Can You Detox at Home?
Detox is the first major hurdle in addiction recovery. Fear of withdrawal keeps many people drinking and using long after they stopped having fun. Withdrawal is often miserable but unfortunately, there’s no way around it. Many treatment programs, particularly residential programs, have medical detox built-in. There are also facilities you can go to specifically to detox before going into a treatment program or just trying to stay sober on your own.
A lot of people feel like they can detox on their own, perhaps following instructions from the Internet. That might work for some people--although you should consult a doctor before detoxing at home--but others should definitely consider detoxing in a facility. The following considerations can help you decide which is best for you.
When You Shouldn’t
You Have a Long-Standing Addiction
Withdrawal symptoms happen because your body has adapted to the presence of drugs and alcohol and it won’t function normally without them. The severity of withdrawal varies a lot from person to person but your level of drug and alcohol use and how long you have been physically dependent play a major role. They are the primary factors that determine how far your system has deviated and therefore how big of a shock it will be to suddenly have no drugs or alcohol in your system.
The timeline may not be as long as you would expect--better to think in terms of months, not years. For example, a man who averages 12 drinks per day for two months will have about a 50% risk for major withdrawal symptoms.
You Drink Heavily
Alcohol is an especially tricky substance to detox from because DTs can come on suddenly after two or three milder days, seizures may happen with even moderate withdrawal, and DTs can be fatal in a small percentage of cases. As noted above, drinking consistently over a long period of time increases your risk, but the more you drink, the shorter your timeframe for serious withdrawal.
For example, a man who consumes 25 servings of alcohol per day has a 50% chance of serious withdrawal after only three days of continuous drinking. The catch is, of course, that if you’re drinking 25 drinks per day, you’ve probably been drinking heavily for a while already, alcohol poisoning would probably be the more pressing issue. The moral of the story is that DTs are nothing to mess around with.
At the very least, you should discuss your options with your doctor before you quit cold turkey after many days of consecutive drinking. Given how quickly you can go downhill and how much pain you can save with early intervention, detoxing in a facility is often the best choice for heavy drinkers.
You’ve Tried Before and Given Up
Every stage of recovery has its own challenges but withdrawal is an especially high wall to climb. People often try to sober up on their own and do well for two or three days, only to give up and go back to using when withdrawal symptoms get too severe. This is especially common when detoxing from opioids, since withdrawal symptoms are so miserable and for alcohol, since people are often aware that DTs can be dangerous.
When you detox in a facility, you have extra assurance that you’re detoxing in the safest way possible and therefore are less likely to fall back on the health excuse. Being in a facility can also increase your level of commitment and accountability, making you more likely to persevere through a tough detox.
You’ve Had a Rough Detox Before
It’s hard to predict how bad detox will be. As discussed above, severity and length of substance use are relevant factors, but perhaps the best predictor is if you’ve had a rough detox before. If your symptoms were severe or you had medical complications, it’s a pretty good sign that your next attempt will be similar and you would be better off detoxing in a facility.
You Have Co-Occurring Issues
Finally, withdrawal symptoms can put a lot of stress on your body, so if you have any co-occurring conditions, it’s much safer to detox under medical supervision. Relevant co-occurring issues might include high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, or pregnancy. It may also be a good idea to detox in a facility if you have co-occurring mental health issues like depression, any anxiety disorder, or other conditions that might compound an already stressful ordeal.
When It Might Be OK
You Don’t Have a Long Addiction History
As discussed above, the longer and more heavily you’ve been drinking and using drugs, the greater your risk for a severe withdrawal, and consistency is nearly as important as volume. For example, if you have unhealthy drinking patterns but you’re mostly bingeing on weekends, you probably won’t have serious problems with detox--unless you’re drinking 25 drinks per day, which, again, is another issue entirely.
Younger people also tend to have less severe withdrawal symptoms, partly because they’re more physically resilient and partly because they haven’t been drinking or using for as long. If you’ve been staying below about five drinks per day on average, you are fairly unlikely to have a severe detox, but everyone is different.
Your Doctor Is Helping You Taper
As noted above, if you’re considering detoxing at home, it’s always good to consult your doctor first. Sometimes a long taper is possible or even necessary. For benzodiazepines, for example, you typically have to taper down over a period of weeks or months to avoid dangerous withdrawal symptoms. People often taper down from prescription opioids so they can have a month or two of unpleasantness rather than a week of abject misery. The challenge with a taper is staying on track and not backsliding, so you will need some form of accountability.
You Have Someone at Home to Help
Finally, if you’re going to try to detox on your own, it’s much easier with help. It can be someone who lives with you, is willing to stay with you, or is willing to check on you frequently. Part of it is accountability--to keep you from running out to the liquor store, or whatever--but part of it is safety. For example, DTs can come on quickly, leading to confusion and loss of coordination.
You may not be able to call for help when you need it. Even if you are facing a less life-threatening detox, it can be hard to take care of yourself when you’re experiencing something that’s like the worst flu you’ve ever had. Having someone reliable to watch out for you while you detox makes the process more comfortable and likely to succeed.
At The Foundry, we know that detox is often the one thing people fear most about getting sober. We offer detox that begins with a full medical evaluation and an individualized plan that ensures detox will be as safe and comfortable as possible. We want you to be as healthy as possible as you move from detox to recovery. To learn more about our approach to addiction treatment, call us today at (844) 955-1066.