How to Detox From Alcohol at Home Safely Step-by-Step

Detoxification (detox) from alcohol is often the first step in treating alcohol use disorder (AUD). Under appropriate circumstances, you can learn how to detox from alcohol at home on an outpatient basis, allowing you to continue working and keeping up with other responsibilities while going through treatment.

What Is Alcohol Detox?

Detox is a general word that can mean a couple of different things. The first is the physical detox process your body goes through if you abruptly stop drinking when you are physically dependent on alcohol. The second is alcohol detox treatment programs that work to remove alcohol from your system safely.

Detox of Alcohol from the Body

When your body recovers from using too much alcohol in one instance, you experience symptoms of a hangover, such as headache, thirst, dry mouth, and sensitivity to light and sound. This is very different from detox. Drinking heavily regularly leads to physiological dependence, meaning that your body gets so used to having alcohol in its system that it gets to the point of actually needing alcohol to function. When you are physically dependent on alcohol and suddenly stop drinking, your body struggles to function without it. This uncomfortable and painful experience, until the symptoms pass, is your body detoxing. This is also referred to as withdrawal.1

The risk and severity of alcohol withdrawal can depend on what level of dependence your body has. The dependence level is based on various factors, mainly how much and the frequency you consume alcohol. Some symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include shakiness, nausea, vomiting, and excessive sweating. These symptoms can begin about 6-24 hours after abruptly stopping use or even with a decrease in consumption.1

Detoxing on your own is potentially very dangerous, especially if you are dealing with a severe alcohol use disorder (AUD), as severe withdrawal symptoms could also include seizures or even death. These risks are why you want to go through an actual detox treatment program with the guidance of medical providers.1

Alcohol Detox Treatment Programs

In alcohol detox treatment, medical providers work to safely remove alcohol from your body so that you don’t experience painful or uncomfortable withdrawal. Detox treatment usually occurs in a detox center such as a hospital or treatment facility under the supervision of medical professionals. They monitor you, provide what you need throughout the process, and administer medications to help slowly wean you off of alcohol.

The first of these medications are usually vitamin supplements since alcohol inhibits the absorption of nutrients.2 The second type of medication used in alcohol detox are benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines are often prescribed as anti-anxiety medications because they slow down brain activity and increase relaxation, similar to the effects of alcohol. Examples of benzodiazepines used in alcohol detox include diazepam (Valium) and lorazepam (Ativan).3

Various types of detox services are available. Inpatient services, typically in hospitals, provide 24-hour detox and care by medical professionals. Residential settings also provide 24-hour care. They are longer-term, inpatient-type programs that usually include detox, counseling, and medication treatment to help prevent relapse.4 Furthermore, it is possible to detox from alcohol from the convenience of your own home.

When Is It Safe to Detox from Home?

At-home alcohol detox would be appropriate if you are:5, 6, 7

  • Not experiencing suicidal ideation
  • Free from severe memory difficulties
  • Mentally and physically stable
  • Motivated for treatment
  • Connected with a general practitioner who is willing to take medical responsibility
  • Able to access a social support network
  • Without a serious illness
  • Without a history of withdrawal seizures
  • Without a history of delirium, which is an extreme state of disorientation and decreased ability to focus and be aware of your surroundings

In one study, most patients completed detox at home in 10 days, and in another study, participants reported that they had a positive experience with home detoxification.5,8

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What Is the Process for Starting a Detox Program?

It is vital to work with a medical provider and engage in a medically supervised detox program. Though you may be anxious to start your detox and recovery, avoid detoxing on your own. Suddenly stopping alcohol use or using it in much smaller quantities than you are used to can lead to potentially dangerous withdrawal. A detox program can last from 4-11 days because the goal is to help your body slowly wean off alcohol.9

The general steps of a detox program are:6

Step 1

Get assessed by a medical provider. During this initial appointment, the provider will assess your level of alcohol use and do a blood test to check liver function and nutrient levels.

Step 2

Get treatment recommendations. The medical provider will give you feedback based on their assessment as well as treatment recommendations. Sometimes detox involves medication such as thiamine, which can help reduce the risk for Wernicke’s encephalopathy; a thiamine deficiency causes this life-threatening disease. Other medicines that medical providers might prescribe include diazepam (a benzodiazepine) for several days to reduce the risk of seizures and withdrawal and to lessen alcohol cravings.

Step 3

Establish a treatment contract. Your medical provider may ask you to sign a contract between you and them as a way to help keep you safe and be successful with detox. Items on a contract may include agreeing to a urine drug screen, daily breathalyzer tests, agreement to neither drink nor drive while taking benzodiazepines, and an agreement to seek AUD treatment services after the detox program ends for long-term recovery.

Step 4

Learn about the process. Get information on how to access immediate medical attention if you encounter significant symptoms or issues during detox.

Step 5

Start detox. Follow your patient contract as well as your provider’s medication regimen and treatment recommendations.

What to Expect During a Home Detox Program

As part of the detox process, you have regular contact with a medical provider. It is critical to know what your body experiences during detox treatment and how you can begin to monitor your alcohol use patterns.

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Regular Contact With a Medical Provider

The first thing to expect regarding a home detox program is a daily check-in and review by a general practitioner or nurse for at least the first four days.6 Detox via telehealth is also a possibility, which is particularly useful during the COVID-19 pandemic, or if you do not have easy access to transportation. In one particular telehealth detox program, patients had their medical appointments via videoconferencing, peripheral devices monitored blood pressure and blood oxygen saturation, and a local pharmacy dispensed prescribed detox medications every 1-2 days.9

Physiological Experience of the Detox

Another thing to anticipate is the symptoms you may experience. You can still experience some withdrawal symptoms even with the guidance and supervision of medical providers, though they should be less intense than if you abruptly stop drinking on your own. Work closely with your medical provider and ask what you might expect so that you can know to wait for the symptoms to pass or seek medical help if you experience something unexpected.6

Active Awareness of Drinking Patterns

Medical providers may also encourage you to keep a diary of how much you drink.7 Some things to record in your diary are the date and time of the moment in which you desire a drink, the event that triggered the desire to use, what thoughts and feelings you had at the moment, and how much alcohol you drank if you did consume any alcohol at that moment. In addition to increasing your awareness of how much you drink, the process of recording these incidents can itself help you to feel more in control of your recovery. Moreover, this information can facilitate therapy as you continue with treatments on your path to recovery.

Detox is just the first step in the process of recovery from alcohol use disorder. Afterward, you want to begin therapy with a mental health professional, often through a formal rehab program, and may also join peer support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

If you are concerned about your level of alcohol use and need assistance with finding treatment options, please call 800-839-1686Who Answers?.

Resources

  1. Mirijello, A., D’Angelo, C., Ferrulli, A., Vassallo, G., Antonelli, M., Caputo, F., Leggio, L., Gasbarrini, A., & Addolorato, G. (2015). Identification and management of alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Drugs, 75(4), 353-365.
  2. National Institutes of Health. (2000, October). Alcohol alert. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
  3. Sachdeva, A., Choudhary, M., & Chandra, M. (2015). Alcohol withdrawal syndrome: Benzodiazepines and beyond. Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, 9(9), VE01–VE07.
  4. National Institutes of Health. What types of alcohol treatment are available? National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
  5. Allan, C., Smith, I., & Mellin, M. (2000). Detoxification from alcohol: A comparison of home detoxification and hospital-based day patient care. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 35(1), 66-69.
  6. Davis, C. (2018). Home detox – supporting patients to overcome alcohol addiction. Australian Prescriber, 41(6), 180-182.
  7. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Neurocognitive disorders. In Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (pp. 591). American Psychiatric Publishing.
  8. Carlebach, S., Wake, D., & Hamilton, S. (2011). Experiences of home detoxification for alcohol dependency. Nursing Standard, 26(10), 41-47.
  9. Ghodsian, S., Brady, T.J., Eller, K., Madover, S., Beeson, D., & Marchman, D. (2018). Telemedicine detoxification treatment for alcohol, opioid, or sedative-use, hypnotic-use or anxiolytic-use disorders. Addictive Disorders and Their Treatment, 17(3), 143-146.

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