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Dangers of Detoxing at Home

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

May 21, 2024

Table of Contents

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

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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.

Can you detox from drugs or 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?

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. Whether you will be dealing with mild withdrawal symptoms or something more severe, it is always best to seek out the help of medical professionals to safely detox.

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).

Alcohol withdrawal is one of the most dangerous forms of withdrawal as it can be life-threatening. Upon reducing or stopping alcohol intake, you will begin experiencing various alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Some of the common physical symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Sweating, especially excessive night sweats

  • Mild to moderate tremors (shaking, particularly of the hands)

  • Headaches

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Loss of appetite

  • Palpitations (irregular heartbeat)

  • Eyes appearing bloodshot or glassy

  • Pale or clammy skin

  • Alcohol cravings

Some of the more severe withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Profound tremors

  • Hyperthermia (high fever)

  • Hallucinations (visual, auditory, or tactile)

  • Extreme agitation and anxiety

Anyone with severe AUD is at risk of developing DTs (delirium tremens) during alcohol 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 alcohol withdrawal symptoms associated with DTs include:

  • Hallucinations

  • Delirium (severe confusion)

  • Agitation

  • Tremors

  • Restlessness

  • Dramatic mood changes

  • Deep sleep

  • Seizures

Delirium tremens is one of the more serious health complications associated with alcohol withdrawal. People with DTs are at a much higher risk of fatality, with up to 15% experiencing fatal results. 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 and ease withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Benzodiazepines

  • Anticonvulsants

  • Antipsychotics

  • Anti-nausea medications

Dangers of benzo detox at home

Drugs in the benzodiazepine class include:

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 severe 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). This will help manage withdrawal symptoms and put you in a better position for long-term recovery.

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, prescription opioids, or other drugs 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 never be attempted as it can lead to an increased risk of serious health complications. If you are addicted to alcohol or drugs and attempt to simply quit cold turkey without medical supervision, you risk adverse health repercussions during the withdrawal process. As outlined above, in some cases home drug or alcohol detoxification could be fatal.

A professional treatment center can help you establish an 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

Anyone dependent on substances like alcohol, benzos, or opioids should strongly consider the dangers of detoxing at home and understand that the process is much safer under the supervision of a trusted medical professional.

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

Drug and Alcohol Detox at Renaissance Recovery

Here at Renaissance Recovery’s treatment program, we can connect you with an alcohol and drug detox center to help with the detox process. If you are committed to overcoming drug and alcohol abuse, you owe it to yourself to minimize all dangers during detox and inpatient treatment, and to strengthen your chances of resisting cravings rather than relapsing.

At a professional treatment program, we can help ensure that you are monitored and safe as you go through the withdrawal process. This will include things like medical monitoring, ensuring you get a balanced diet with frequent meals, provide emotional support, administration of medications, and more. All of this is to ensure you are able to reduce medical problems, detox safely, and begin a successful recovery process.

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 alcohol addiction program can mean the difference between ongoing addiction and a new sober life. Call the friendly team at our treatment facility to get started on your personal road to recovery without the dangers of an at-home detox.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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