Even if you are not detoxing under direct and continual medical supervision, you should be under the general supervision of a medical professional during this time.
Key Facts About At-Home Detox
These are some key things to keep in mind when deciding whether to detox at home:
- Detox, in any form, is best done by first talking to a medical professional who can suggest the best course of action for your needs.
- There should be no sense of shame in trying to overcome a drug addiction, nor is it “better” to detox at home versus at an addiction treatment facility.
- Withdrawal from some drugs can be severe and even cause life-threatening symptoms. People who experience this level of withdrawal should always talk to a treatment professional about the safest way to manage their symptoms.
- If you are detoxing from benzodiazepines, medical detox is required. Moderate or severe alcohol use disorder cases also require medical detox. It is also generally recommended for opioid withdrawal due to the intensity of withdrawal symptoms and cravings and the associated high likelihood of relapse during detox.
- While detoxing at home may be convenient, there is no “easy” way to overcome addiction. You will still need follow-up treatments, such as therapy and medication, if you want to maximize your chances of a successful long-term recovery.
- Detox does not constitute addiction treatment on its own. It is only part of the recovery process. Further treatment is required.
When Could You Detox at Home?
On a very fundamental level, a person who wants to overcome their addiction generally just needs to stop using drugs. This obviously is far easier said than done, as a variety of factors contribute to continued drug misuse, including physical and psychological dependence and the fact a person likely engaged in that drug use to compensate for some other problem in their life, which may be ongoing.
The very definition of addiction involves compulsive use of a substance. The individual is unable to stop using, even if they want to do so.
The first step of overcoming addiction is to allow the body time to process all the drugs in the system without engaging in further drug use, which generally causes withdrawal if a person is suffering from an addiction. Withdrawal is almost always uncomfortable and can sometimes be life-threatening. This is why it’s usually recommended that a person undergo detox at a treatment facility.
However, you can also detox at home, if the right measures are taken and a medical professional considers it safe to do so. While this carries distinct disadvantages that we discuss later, many people also find it very convenient, and it has the potential to be significantly cheaper than detoxing at a facility.
For a person whose addiction might be called “mild” or for whom better options aren’t available, at-home detox is an option that may be worth considering. If you have a moderate to severe addiction, at-home detox is not recommended.
Similarly, medical detox is always required for addiction to certain substances, such as benzodiazepines. Some potential withdrawal symptoms from these substances could be life-threatening.
How to Detox at Home
We’ve separated the basics of detoxing at home into two categories:
Alcohol is a drug, but it is often talked about separately from other drugs. Its legal nature combined with its fairly high abuse and addiction potential position it differently than many other drugs to which people frequently become addicted.
A study published in 2018 found the bulk of dependent drinkers can withdraw from alcohol safely and effectively at home. However, it also noted that daily review by a general practitioner or nurse is important for at least the first four days.
As with most detoxing approaches, this means it is important to approach detoxing at home by first talking to a medical professional. Alcohol withdrawal has the potential to be life-threatening. It is associated with particularly severe withdrawal symptoms that may be difficult to tolerate, even when they are not life-threatening.
Opioids & Other Drugs
The difficulty of detoxing at home from other drugs can greatly vary depending on the specific drug and how much one has become physically dependent. The more physically dependent you are on a drug, the more difficult it is to deal with withdrawal at home in a safe and effective way.
While it is still better to talk to a medical professional first, mild opioid dependence may not require much in the way of treatment to manage the detox process. When not severe, withdrawal can be managed with rest and staying hydrated.
In some cases, if you have been taking opioids or another medication for an extended period of time, a tapered withdrawal process may be recommended. A supervising physician will gradually lower the dose of the medication you take over a period of time.
Though you may complete much of this process at home on your own, you’ll check in regularly with a medical professional. They can help ensure you’re progressing well in your treatment. If you have any complications, they can address them promptly, and they can provide needed emotional support throughout the process.
When Home Detoxing Isn’t Safe
If a person’s withdrawal symptoms are severe or they are likely to experience significant medical complications during the detox process, it should likely be considered unsafe for them to try detoxing at home. Detoxing at a specialized facility ensures trained professionals are around if any issues occur, something that doesn’t happen with an at-home detox.
Additionally, some home environments are simply not safe places for recovery. For example, if a person lives in a home where drug access is easy and where individuals may pressure them to use drugs, home detoxing is likely to be, at best, ineffective. In the worst-case scenario, these attempts at sobriety can actually lower the person’s tolerance to drugs, which can make it more dangerous if they relapse in an environment where drug use is encouraged and easy.
A reduced tolerance makes overdose more likely if relapse does occur. Overdose can lead to various health complications, including death.
Risks & Dangers of At-Home Detox
One of the most attractive parts of home detox, the autonomy it provides, is also one of the biggest risks associated with this type of treatment. While people can generally check themselves out of a specialized detox facility at will, there is an added barrier to getting and using drugs that comes from being in these facilities. Because you have limited access to substances, you can’t turn to substance use when cravings hit or withdrawal symptoms get tough.
At home, this barrier is generally gone, although a strong support network can sometimes serve a similar purpose. Relapse is much more likely when you detox at home.
Another real danger is that serious complications that result from withdrawal can’t be treated as easily at home. For example, alcohol withdrawal can sometimes take on an especially severe form called delirium tremens (DTs). This can cause a number of very serious symptoms, including hallucinations, severe confusion, deep sleep that may last multiple days, and seizures.
DTs has the potential to be life-threatening and should be considered a medical emergency that cannot be treated at home by nonprofessionals. If it does occur while someone is attempting to home detox, call 911 immediately.
In rare cases, opioid withdrawal can also be life-threatening, although this is generally due to the severe neglect of people undergoing withdrawal while incarcerated. Opioid withdrawal can cause symptoms that lead to dehydration, which can become severe if a person can’t properly rehydrate. Since opioid withdrawal symptoms can be painful, people commonly relapse if they don’t have strong support.
How Long Does Detox Take?
The length of a detox depends on the drug or drugs a person has been taking. Different drugs take different amounts of time to be processed by the body. Likewise, withdrawal symptoms can last a variable length of time depending on the drugs used and the person’s body.
A person can generally expect the detox process to take about a week or more, but they should research the specifics of the drugs they’re quitting to see what to expect and if they can detox at home safely. Again, remember that cravings can linger for much longer, often months or years, so it’s imperative to get ongoing support.
Alternative to Home Detox
There are some notable alternatives to home detox approaches:
Outpatient detox is a middle ground between the detox process people typically associate with the word detox and home detox. An individual goes to a specialized treatment facility during the day and receives treatment. However, they can then return home after treatment, and they continue to live at home during detox.
The support people receive during outpatient detox sessions can provide vital guidance and support that sees them through the withdrawal process. When people participate in MAT programs, they generally go through outpatient detox.
Inpatient detoxing is what most people associate with the term detox. An individual stays at a specialized facility for the duration of the detox process, with treatment professionals readily available to make sure the patient is safe and relatively comfortable.
Preparing to Detox
If you plan on trying to stop using any drug you’ve been struggling with, make sure to research that drug and the evidence-based methods people use to recover from addiction. Two things to be prioritized: your safety and your long-term recovery. Confirm the methods you use give you the greatest chance of recovery.
While detox is often considered one of the harder parts of overcoming addiction, again, remember that detoxing alone doesn’t “cure” addiction. There is no cure for addiction, and detox simply addresses physical dependence, but it doesn’t address addiction.
There are a variety of ways to treat addiction, so it’s important to form a comprehensive treatment plan of some kind with the help of an addiction professional if you want to sustain long-term sobriety and maximize your chances of truly recovering.
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- Challenges of the Pharmacological Management of Benzodiazepine Withdrawal, Dependence, and Discontinuation. (May 2018). Therapeutics Advances in Psychopharmacology.
- Management of Alcohol Withdrawal in the Emergency Department: Current Perspectives. (March 2020). Open Access Emergency Medicine.
- Home Detox – Supporting Patients to Overcome Alcohol Addiction. (December 2018). Australian Prescriber.
- Delirium tremens. (January 2021). National Library of Medicine.
- Withdrawal Management. (2009). World Health Organization.
- Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction. (January 2019). National Institute on Drug Abuse.