Detox means that your body is going through withdrawal after a physical dependence on drugs or alcohol has formed.
Withdrawal from substances of abuse can be dangerous, and detox from certain substances can produce life-threatening symptoms. As a result, you shouldn’t attempt to detox at home unless you first consult with a physician who approves the process.
Risks of Detox
There are many risks associated with detox. Medical supervision is always advised.
Not everyone needs to undergo inpatient detox. Some people can detox at home, depending on their level of dependence, personal medical issues, and their degree of addiction. In all instances, a physician should be consulted prior to any at-home detox attempts.
Withdrawal from certain substances — such as alcohol, benzodiazepines, and opioids — can result in severe dehydration, relapse and overdose, seizures, coma, and even death.
Alcohol withdrawal can cause seizures and other dangerous symptoms that can be life-threatening. One study from the Journal of Forensic Science found that in unlicensed, informal alcohol rehabilitation programs, serving Spanish-speaking men, some participants died from alcohol poisoning and alcohol withdrawal.
This class of drugs is associated with severe withdrawal symptoms and a high potential for relapse during withdrawal. Medications are often used during opioid detox to mitigate these forceful symptoms.
Withdrawal from benzodiazepines generally involves a physician-supervised tapering process where individuals are slowly weaned off the drugs over a period of weeks or months.
No one abusing any of the above drugs — alcohol, opioids, or benzodiazepines — should attempt to stop using them suddenly. Doing so can trigger extreme withdrawal, and life-threatening symptoms are possible.
If a professional supervises and guides the detox process, the likelihood of experiencing severe symptoms is reduced. Medical detox ensures a high level of professional supervision throughout the entire process.
The Risks of Detox are Affected by Several Factors, Such As:
- What drugs you have been consuming
- How much of the drugs you have been consuming and for what time period
- Whether you are physically dependent on more than one substance
- The potency and level of your consumption habits
- Individual health factors, such as heart problems, history of respiratory problems, general health, and other conditions
Considerations for Home Detox
Again, not everyone needs to detox in a dedicated inpatient detox center. Many people are able to detox at home after first consulting a physician.
There are several factors to consider before deciding to try home detox.
The Class of Drugs
The risks of at-home detox vary greatly according to the substance in question. Addiction to alcohol and benzodiazepines requires a medical detox, as withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening. Medical detox is usually recommended for opioid withdrawal due to the high likelihood of relapse.
People may be able to detox from stimulants, marijuana, and hallucinogens at home.
Each class of drug comes with different risk factors and sets of symptoms.
Abuse of Multiple Drugs
Polysubstance abuse will complicate the withdrawal experience, so it is an important factor to consider. Drug combinations increase the risk of adverse outcomes and more severe withdrawal symptoms.
Level of Dependency
If you have struggled with addiction for a long time, you probably have a higher level of physical dependency. While people who have been abusing substances for a shorter amount of time may be able to detox on their own at home, those who have long-term addictions usually need the support of a full medical detox program.
If you struggle with co-occurring medical or mental health issues, at-home detox is not a safe choice. Inpatient detox is recommended in these cases to ensure your safety.
Past Attempts at Detox
If you have made past attempts at detox and end up relapsing, it’s a sign that you need more support with the process. If you detox on your own at home, it’s too easy to return to substance use when withdrawal symptoms get intense. Medical detox greatly reduces the likelihood of relapse.
In order to detox at home, you need a safe, supportive environment. If you live with people who abuse substances or who are unsupportive of your decision to detox, it’s unlikely that you’ll be successful.
When is it Safe to Detox at Home?
Some drugs come with lower risks during the withdrawal process. The lower the dosages of any substance you have been using, the lower the overall risk will be. This is simply because you have a lower level of physical dependence with lower doses.
Short-term use may also be appropriate for at-home detox. If you’ve only been abusing substances for a short amount of time, your withdrawal symptoms may be mild.
The exception to this is benzodiazepine withdrawal. Even if you’ve only been abusing benzodiazepines for a few weeks, talk to a doctor before suddenly stopping use. Dependence on these drugs forms incredibly quickly.
People can often withdraw from marijuana at home since marijuana withdrawal involves light to moderate mood and behavioral symptoms.
There is some debate over whether certain hallucinogens cause physical dependence. People can often withdraw from them at home.
In some instances, people can withdraw from cocaine and other stimulants at home, with prior medical approval.
Regardless of the substance of abuse, always consult with a physician prior to any detox attempts. Many factors go into the risks associated with withdrawal.
Tips to Support Detox at Home
If you decide to detox at home, be prepared to address symptoms and have someone available to help you through the process. This person can also call for help if needed.
Follow these tips to make the withdrawal process more manageable:
Consult Your Doctor First
Never attempt detox without first getting approval from a physician. Failing to do so could endanger your life.
Follow All the Instructions Carefully
Your doctor may give you specific instructions for tapering off some drugs. For example, your doctor may switch you to a long-acting benzodiazepine and instruct you to slowly lower the dosage over several weeks. Follow these directions to a letter.
If you disregard these instructions and stop taking certain drugs cold turkey, you will be thrown into intense withdrawal. Some symptoms could put your life in danger. These powerful withdrawal symptoms also make it much more likely that you will simply return to drug use to make the discomfort go away.
Use Over-the-Counter Remedies as Appropriate
Some over-the-counter medications may help to ease specific symptoms of withdrawal. For example, ibuprofen or acetaminophen can treat aches and pains, and Imodium may lessen gastrointestinal problems. Make sure you have a support person with you, so you don’t abuse these medications when symptoms get tough.
Try Self-Care Methods
Take care of yourself with additional health aides, such as cold compresses, heating pads, plenty of fluids, easily tolerated foods like crackers or bread, and other self-soothing tools. Warm showers or baths can relieve pain. Listen to your body and pay attention to what it needs.
Withdrawal is usually uncomfortable. Distract yourself from the symptoms by watching a funny movie, going on a walk, or reading. Anything that can get your mind off the process can help.
When to Call for Help
Call 911 if You Begin to Experience Dangerous Withdrawal Symptoms, Including:
- Low-blood pressure.
- Seizures or trembling.
- Profuse sweating.
- Difficulty breathing.
- Major changes in body temperature.
Ensure Safety with Medical Detox
Withdrawal is a vulnerable time. It is the beginning of your journey into recovery, and it’s very easy to relapse.
Medical detox provides vital supervision and support during this time.
No matter what substances you have been abusing, even if they are associated with a milder withdrawal process, relapse is likely during detox. Since withdrawal symptoms can be controlled and you have 24-hour support, medical detox makes it much more likely that you will avoid relapse and successfully complete withdrawal than if you attempt to detox at home.