer support
  • medical support
  • lower risk of negative physical and mental symptoms
  • prevention of relapse
  • aftercare (support following treatment)

Why You Shouldn’t Detox From Alcohol At Home

Even if your symptoms of alcohol withdrawal do not include the more severe symptoms such as DTs or seizures, it is still highly recommended to undergo detox with medical supervision. Outpatient programs are available to assist with the detox process. It may be more appropriate for an individual to attend an outpatient program if their alcohol addiction is not severe.

Whatever the degree of alcohol abuse a person is experiencing, when entering recovery, detox should always be conducted in a medical facility. By undergoing a medically supported detox, the dangers of withdrawal are decreased, and the chances of a successful recovery are far greater.

U.S. National Library of Medicine: Medline Plus - Alcohol withdrawal

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Introduction to Alcohol Withdrawal

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