Some people may think that the detox process is something they can undergo on their own at home. The thought of entering a professional facility may seem like an unnecessary or potentially embarrassing experience, so instead, some people attempt an at-home detox to begin the recovery process. While an at-home detox may provide the person with all the comforts of home, it can be largely ineffective, resulting in relapse, and dangerous.
What Is an At-Home Detox?
Detoxification is the natural process the body goes through to rid the system of harmful substances. During this time, symptoms of withdrawal arise, and the person may require medical and supportive measures to keep the symptoms manageable. This is the first step to recovery, as noted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In a professional detox facility, medications and other therapies are given to facilitate the body’s natural detoxification process.
An at-home detox is simply when a person attempts to undergo this process at home, on their own, without any medical supervision.
Generally, an at-home detox entails a person simply refraining from drugs or alcohol, often taking a “cold turkey” approach to withdrawal, which can be dangerous for some substances of abuse.
People may attempt home remedies they read about online but these have been shown to be largely ineffective.
Is an At-home Detox Safe?
An at-home detox isn’t always safe. For certain drugs, the risks are minimal, but it does decrease the person’s likelihood of successfully completing detox. Not all substances cause physical or potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, so some aren’t as serious to stop using. For instance, drugs like cocaine and amphetamines don’t cause severe physical withdrawal symptoms.
At-home detox attempts are not safe if a person is addicted to certain drugs. There are certain substances that should never be stopped cold turkey, such as alcohol and benzodiazepines. Doing so can lead to life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, such as seizures. Stopping opioids suddenly without medical assistance can result in intensely uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, often leading to relapse. Medical detox is always required to withdraw from these substances.
Delirium tremens – the onset of confusion and autonomic hyperactivity after stopping alcohol consumption after physical dependence has formed – can lead to death. A person experiencing delirium tremens may develop a fever and become tachycardic, meaning the person has a rapid heartbeat. It’s estimated that 1-5 percent of people who develop delirium tremens die from it. Generally, delirium tremens develops three days after a person stops drinking, but it can happen anywhere from 2-10 days after stopping, even though withdrawal symptoms may start as early as six hours after a person’s peak intoxication level. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, more than 5 percent of people who attempt a detoxification on their own without the assistance of a medical professional develop delirium tremens.
People who withdraw from benzodiazepines may experience seizures or death. Examples of benzodiazepines include:
- Valium (diazepam)
- Xanax (alprazolam)
- Librium (chlordiazepoxide)
- Ativan (lorazepam)
- Halcion (triazolam)
- Klonopin (Clonazepam)
Generally, a person will start to experience psychological and physical withdrawal symptoms from benzodiazepines in as little as 3-4 days after the person’s last use, although short-acting benzos like alprazolam and triazolam may cause withdrawal symptoms sooner than three days. Individuals who go through withdrawal from benzos may experience life-threatening seizures; hence, most medical professionals prescribe a tapered withdrawal approach in which the dosage is slowly lowered over a set period of time.
Those who would like to detox at home should consult with a physician at a drug and alcohol rehab facility first. Medical supervision during the detoxification process is necessary, even if a medical professional isn’t actually going to be present for the at-home detox.
What Are the Risks of Detoxing at Home?
Due to the discomfort of withdrawal, those who attempt to detox on their own often return to using the substance in an effort to make withdrawal symptoms go away. Risk of overdose is high in these instances, so an at-home detox is inherently less safe than medical detox as a result.
Withdrawal symptoms vary based on the substance that was abused. Some examples of physical withdrawal symptoms from opioids include:
- Abdominal cramping
- Muscle aches
People who experience physical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal may experience the following:
- Increased heart rate
- High blood pressure
Benzodiazepine withdrawal can cause various symptoms, such as:
- Panic attacks
- Muscle pain
- Heart palpitations
- Memory problems
Psychological withdrawal symptoms from various substances of abuse include:
- Thoughts of using
- Cravings for the substance
- Heightened emotions
- Mood changes
- Difficulties with stress management
- Changes in appetite
- Fuzzy thinking
- Feeling tired all the time
- Lack of interest, or anhedonia
- Lack of initiative
- Sleep issues
Even milder withdrawal symptoms are often unpleasant. They can be more than a person can bear sometimes, which leads to the person resuming substance use just to avoid the symptoms. That’s why at-home detoxes are often ineffective.
Why Should Someone Choose Medical Detox?
Medical detox allows the body to process out drugs and alcohol in a safe environment, where medical professionals monitor clients to ensure a comfortable experience. Clients may be given medications to address specific symptoms, such as medications to treat anxiety or aid with sleeping problems. In some instances, clients may receive anticonvulsants prior to undergoing medical detox in an effort to prevent seizures.
Due to this continuous monitoring, staff members can intervene early when unpleasant symptoms arise. Immediate medical intervention is available if serious issues arise, such as seizures, delirium tremens, or any emergency event. In addition, staff members provide moral support and encouragement throughout the process; this ongoing support can often prove critical to successfully completing withdrawal.
Undergoing the detoxification process at home leaves the person socially isolated in many cases. They may become withdrawn and feel shame. Oftentimes, this makes depression and anhedonia worse. In a medical detox facility, the person will be surrounded by others in similar circumstances. These individuals can share their stories and experiences, serving as encouragement to those going through withdrawal.
Overall, there are many dangers associated with at-home detox. While medical detox is required in certain situations, it is recommended across the board as the safest method of detox.