Myths of the DIY Alcohol Detox

Many people believe that they can detox at home without posing any risks or major ill effects to their bodies. Although this may be the case in some circumstances, alcohol detox at home is much more risky. And in some cases, it can be deadly. Alcohol detox at home takes place when an individual gives up drinking by gradually weaning off of alcohol or by abruptly quitting drinking alcohol cold turkey. Individuals who choose to detox at home usually do so with minimal to no help from outside sources. Many buy into the myths about do-it-yourself alcohol detox, including:

Myth #1: Alcohol detox at home is safe.

Many individuals are misinformed about the dangers of alcohol detox at home, buying into the highly promoted “safe and easy” methods. Unfortunately, the risks far outweigh the benefits. Although there may be circumstances when a person can detoxify at home without major risk, alcohol is actually one of the most dangerous substances to detox from at home. Many risks accompany alcohol withdrawal, including:

  • Seizures
  • Delirium tremens (DTs)
  • Cardiovascular complications
  • Mood changes
  • Thought disturbances
  • Severe nutritional deficiencies including Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome
  • Muscle cramps
  • Low blood sugar
  • Headaches
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia

Myth #2: Anyone can detox from alcohol at home.

Certain types of drinkers, such as occasional drinkers, may be able to detox outside of a treatment program with minimal risk, but there is no guarantee of safety. Those who have abused alcohol excessively or for a long period of time, and those with a history of addiction or certain health problems should not consider alcohol detox at home. When in doubt, the safest approach is to talk with a professional and get detox help when so advised.

Myth #3: Alcohol detox only takes 24 to 48 hours.

The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can continue long after a person takes their last drink. For example, delirium tremens (DTs) is an extremely dangerous complication of alcohol withdrawal that typically appears between 48 and 72 hours after an individual has stopped drinking alcohol. DTs may include the following:

  • Grand mal seizures
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Excessive sweating
  • Rapid heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Fever
  • Emotional agitation

Someone with DTs requires medical monitoring and intervention. This complication has a death rate as high as 35 percent and can occur in 1 in 10 individuals.

Myth #4: Detox is adequate treatment for alcoholism.

Detox is only step one in the process of recovery. A recovery program is necessary to treat the psychological root of the problem by providing necessary long-term support in order to help the individual maintain sobriety. Inpatient treatment, followed by a series of “steps down” to lower levels of care, is a much safer, more effective approach and helps to make the detoxing individual as comfortable as possible. If you or a loved one is considering alcohol detox at home, call a treatment specialist for recommendations and further information. Sources: National Institute of Health: Introduction to Alcohol Withdrawal National Institute of Health: Complications of Alcohol Withdrawal