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Medical Detoxification from Drugs or Alcohol

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Should I Detox From Drugs at Home?

Substance use disorder (SUD) claims thousands of lives each year. In the U.S. alone, approximately 92,000 people died from drug-involved overdose between the years 1999 and 2020. Alcohol abuse rates are even higher, as about 95,000 people die from alcohol-related causes each year.1,2 

The medical detoxification process has started evolving in the mid-1900s, with the adoption of the Uniform Alcoholism and Intoxication Treatment Act, which established that people with alcohol abuse have a condition that requires treatment. Soon, acts for other drugs have followed and various detox methods have since been developed. However, a certain percentage of people think they can safely go through drug and alcohol detox at home.3

Alcohol and drug detox at home is, essentially, the process of withdrawing from drugs or alcohol without being admitted into specialized inpatient or, in some cases, outpatient care. This is typically common among people with SUD that are afraid of the stigma they might experience if they are admitted into rehab.4 

People trying to quit drinking usually consider at-home detox, but unsupervised detoxification can be potentially dangerous, even in these cases, not just for individuals struggling with drug abuse. Due to the lack of monitoring and control, the exact number of people who try some form of detox at home isn’t known.4

What Are the Dangers of At-Home Detox?

There are many dangers of undergoing detox at home for alcohol and drug abuse. This is why self-detox at home should only be done if a medical professional has approved it. Someone with SUD should never decide on their own to go through at-home detox without any medical supervision or consultation. This could have severe or even fatal health consequences.3,5

A person potentially undergoing at-home detox can require different levels of supervision and support during this process. This is because they might not be prepared for the intensity of the withdrawal symptoms that can affect not just their physical, but also their mental health.4,6

In fact, about 30% of people trying home remedies for detoxing from drugs, most notably sedatives, may experience a grand mal seizure. Some individuals will experience other potentially life-threatening conditions, including delirium tremens and cardiovascular problems. Unfortunately, there is no way to predict who is prone to severe side effects, which is why at-home detox is rarely suggested.3,6

A person may experience some of the following mental health side-effects:6

  • Anxiety.
  • Depression and suicidal thoughts. 
  • Irritability and anger.
  • Hopelessness.
  • Paranoia.
  • Delusional thoughts.
  • Hallucinations.

Not just that, but many people who are detoxing at home don’t plan to undergo any additional treatment. However, detox should only be the first step toward recovery. People who only undergo detox are more likely to experience relapse early into their recovery.5,7

Additionally, people who have relapsed are generally at a higher risk of overdose, as their bodies aren’t used to a high amount of drugs anymore. For instance, people who attempt opioid detox at home don’t have the same form of medical supervision that usually entails the use of medication to facilitate this process, they’re at a higher risk of relapse and overdose.5,8

Pros & Cons of Detoxing at Home

Kicking alcohol at home may have some benefits. For instance, this is generally a cheaper option than detoxing in an inpatient facility. However, this shouldn’t be the only factors when deciding which option is suitable for you, as safety and health are the primary concerns.4

Home detox might also be ideal for some minority communities, as well as for linguistically and culturally diverse populations. It can help people avoid the stigma that comes with SUD, and help them self-detox from alcohol in a familiar environment.4

Nonetheless, a serious problem with at-home withdrawal is that many people try to undergo alcohol detox cold turkey instead of carefully planning the process with a professional. Not just that, but, as mentioned before, this process may be particularlly dangerous depending on the type of substance to which a person is addicted. Some substances require a long-term weaning schedule, as well as psychological support.4

Therefore, it’s always recommended to seek advice and guidance from a professional and undergo medically supervised detox, especially while quitting drugs such as opioids, stimulants, and sedatives. Otherwise, you’re risking not just relapse, but your health and potentially life.5,6

What Is Medical Detox?

Medical detoxification helps fight acute intoxication and symptoms of withdrawal with the help of appropriate and approved medication. It helps the body get rid of toxins using specific medication in a controlled environment.3

Medical detox is the initial step of the recovery process for both drug and alcohol abuse, but it’s not considered addiction treatment. However, people who have undergone medical detox are more likely to stay in rehab for a longer period of time and are less likely to relapse.3

In general, there were about 590,000 people in 2017 alone that received some form of medical treatment. Some of the most commonly used medications include suboxone and naltrexone.9

What Are the Pros and Cons of Medical Detox?

Medical detox helps keep you safe, while also helping you battle withdrawal syndrome. This way, detox prepares you for long-term treatment, as well as recovery. Medical detox can offer the following important benefits:3

It’s important to disclaim once again that medical detox is not considered addiction treatment. More intensive forms of rehabilitation are typically necessary to prevent relapse.3 

When it comes to some of the downsides, some people are afraid of the stigma they might face if they undergo an inpatient medical detox. Additionally, medical detox costs more than detox at-home, but, as mentioned, other considerations should be prioritized when making the decision.3

What Does Professional Detox Involve?

The detoxification process is different for every person, even though the goal is the same. Even if a person abused the same substance, it doesn’t mean you’ll require the same form of detox and treatment.3

In fact, the exact detox specifications depend on many relevant factors, such as the type of abused substance, period of abuse, any co-occurring physical health issues, and motivation to continue treatment. Although important for subsequent treatment, co-occurring mental health disorders don’t play a huge part in detox.3,7

Another thing that might determine the detox process is the type of environment. Detox can take place in several different settings. This might include your doctor’s office, inpatient and outpatient medical detox facility, or even hospital. The professional team working with you will help you find the best option.3

What Are the Advantages of Medical Detox Over Home Detox?

Unlike home drug detox, medical detox is done in a medically monitored environment, with continuous observation. This will help the patient receive any necessary care in case of an emergency. On the other hand, this isn’t possible when undergoing drug and alcohol natural detox at home.3

The drug and alcohol detoxification process done at a specialized facility also comes with various supporting elements. It can provide you with the best possible intensive care and professional staff experienced in dealing with withdrawal symptoms. Additionally, professionals can also administer medication to facilitate the process.3

Many detox facilities will also help you with maintenance therapy. This includes not just giving you aftercare medication to help prevent relapse, but also counseling and support that help increase chances of full recovery.3  

Finally, the success rate of any detox highly depends on the amount of time spent in face-to-face interventions. This isn’t something available for people who self-detox at home for alcohol and drug abuse. In fact, approximately 23% of people who undergo medical detox together with face-to-face treatment are more likely to experience better results.3

How to Choose the Right Detox Method for Me?

No matter whether you’re struggling with opioid use disorder or an alcohol use disorder, it’s always suggested to seek medical expertise and advice. This is the only way you can get the right kind of treatment even after your body gets rid of all substances. This is also why you should always allow a professional to conduct a complete assessment and determine the right detox method for your situation.3,7

For some struggling individuals, the cost of professional treatment can be discouraging, especially as resources aren’t always organized or easy to find. Fortunately, most medical detox serivces are covered by major insurance carriers. Also, there are many low-cost or even free facilities all over the country. Money shouldn’t be an obstacle to getting treatment. There are many payment options available, even for people who aren’t covered by insurance.10

You can call your local drug and alcohol abuse hotline to see if there are any treatment facilities nearby. Another way you can check your coverage is to call the American Addiction Centers hotline and speak to a professional dispatcher who will verify your insurance coverage for treatment and check your benefits on the phone. They will recommend the best drug rehab centers that might meet your needs. Some might even offer additional special benefits and options, such as same-day admittance for emergency cases.

Additionally, AAC is in contact with all major insurance carriers, including Medicare, Medicaid, as well as Tricare and other veteran insurance options. Other than calling, you can also fill out the online form below or speak to the admissions navigator about any related questions you may have about substance abuse.

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The editorial staff of Projectknow.com is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands of pages for accuracy and relevance. Our reviewers consistently monitor the latest research from SAMHSA, NIDA, and other reputable sources to provide our readers the most accurate content on the web.
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