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Is It Dangerous to Detox from Alcohol on Your Own?

Is It Dangerous to Detox from Alcohol on Your Own?

When answering whether it is dangerous to detox from alcohol on your own, there is both a short answer and a long answer. The short answer is that it can certainly be dangerous to withdraw from any drug (including alcohol) on your own, given how severe withdrawal symptoms can become.

The long answer is slightly more complicated, and involves how long and how much someone has drank alcohol. The end point of the long answer, however, is the same: if you believe that you may experience extreme withdrawal symptoms while in alcohol detox, the best choice is to get professional help and participate in medically supervised detox.

"The mentality and behavior of drug addicts and alcoholics is wholly irrational until you understand that they are completely powerless over their addiction and unless they have structured help, they have no help."

~ Russel Brand

The key to this quote from actor Russel Brand is the necessity of structured help. During the recovery process, every recovering alcoholic will need structured help of some kind. In some cases this is an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, in others it is an intervention, and still in others it is medically managed or medically supervised alcohol detox. While seeking out professional help as an alcoholic is completely up to you, you should at the very least know that it could be dangerous to detox from alcohol on your own. This is particularly true if you have been drinking for a long time.

What is Detox from Alcohol?

Alcohol detox is relatively simple to understand, even if it is not easy to actually go through. Detox from alcohol involves your body ridding itself of the toxic effects of the substance and your brain ridding itself of dependency. When someone has abused alcohol over a long period of time, both their brain and their physical body become dependent on the alcohol. This means that they feel they have to drink, if only to feel normal and avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal is what occurs during alcohol detox, whether in a clinic or at home. When someone becomes dependent on alcohol and then quits drinking altogether, their body will react by telling the brain it needs more alcohol. Only after a few days of not drinking anything at all does the body realize that it does not actually need the alcohol to feel normal.

Withdrawal from alcohol can be extremely uncomfortable, but it is a necessary and important part of alcohol detox. Some of the most common withdrawal symptoms from alcohol include:

  • Sleeping problems (such as insomnia)
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Muscle pain
  • Intense headaches
  • An irregular heart beat or palpitations
  • Discomfort during digestion
  • Tremors or seizures
  • Panic attacks

In some extreme cases of alcohol withdrawal, these symptoms also include delirium, hallucinations, and even psychosis. While this is not always the case, these symptoms are possible in someone who has been a heavy drinker for many years.

Can it Be Dangerous to Detox from Alcohol on Your Own?

Again, the short answer is essentially yes. Most medical professionals and addiction counselors strongly recommend against a detox from alcohol at home. The main reason for this is that some of the withdrawal symptoms described here can easily get out of hand and become dangerous. Supervising the detox process can help avoid these dangers altogether.

"Appropriate treatment of alcohol withdrawal can relieve the patient's discomfort, prevent the development of more serious symptoms, and forestall cumulative effects that might worsen future withdrawals. Hospital admission provides the safest setting for the treatment of alcohol withdrawal, although many patients with mild to moderate symptoms can be treated successfully on an outpatient basis. Severe alcohol withdrawal requires pharmacological intervention."

~ Dr. Hugh Myrick & Dr. Raymond Anton

Going through detox from alcohol on your own can become dangerous when withdrawal turns into delirium tremens. This is an extreme form of withdrawal from alcohol. Delirium tremens goes beyond many of the symptoms already outlined above, and introduces sudden and extreme changes to the nervous system and one's mental well-being. This is when withdrawal can lead to body tremors, psychosis, and hallucinations.

Delirium tremens does not affect everyone who struggles with alcoholism. The U.S. National Library of Medicine notes that this form of withdrawal usually occurs with people who drink extremely heavily every single day for several months. This level of drinking looks like several bottles of wine, a few liters of beer, or a full pint of hard alcohol each day. However, delirium tremens can also affect people who struggle with alcoholism for ten years or more.

Clearly, it is not advisable to detox from alcohol on your own. Alcohol detox can become dangerous if the withdrawal symptoms described here are not carefully monitored. Ideally, this monitoring is from a medical professional who can step in when it is deemed necessary.

What Other Options for Alcohol Detox Are Available?

Since it can be dangerous in some cases, thankfully you do not have to detox from alcohol on your own. Instead, there are several alternative options for going through alcohol withdrawal safely and with support.

  • Medical Detox: This is the safest form of alcohol detox, as it allows those going through withdrawal to have a safe and supportive environment during the process. Medical staff supervises the withdrawal symptoms during detox and assess what medical interventions are necessary. In some cases this includes medication to mitigate the effects of withdrawal.
  • Intensive Outpatient Programs: This option is something between going through alcohol detox on your own and going to a residential rehab center. In intensive outpatient programs, individuals in recovery receive the professional and medical support that they need - both during and after alcohol detox.
  • Residential Rehab: This option for treatment allows alcoholics to go through the detox process with medical detox, and flows seamlessly into a complete treatment program. Medical detox and follow up services are usually part of residential rehab. Those who have struggled with alcoholism for a long time may consider this option.