Do-it-yourself detox from substances can be dangerous if not done properly. That doesn’t make the idea of an at-home detox any less appealing or daunting, especially to those who:
Shortcuts, however, are not recommended for treating substance use disorders, especially ones that have moved beyond the mild stage. At-home detox, also known as going cold turkey, is especially dangerous when trying to end a dependence on alcohol, opioids, and benzodiazepines, as the withdrawal period for all of these substances is fraught with complications that can quickly turn deadly.
Substance use over time can change how the brain functions, which, in many cases, results in uncontrollable drug cravings and failed attempts to stop. Some people may find that they want to stop and that the process of doing that would be as simple as not using the substance anymore. Unfortunately, more goes into ending a substance use disorder, especially one that has had time to become an addiction.
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An at-home detox from substance use is risky for several reasons. If you or someone you know is considering this, here are some things to keep in mind:
Attempting to detox from alcohol and drugs at home means you will go without the medical attention needed if you experience severe withdrawal symptoms. Seizures related to alcohol and benzodiazepine abuse can be fatal. Delirium tremens (DTs), a serious condition in which the person experiences hallucinations, body tremors, restlessness, seizures, and irregular heartbeat, can also occur during withdrawal from alcohol and benzodiazepines. All of these symptoms constitute a medical emergency and require immediate help.
It can’t be stressed enough that having no experienced medical professionals on hand to help manage the symptoms of drug withdrawal is dangerous. The tricky part of substance withdrawal is trying to figure out how long symptoms will last or how severe they will be. Detoxing at home almost guarantees that no one with medical expertise will be around to help if an emergency unfolds.
An addiction to drugs and alcohol affects more than just the mind — it affects the mind and the spirit. Once all the discomfort of withdrawal ends, the psychological dependence is still there, and that’s the part many people struggle to break. A successful at-home detox may end the physical challenges, but the mental battles linger on, and that’s where many people grow weaker in their resolve to stop using and go back to it.
The problem with this is relapse increases the possibility of overdosing on a substance. A break in use gives the body time to recover, but it also makes it more vulnerable to reacting adversely to a usual dose because the user’s tolerance is lower, and this means the body is not used to that dose anymore.
Getting medical detox not only ensures you recover physically from addiction but also that you have the tools you need to address and manage your addiction the right way. Therapy and counseling that take place after the physical part of detox is over make this process easier.
At-home detox leaves you without any tools, which means you won’t know how to respond to cravings or daily triggers in a healthy manner, and this can result in going back to using when you don’t want to. A relapse can end in permanent injury or death, as taking too much of a drug can lead to death.
Detoxing from addictive substances outside of a facility that specializes in addiction treatment means bypassing guidance with help from resources that are designed to help people remain sober after detox. There is no need for anyone to walk this path alone.
Detoxing in the care of a facility also connects people in recovery to job opportunities, transitional housing that supports full-time sobriety, and the people who can help them with medical and mental health care.
Professional treatment centers also can connect you to other people who are going through similar experiences.
Finding like-minded people who understand addiction and recovery can help you put substance abuse behind you for good.
Hartney, E. (n.d.). What Are the Risks of Quitting Substance Use Cold Turkey? Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-are-the-risks-of-quitting-cold-turkey-21813
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2007, January). 8: Definition of dependence. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/neurobiology-drug-addiction/section-iii-action-heroin-morphine/8-definition-dependence
Grand mal seizure. (2018, December 07). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/grand-mal-seizure/symptoms-causes/syc-20363458
U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2019, November 6). Delirium tremens: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000766.htm
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). 8: Medical detoxification. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification