Updated on February 6, 2024
6 min read

Can Someone Beat a Drug Addiction on Their Own?

For most people with drug addiction, recovery isn’t successful until they receive professional treatment. Someone can overcome addiction on their own, but long-term success is rare.

Instead, people who have access to medication, counseling, and other treatment tools do better in recovery.

The National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey found that treatment is not a cure-all, nor is it necessary for everyone battling addiction. The study revealed that of the 4,500+ respondents who had ever experienced alcohol dependence, only 27 percent had gone to treatment of any kind.

But the study only addressed alcohol dependence and did not take into account the length of time respondents had been abusing alcohol versus how successful they were recovering without treatment. It also didn’t take into account the long-term results of all study participants.

Can You Die from Drug or Alcohol Withdrawal When Recovering Alone?

Many people addicted to drugs are scared to try and stop use because of the fear that quitting ‘cold turkey’ will kill them. For certain drugs, this is true - withdrawal can lead to death if not managed properly.

For example, withdrawal from alcohol can potentially cause a heart attack.

Drug and alcohol withdrawal can also result in respiratory depression, preventing oxygen from reaching the brain and other organs. This can lead to a stroke.

Seizures are a common symptom of alcohol withdrawal and can result in fatal respiratory problems. Injuring your head during a seizure can also result in death.

There is also a risk of self-harm. A person must face many psychological imbalances when quitting any drug, that depression, anxiety, and hopelessness are a concern.

A person going through withdrawal symptoms must be monitored emotionally and physically.

Dangers of Detoxing & Withdrawing Alone

In addition to the difficulty of recovery from long-term alcohol use disorder and/or drug addiction, the detoxification phase can be dangerous without medical supervision.

Breaking a physical addiction to certain drugs, especially heroin, prescription opioids, benzodiazepines, and alcohol, triggers unpleasant symptoms.

Detox also takes a toll on a person’s health.

Cold turkey detox – completely denying the body the substance of choice – can cause potentially fatal side effects, including:

  • Hallucinations
  • Heart palpitations
  • Seizures
  • Kidney dysfunction
  • Delirium tremens
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Catatonia
  • Coma

Medical experts recommend always detoxing under the supervision of trained medical professionals. Not only does it reduce the risk that there will be a serious medical complication, but it also increases the odds of a successful recovery.

Medically assisted detox also ensures the person with an addiction will have access to medications needed to ease withdrawal symptoms and be treated if an overdose is in progress.


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Are Medications Needed To Recover Successfully?

Medication is sometimes used to enhance recovery.

It targets symptoms that occur during detoxification and reduces the risk of relapse. Doctors can prescribe medication to treat co-occurring conditions that contributed to alcohol or drug use.

Some of the most common types of medications used to reduce withdrawal symptoms include: 

  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Cravings

The most common medications used in alcohol and opioid use disorder treatment include:

  • Methadone
  • Buprenorphine
  • Extended-release naltrexone
  • Lofexidine
  • Naltrexone
  • Disulfiram
  • Acamprosate

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Types of Effective Addiction Treatments

There are many different approaches to drug and alcohol treatment. Determining the “best” treatment for a given person depends on a variety of factors.

A study from the University of New Mexico found that the most effective approach for helping a person recover from alcohol use disorder was an initial quick and impactful encounter with a medical professional.

The study determined that when a doctor revealed to someone complications present from abuse of alcohol, such as poor liver function, that was sufficient motivation to change by itself. No outside intervention was necessary.

For many, a referral to AA or other outpatient treatment for alcohol use disorder followed the initial interaction. Doctors also worked with patients to set goals to reduce alcohol consumption.

The approach is self-directed, but a medical professional was there to offer support and guidance.

A second option the study found to be as effective was motivational interviewing. This approach involves encouraging a person to assess his or her reasons for using drugs or alcohol and setting goals for recovery.

If the person resists, therapy explores the desire to resist instead of pushing for abstinence.

The study ultimately revealed that even in a situation where traditional admittance to therapy wasn’t used, people benefited from professional medical intervention.

Other more traditional treatment options that are successful include:

  • Long-Term Residential Treatment
  • Short-Term Residential Treatment
  • Outpatient Treatment Programs
  • Individualized Drug Counseling
  • Group Counseling
  • Partial Hospitalization

These treatment options tend to incorporate a variety of different therapeutic approaches, including:

It’s also important to note that different combinations of approaches work for different people. For example, a person might initially be reluctant to participate in in-patient rehab but will find value in a 12-step program. Or he or she might require detox and immediate support but do better long-term with a less aggressive approach.

The most successful treatment approaches take the individual and his or her needs into account.

Benefits of Professional Therapy

Despite professional therapy not being the right option for everyone, it helps many people recover and maintain sobriety. Treatment programs that address the whole person and consider not only detoxification and initial recovery, but also long-term abstinence are most successful.

Treatment offers companionship and understanding. People with similar challenges surround the person in treatment and professionals with extensive experience dealing with addiction are also there for support.

Treatment programs also offer an opportunity to communicate about addiction. Many people with addiction problems aren’t sure how to discuss the thoughts and feelings that play a role in their addiction.

These programs offer opportunities and access to communication skills someone might not learn otherwise.

The treatment approaches listed above also provide insight into a person’s addiction. Counseling helps the person explore addiction triggers and prepares him or her to react in healthy ways when an addiction trigger arises.

Finally, treatment creates a system of personal accountability. The person with the addiction is encouraged to take responsibility for his or her choices.

Recovering alone means only being accountable to yourself. For many people, this is not enough and they need additional support.

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What Causes Relapse?

Relapse is a common part of recovering from drug addiction.

While relapse is discouraging and challenging, it can be an opportunity to learn from mistakes. It can also help you understand additional triggers and correct your treatment course.

Various triggers can put you at risk of relapsing into old patterns of substance use.

While varying from person to person, some common triggers include:

  • A negative emotional state, such as stress, sadness, anger, or trauma
  • A positive emotional state, such as feeling happy and desiring to feel even better with the use of drugs
  • Trying to test your personal control
  • Strong temptation or urge to use
  • Conflicts, such as an argument with a spouse or partner
  • Social pressure, such as being in a situation where it seems everyone else is using

It is essential to remember that relapse does not mean failure. Do not give up on recovery even if you relapse.

Speak with your sponsor, talk to your therapist, go to a meeting, or organize an appointment with your doctor. When you are sober again and out of danger, assess what triggered the relapse, what went wrong, and how you could have approached it differently.

You can choose to work on recovery again and use the experience to strengthen your commitment.

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Updated on February 6, 2024

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