Dangers of Detoxing at Home

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By: Renaissance Recovery

Medically Reviewed by: Diana Vo, LMFT

Last Updated: 7/1/2021

An image of an IV and the dangers of detoxing at home

Authored By: Joe Gilmore

Table of Contents

Drug and alcohol withdrawal can take place in many settings, but there are some significant dangers of detoxing at home.

According to NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse), addiction is a chronic and relapsing brain disorder that often involves physical dependence. To stop the vicious cycle of addiction, it is vital to first address the physical issue.

Recovery is an ongoing process, and the first key phase is detoxification, frequently abbreviated to detox. The detox process involves cleansing your body of the toxins found in substances of abuse. With your body purged of toxins, you can then begin attacking the psychological aspect of your addiction through ongoing treatment.

Can you detox from alcohol at home or should you choose a medical detox center?

To help you establish your most effective route to recovery, we’ll first examine some of the general dangers of detox, both for alcohol and other substances of abuse.

Is Detoxing at Home Dangerous?

Some substances cause more serious issues of physical dependence, meaning medical detox is almost always advisable. Withdrawal from alcohol, benzodiazepines, and opiates carries the risk of potentially life-endangering withdrawal symptoms. Additionally, there is a high risk of relapse when detoxing from these substances at home.

Addiction with a co-occurring mental health disorder like depression, anxiety, or PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) affects 17 million adults in the US, according to the most recent NSDUH data. Co-occurring disorder typically requires medical detox before integrated dual diagnosis treatment can begin.

Sustained substance misuse and abuse triggers functional and structural brain changes. The withdrawal symptoms that manifest during detox are your body and brain’s response to the absence of this substance.

While withdrawal symptoms are inevitable if you stop using a drug or sharply moderate the dose, medical detox streamlines this process, while also minimizing complications and potential dangers. Prescription medications can help alleviate the intensity of withdrawal symptoms. MAT (medication-assisted treatment) can also help you counter cravings for alcohol or drugs.

Alcohol detox at home or drug detox at home provides you with none of the support and supervision available at a professional detoxification center. Not only will withdrawal be more uncomfortable, but you will not have medical help on hand in the event of any complications arising.

Dangers of Detox

We’ll now highlight some of the specific dangers of the following detox and withdrawal processes:

  • Dangers of alcohol detox at home
  • Dangers of benzo detox at home
  • Dangers of opioid detox at home

Dangers of alcohol detox at home 

There are serious potential dangers of detoxing from alcohol at home for those with severe alcohol use disorder (6 or more of the symptoms listed in DSM-5, the standard diagnostic tool for AUD (alcohol use disorder) and SUDs (substance use disorders).

Anyone with severe AUD is at risk of developing DTs (delirium tremens) during withdrawal. Delirium tremens affects 1 in 20 of those detoxing from alcohol and can be fatal if not properly medically managed.

DTs usually begin with 2 to 4 days of the last alcoholic drink. Sometimes, though, delirium tremens does not present until 10 days after the last drink. Common symptoms of DTs include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium (severe confusion)
  • Agitation
  • Tremors
  • Restlessness
  • Dramatic mood changes
  • Deep sleep
  • Seizures

Of those who develop DTs, up to 15% will die as a result. This rate can be reduced to 5% with medical and clinical supervision.

While detoxing from alcohol at home can be uncomfortable, dangerous, and possibly even life-threatening, medical detox provides you with the medical oversight and prescription medications to ease you from detox into ongoing recovery as smoothly as possible.

Medications used to treat alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Benzodiazepines
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Antipsychotics
  • Anti-nausea medications

Dangers of benzo detox at home

Drugs in the benzodiazepine class include:

  • Valium
  • Xanax
  • Klonopin

While benzos can be effective for treating the symptoms of anxiety short-term, they have a high potential for abuse and addiction. Withdrawal from these sedatives can cause the following adverse withdrawal symptoms:

  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Pronounced mood swings
  • Hyperventilation
  • Panic attacks
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Depersonalization
  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium

Unsupervised benzo withdrawal carries the risk of a psychotic episode and possibly even death.

Supervised benzo withdrawal may involve tapering your dosage gradually and incrementally or substituting a fast-acting benzo with a short-half-life (Xanax) for a slow-acting benzo (Valium or Librium), or alternatively for a barbiturate (phenobarbital).

Anticonvulsants and sedating antidepressants like trazodone can be beneficial for benzo withdrawal. Additionally, the detox process may be assisted by prescription and OTC medications addressing secondary withdrawal symptoms – insomnia or nausea, for instance.

Dangers of opioid detox at home

The CDC reports that the number of opioid prescriptions in the United States quadrupled from 1999 to 2014, triggering the opioid epidemic that continues to ravage the nation.

The same data shows:

  • 7% increase in deaths involving prescription opioids
  • 15% increase in deaths involving synthetic opioids
  • 6% increase in deaths involving heroin
  • 138 deaths per day in the US from opioid overdose

Overcoming addiction to opiates is remarkably challenging, whether heroin or prescription opioids are involved. Home opioid detox is inadvisable.

Fortunately, medical detox helps mitigate the withdrawal symptoms, both physical and psychological, that commonly lead to relapse and subsequent overdose. (After detox, your tolerance to opioids will be low and your risk of overdose if you relapse heightened.)

Opioid agonists like buprenorphine and methadone are approved by the FDA and prescribed in controlled doses to those quitting prescription opioids or heroin. Clonidine is sometimes used in a clinical setting to control irregular heartbeat and high blood pressure.

An image of a person detoxing at home

Is There a Safe Way to Detox at Home?

Home detox should only ever be attempted after your healthcare provider approves the process. If you are addicted to alcohol or drugs and attempt to simply quit cold turkey without medical supervision, you risk adverse health repercussions. As outlined above, in some cases home detox could be fatal.

A medical professional or addiction specialist can help you establish an appropriate home detox and withdrawal plan. This will depend on the following variables:

  • Substance abused
  • Duration of substance abuse
  • Quantity of substances being abused
  • Current state of substance use
  • Mental health conditions (both pre-existing and co-occurring)
  • Physical health
  • Medical history
  • Previous detox and withdrawal attempts
  • Home environment and support network

In some very limited cases, an otherwise healthy individual with no physical dependence using a substance not associated with serious withdrawal symptoms may find home detox effective. Anyone dependent on substances like alcohol, benzos, or opioids should strongly consider the dangers of detoxing at home.

An image of a California beach | Dangers of detoxing at home

Drug and Alcohol Detox at Renaissance Recovery

Here at Renaissance, we can connect you with an alcohol and drug detox center in California and beyond, ideal for anyone disinclined to risk home detox. If you are committed to leaving alcohol and drugs behind, you owe it to yourself to minimize all dangers during detox, and to strengthen your chances of resisting cravings rather than relapsing.

Beyond this, we can help you to transition from detox and withdrawal into ongoing treatment addiction and any co-occurring mental health disorders.

All our outpatient addiction treatment programs offer the following evidence-based array of treatments as well as holistic therapies:

  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment)
  • Psychotherapy (CBT and DBT)
  • Counseling (individual and group)

Just like a medically-supervised detox, a comprehensive and research-based treatment program can mean the difference between ongoing addiction and a new sober life. Call the friendly team at 866.330.9449 to get started on your personal road to recovery without the dangers of detoxing at home.

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Diana is an addiction expert and licensed marriage and family therapist who has been in the field of mental health for over 10 years.

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country