Jump to topic
What is ‘Self-Detox?’
Self-detox occurs when someone attempts to give up using drugs or alcohol without professional or medical intervention. They might taper their use of the substance or go “cold turkey” (stop immediately). In either case, they have no outside support or treatment.
Most commonly, someone with a desire to stop using drugs or alcohol chooses a quit date. They commit to being sober on that date by either gradually leading up to it or giving up the substance on that day. They stop exposing themselves to their substance use triggers and engage in activities that keep their mind off of using.
Some people who attempt self-detox plan carefully for the experience, while others just decide to stop using and don’t alter their lives in any other way.
Self-detox is an individualized approach (and there is no official regimen). It simply means someone stops using a substance without any professional or medical support.
Is it Safe to Detox from Alcohol at Home?
Whether or not detoxing from alcohol at home without medical support is safe varies from person to person. For many people, alcohol withdrawal is a medical emergency.
In addition, how safe it is to detox on your own is based on the severity of alcohol use. If you do not experience severe symptoms and can resist your alcohol cravings, at-home detox may be an option for you.
However, at-home detox is typically not recommended because the detoxification process for people with alcohol use disorder (AUD) can be a dangerous experience. Supervision and support increase a person’s chance of successful, long-term recovery.
The benefit of self-detox is that it is significantly less expensive than seeking medical support. However, the early stages of sobriety pose a dangerous risk for medical complications. People also face the highest risk of relapse during this time.
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome (and its symptoms) are dangerous. They include:
- Elevated heart rate and blood pressure
- Delirium tremens (DTs)
7 Tips to Safely Detox from Alcohol at Home
If someone decides to detox at home despite the risks, the following tips increase the chances of success:
- Set aside time to focus on detox. This could take days or weeks (depending on the severity of the addiction).
- Remove all alcohol from the home and other places that provide easy access.
- Ask for support from a loved one. At the very least, check in with someone throughout the process and ask that they check on you, too. This ensures medical professionals can be alerted if something goes wrong.
- Gradually taper intake of alcohol. This increases the length of the detox process but reduces the intensity of withdrawal symptoms.
- Schedule relaxing activities that help you avoid alcohol triggers. Consider starting a new hobby or plan a project that keeps you focused on things that don’t involve drinking.
- Stay physically active by going for a walk or doing yoga. You likely won’t feel up to intense physical activity, but light exercise is good for you and keeps you focused on something other than drinking.
- Consider attending a 12-step meeting if your cravings get intense. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings require no commitment from attendees (aside from having a desire to not drink). You can even attend meetings online.
How to Manage Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms at Home
There are several things you can do to better manage alcohol withdrawal symptoms when detoxing at home. For example:
- Stay hydrated. Drink a lot of water and beverages that contain electrolytes. Heavy drinkers are likely to experience vomiting during detox, which leads to dehydration. Restoring electrolytes helps you feel better and reduces the risk of health complications.
- Understand the process of cravings. You’ll feel it build gradually, reach a peak, crash, and dissipate. If you’re able to ride out this wave each time it happens, you’re more likely to avoid the temptation to drink.
- Assemble a first aid kit. This can include things to help you deal with potential medical risks, such as electrolyte-containing beverages, as well as tools to distract you from drinking.
- Have plenty of healthy fruits and vegetables on hand. Because your body converts alcohol to sugar, you’re likely to experience sugar cravings when you stop drinking. You can ease these cravings with fresh fruit. Vitamins can also help your body cope with withdrawal. Some of the most popular vitamins for detoxing include B-complex, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, and zinc.
- Avoid people who usually drink with you. This might require difficult conversations, but being honest and upfront about your desire to get clean increases your odds of success.
- Seek immediate medical attention if symptoms of delirium tremens (DTs) arise. These symptoms include nausea, seizures, and hallucinations. This is a life-threatening condition that requires prompt medical attention.
Dangers & Risks of Self-Detox
Self-detox poses many risks, including:
- Low rate of success
- Lack of professional counseling and other resources
- Difficulty avoiding triggers
- Lack of medical attention if serious complications arise
- Intensity of withdrawal symptoms are typically greater without medical intervention
- Potential for life-threatening symptoms, including seizures, hallucinations, delirium, and heart failure are greater
Pros and Cons of Detoxing from Alcohol at Home
Despite the risks, there are some benefits of choosing to detox from alcohol at home. For example:
- Saves money
- Provides the comfort of a familiar environment
- Allows you to meet work, school, family, and other obligations
- Access to family and friends
- Avoids the unfortunate social stigma of going to rehab or admitting you have a substance use disorder (SUD)
- Allows for anonymity and privacy
- Increases the risk of severe withdrawal symptoms
- Higher risk of relapse
- Lack of access to medications to reduce withdrawal symptoms
- Increases the risk of mental health side effects, including stress, anxiety, and depression
- Puts greater pressure on someone’s support system, including friends and family members
Home Detox vs. Medically-Monitored Detox: Which is Right for You?
In almost all cases, medically monitored detox is better than self-detox. Medical supervision during detox ensures that care is immediately available if serious symptoms arise.
Medical detox provides:
- Professional monitoring and support
- A safe, structured environment
- Peer support
- A stress-free and temptation-free environment
- Relapse prevention
- Aftercare support
- Therapeutic intervention
- Mental health treatment for co-occurring conditions
- Support for family members
For people who cannot attend inpatient treatment at an alcohol rehab center due to prohibitive costs or other reasons, outpatient treatment is available. These addiction treatment programs offer the freedom to meet professional and personal obligations, while still receiving medically supervised care throughout the withdrawal process.
If you aren’t sure what type of program is right for you (or are considering at-home detox), speak with your doctor before beginning the process. They can help you determine the best and safest course of action for your needs.