Addicts who don’t want to or are unable to commit the time and money to an actual rehab treatment plan might find detoxing at home an appealing choice.
The downside is that detoxing from nearly any drug without professional help is most likely going to be very difficult. The physical withdrawal symptoms can become extremely uncomfortable, the psychological ones can make you feel like you’re losing your mind, and in some cases, you might even be endangering yourself by not taking the proper steps to protect yourself along the way.
We’ll look at some of the most important tips for safely detoxing from alcohol and drugs at home, and we’ll also talk about the withdrawal timelines for alcohol and some of the most commonly abused drugs. Finally, we’ll look at some products that can help the detox process’s chances of success.
General Tips for a Safe Detox Experience at Home
Detoxification aims to reverse the physical changes you body has suffered over the course of your addiction, and many of these changes are related to the buildup of tolerance.
Tolerance to some drugs develops as certain brain chemicals are strengthened over time. Other substances may reduce the number of specialized cells in your body called receptors. The exact type of change that occurs in the body depends on the substance of abuse.
Withdrawal is generally very uncomfortable, and it can sometimes be so bad that recovering addicts prefer to use again just so they can get some relief from the withdrawal symptoms. That’s actually one of the reasons why quitting your substance abuse habits by yourself can be so difficult – you don’t have any access to the drugs, strategies, and techniques used by professionals who can help you to much more easily manage your withdrawal symptoms.
While detoxing at home is very likely to be a lot more uncomfortable than in a professional program, there are some things you can do to make withdrawal less severe. Below you’ll find some tips to make the detox process more bearable, regardless of what kind of substance addiction you’re trying to beat.
- Eat well.
Eating can be difficult while experiencing withdrawal symptoms, but when you do eat, make sure to only eat healthy, nutrition-dense foods. This will do a lot to support your sobriety and it will give your body the vitamins it needs.
Your body is using a lot of energy to cleanse itself, so you need to eat a lot of vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and whole wheat. When you eat healthy and supply the body with vitamins and minerals, it can do its job much more effectively.
A great way to ensure that you’re getting everything you need in your diet is to start meal planning. Planning and preparing your meals in advance can help you make sure that you’re eating properly when you experience a loss of willpower.
- Drink plenty of water.
Just as important as your diet is the amount of water you’re drinking. It’s essential that you always keep hydrated. Withdrawal typically involves vomiting, diarrhea, and a lot of sweating, so it’s easy for your body to run out of liquids. If that happens, you stand the chance of experiencing serious complications such as kidney failure or cardiac events.
It’s important to try and drink healthy liquids like water, and you can also try a little Gatorade every once in a while. If you do drink soda, do it sparingly, as it often contains a lot of sugar and it can actually make your dehydration worse.
- Find someone to help you.
A deciding factor in whether you successfully detox can be entrusting someone close, like a family member or a good friend, to ensure you don’t go back to using again.
Not only will they serve as an actual physical barrier between you and the substance of abuse, but they can also provide a lot of emotional support, which can help a great deal when you feel like quitting everything and going back to using substances so you can feel better again in a short time-span.
While the staff and other fellow addicts you meet in professional therapy can provide a lot of motivation and emotional support, if you detox at home it’s essential that you have someone to look after you and cheer you on.
- Stock up on support materials.
It’s important to make sure that you have everything you need at home, even though this is sometimes overlooked. When you’re going through detox you’re not always going to be thinking straight and the last thing you’ll want to do is go to the store to get something you forgot to pick up before starting the process.
- Don’t forget to exercise.
Even though you’re going to go through a lot of physical and psychological discomfort during detox, it’s very much worthwhile to try and get some exercise while your body is cleansing itself.
Exercising might be the last thing on your mind, but it can actually help make the detox process more bearable, as it can boost your mood and relieve stress, which can be significant when you’re dealing with symptoms like anxiety or depression.
Don’t push yourself too hard but do try to get your blood pumping every once in a while. A walk around the neighborhood, a light jog around the block, anything to get a little bit of exercise can have a noticeable impact on your mood.
- Free your schedule.
Detox usually takes time, probably more than you expect. You’ll want to make sure that you don’t have any obligations for a good period of time. Some people think they’ll be able to just power through the symptoms and carry on with their lives as usual, but this is much harder than you’d think.
Withdrawals can be truly overpowering, and not only will you show physical signs of detox like sweating and shaking, but you’ll probably be unable to think straight for a while during this period.
Take time off from work, reschedule social outings, and postpone visits to your family. Once withdrawal kicks in, you’ll be glad you did.
Drug-Specific Tips for Safely Detoxing at Home
Just as not every drug affects the body in the same way, no all syndromes of withdrawal are the same for each class of drug, and each will have its own symptoms as well as different ways of handling them.
Below is a list of drug-specific tips that can help you with detoxing, whether it’s for alcohol, stimulants, benzodiazepines, or opioids.
- Nutrition is key. Alcoholism can often lead to malnutrition, partly because of drinking instead of eating. The specific nutrients that are often at unsafe levels in alcoholics are thiamine, zinc, folate, magnesium, and phosphate, so you need to work on replenishing these nutrients during detox.
- Look for serious symptoms. Alcohol is one of few drugs that can actually create life-threatening withdrawal symptoms like grand mal seizures. These can also develop alongside delirium tremens, which is a very dangerous condition. If you start seeing any signs of serious conditions, you need to seek medical help as soon as possible.
- Control your shaking with natural remedies. Hand and body tremors can be some of the most maddening symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, and they can be exacerbated by feelings of anxiety and stress. Natural mood boosters like St. John’s Wort, exercise, and meditation can help you make these symptoms more manageable.
- Do your research. Withdrawal from stimulants is known to cause some pretty scary symptoms. There are recovering addicts who have experienced a type of psychosis that is characterized by delusions, hallucinations, and sometimes even violent behavior. Being informed on what to expect will help you prepare and maybe even ask family or close friends for help.
- Find someone to help you. Stimulant withdrawal can lead to a severe deficiency of dopamine, which in turn can lead to pretty drastic mental conditions. Recovering addicts can experience feelings of severe depression and general hopelessness, while suicidal thoughts are also very common. As such, it can be extremely important that you have someone to help you through your detox and make sure you’re not in any danger.
- Prepare for cravings. It’s essential that you have a plan in place for dealing with the intense cravings associated with stimulant withdrawal. Food and exercise are important, but make sure you completely cut off access to any stimulants.
- Relieve body aches with hot showers. The muscle aches typically associated with opioid detox can be unbearable at times. However, many recovering addicts have found that hot showers or baths can go a long way towards easing their pain.
- Take medication for diarrhea. Opioids will typically cause constipation, and as you’d expect, detoxing from them will do the exact opposite. Imodium or any other anti-diarrheal can make detoxing more comfortable and it can save you from dehydration as well.
- Regulate your body’s temperature. A typical symptom of opioid withdrawal is the rapid change from feeling like you’re freezing to feeling like you’re on fire. Resist the urge to change the temperature in your home and keep things consistent. Also try wearing loose and comfortable clothes so you don’t sweat through multiple outfits.
- Taper your doses to avoid dangerous symptoms. Similar to alcohol, benzodiazepines can cause life—threatening grand mal seizures during detox, which is why you need to consider tapering your dose with long-acting benzodiazepines instead of short-acting ones. For this to work, you’ll most likely need the help of a doctor or an addiction professional.
- Deal with your anxiety. Since benzodiazepines are anti-anxiety medications, detoxing from them can cause a rebound of the symptoms that they were meant to treat. As such, detoxing will likely make you very anxious, irritated, and you might even suffer from panic attacks. Natural remedies like St. John’s Wort and passionflower might help with these symptoms.
- Expect sleep problems. Many recovering benzo addicts have reported having a very hard time sleeping as they were detoxing. Natural sleep supplements like melatonin can, however, be of great help. Other good advice involves using earplugs and a sleep mask, as benzo withdrawal can often cause hypersensitivity to light and sound.
How Long Until the Body Is Free of Alcohol or Drugs?
Half the battle is knowing what to expect when detoxing and not getting caught off-guard. Knowing what to expect can help you prepare better and the better you’re prepared, the easier it’s going to be to get through it.
It pays to know how long it will take for the withdrawal symptoms to disappear and it also helps to know how long a class of drug stays in your system after quitting it.
Alcohol detox: the process begins in around 24 to 48 hours after blood alcohol level drops, which can take up to 12 hours after a binge. The symptoms of withdrawal generally last for 5 to 7 days.
Stimulant detox: stimulants usually leave the bloodstream completely within 12 to 24 hours, but it depends on the drug you’re abusing. 12 hours after the stimulant has lest the body, withdrawal symptoms will begin to appear, and they can last for several weeks.
Opioids detox: withdrawal symptoms begin to appear after the opioid has left your bloodstream, which is usually within 24 hours after last using. Symptoms can last from 7 to 10 days.
Benzodiazepine detox: short-acting benzodiazepines like Xanax can end up leaving the body fairly quickly, usually within 12 hours. Intermediate-acting benzos like Ativan can leave the body in 24 hours or more, but either way, the withdrawal symptoms are likely to last for anywhere from 3 to 5 weeks.
How Long Before Tests Stop Detecting Drugs?
If you want to know how long it will be before you can pass a drug test or just want to know how long it will take to get fully clean, it can be helpful to know what specific drug tests can detect for specific drugs.
Below are the general detection timelines for each of the four major classes of drugs for each of the three primary types of tests currently used: urine, breath and/or saliva, and hair follicle tests.
- Urine tests:
- Alcohol – 12 to 48 hours
- Opioids – 72 hours
- Benzodiazepines – 2 to 14
- Stimulants – 24 to 96 hours
- Breath and/or saliva tests:
- Alcohol – 24 hours
- Opioids – 24 to 36 hours
- Benzodiazepines – 48 hours
- Stimulants – 24 hours
- Hair tests:
- Alcohol – 90 days
- Opioids – 90 days
- Benzodiazepines – 90 days
- Stimulants – 90 days
Manage Withdrawal Symptoms with Over the Counter Medicines and Supplements
It’s crucial that you remember that even though you may be in a lot of pain, you should never stray from the dosing guidelines outlined on the bottles. These drugs may be sold legally, but they can still become addictive and dangerous if used incorrectly.
- Ibuprofen – Pain reliever, anti-inflammatory, and fever reducer.
- Complete Multivitamin – This can provide your body with many of the nutrients it needs during the withdrawal period, making recovery much more manageable.
- B-Vitamins – These are especially helpful when recovering from alcoholism.
- Imodium – Effective at stopping diarrhea.
- Melatonin/Valerian Root – These are natural sleep aids that aren’t habit forming and will help with insomnia.
- Vitamin C – Specifically helpful when recovering from heroin addiction.
- L-Glutamine – Reduces cravings and balances blood chemical levels.
- L-Theanine – Helpful in reducing anxiety.
- L-Tyrosine – Helps with depression, low energy levels, and mood disorders.
- St. John’s Wort – This is effective against depression and can improve your mood.
- Kava Kava – May help with reducing anxiety.
- Zinc – This can be particularly helpful in restoring your body’s immune system.
- Fish Oil – This contains Omega-3s which can make the body more effective at recovering.
At Your Own Risk
Detoxing at home is not an easy feat and it presents some dangers that you need to be aware of. Even though detoxing at home can be less taxing on your wallet, depending on the substance of abuse, it can have potentially fatal consequences. What’s more, without the guidance of qualified professionals during the process may also increase the chances of relapse.
We’re going to look at three of the deadliest drugs to detox from and some of the complications that can endanger your well-being when trying to get clean from almost any drug.
Even though alcohol is completely legal, withdrawal from it is one of the most dangerous and difficult processes. It acts on the brain by first enhancing the effects of a neurotransmitter called GABA, then suppresses it over time, the same as with glutamate. If someone who has a significant tolerance suddenly stops drinking alcohol entirely, these neurotransmitters will rebound and cause the brain to become hyperexcited.
This leads to symptoms such as agitation and irritability, and sometimes even the far more dangerous and potentially deadly state of delirium tremens. This state is characterized by confusion, restlessness, fever, hallucinations, and even deadly seizures.
Detoxing from alcohol can be extremely difficult, which is why it’s best to do it under medical supervision.
- Other Drugs with a Dangerous Withdrawal Process
Aside from alcohol, there are two other drug classes in particular that are especially dangerous to detox from without any professional supervision.
Benzodiazepines (or “benzos”) are sedatives that have a depressant effect on the brain. Ativan and Xanax are benzos.
This drug’s chemical reaction within the body resembles that of alcohol, enhancing the effect of GABA, so the surge in the neurotransmitter during cessation can lead to fatal seizures, as well as panic attacks, anxiety, and even psychosis.
Opiates, however, are dangerous in a different way. The withdrawal symptoms aren’t actually fatal, but tolerance for the substance returns to normal levels much quicker than it does for other drugs. This, along with the intensity of opioid cravings, lead many addicts to relapsing.
If they start again with the same levels of potency and dosage as before detoxing, as most of them do, the lower tolerance might mean their bodies won’t be able to handle the drug’s toxicity, which can result in a fatal overdose. If opioid detox isn’t combined with supplementary treatment like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or counseling, it can be fatal.
The thing to remember here is that, as mentioned earlier, detoxing alone, at home, is not the recommended way to go.
What Else Makes Detoxing at Home Dangerous?
Alcohol, benzos, and opioids (to an extent) may be the only drugs that have directly life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, but that doesn’t exclude other drugs from putting your life in danger during detox.
There are many cases of death during detox that actually arise from the additional complications that one can experience during detox rather than the actual potentially fatal withdrawal symptoms.
Let’s look at some of the more common complications that you can face while detoxing at home.
We’ve established that vomiting and diarrhea are common symptoms of withdrawal, but when it comes to diarrhea, beside the fact that it can be a particularly uncomfortable symptom, it can also lead to dehydration pretty quickly, especially when combined with vomiting.
Dehydration and the electrolyte imbalance that can occur as a result can lead to, among other things, lowered blood pressure and kidney failure.
As if vomiting wasn’t enough of a nuisance, it can also lead to choking. It may be terrifying to think of, but some addicts are at risk of choking on their own vomit as they go through the pains of withdrawal during detox.
The risk increases if they are using other illicit drugs to help them with the withdrawal process, especially if those drugs are particularly sedating. Thus, it is important that even if you do decide to go through detox on your own, without any medical expertise, to get someone who can help you and monitor you regularly.
We’ve established that vomiting during detox is very common, but sometimes this can occur almost constantly, which can make keeping your food down quite a challenge.
Add this to the fact that most addicts don’t get the proper nutrition while they’re actively addicted, and it can lead to a severe state of malnutrition. As a result, addicts may experience more complications, such as poor cognition, impaired immunity, reduced muscle strength, and more.
- Arrhythmia & cardiac events
Detoxing from drugs and alcohol can often have a significant impact on the way the body regulates autonomic functions like heart rate and respiration. As a result, your heart rate can become abnormal, a condition that is known as arrhythmia, and while not all arrhythmias lead to deadly complications, some do.
Irregular heartbeats can make it difficult for some organs to get the blood needed to function properly and as a result, some people who experience arrhythmia may suffer from a stroke or even a complete heart failure.
With help from medical professionals, though, this condition can be treated, and serious complications can be prevented.
Most commonly associated with amphetamines, there are some withdrawals that can send recovering addicts into manic and deluded states which resemble psychosis. These states are characterized by delusions, paranoia, a disconnect from reality, aggressive behavior, and even hallucinations.
During a state of psychosis, it can be very difficult to control the victim and they may be a real threat to those around them and even to themselves.
Some of the most dangerous symptoms of withdrawal aren’t necessarily physical; they can also be psychological. Paranoia, depression, anxiety, irritability, and more can all lead to overwhelming feelings of hopelessness, which can lead to suicidal thoughts.
Without the proper professional treatment, people going through withdrawal may not be able to realize that their feelings are a symptom of withdrawal and they won’t last forever.
- Pulmonary aspiration
The frequent vomiting associated with withdrawal can also cause a dangerous complication which is known as pulmonary aspiration. This happens when you inhale vomit by accident and an infection occurs from the buildup of fluid or other materials in the lungs. This can lead to even other complications like aspiration pneumonia which can in some cases be deadly.
What Are the Other Disadvantages of Detoxing at Home?
Another important aspect of rehabilitation that home detox lacks is the presence of supplementary care measures. Most rehabs include four types of additional treatments: behavioral therapies, aftercare support services, medical detox options, and one-on-one counseling.
You may have cleansed your body by detoxing at home, but you probably haven’t really dealt with the reasons you started using to begin with. Many people become addicted as a way to self-medicate and treat past emotional trauma, and with the help of one-on-one counseling sessions you can analyze your addiction and begin treating the cause instead of the symptoms.
Additionally, many rehab centers also offer behavioral therapy, such as CBT. These therapies can help with intense cravings, they can teach you healthy life skills, how to modify behaviors before they lead to old, unhealthy habits, and how to maintain additional treatment requirements, such as continuing to take certain medications.
Home detox also doesn’t provide you with the continued support offered by many aftercare services found in treatment centers. Counseling sessions, group meetings, and additional behavioral training can play a significant role in making sure you stay clean for good.
What’s more, many facilities offer several medical detox options which help reduce the symptoms of withdrawal.
Safely Detoxing at Home
If you still want to detox from drugs or alcohol on your own, there are a few things you can do to make everything easier for you. Beyond that, each drug has its own withdrawal symptoms, and you should learn as much as possible about them, so you can know what to expect and be better prepared. There are also several over-the-counter medications that you can take which will make detoxing at home a little easier and most importantly, safer.
While it’s understandable that detoxing at home might be the only financially viable option for some people, it’s important to know that going through withdrawal without any medical supervision can be extremely difficult and potentially life-threatening. And as if that weren’t enough, the lack of any supplementary and aftercare treatments makes relapsing more likely down the line.
Checking into a rehab center staffed by medical professionals is by far the best way to make sure that you’ll get clean and stay clean.