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Alcohol Detox: Learning From Those Who Were Foolish Enough to Detox at Home

The idea of doing drug and alcohol detox at home is popular these days—unfortunately. It’s never safe to detox without medical advice, and the most commonly used addictive substance, alcohol, is also one of the most dangerous substances to attempt home detox from. Common risks include delirium, seizures, irregular heart rate and severe dehydration. Suggestions for “staying safe while detoxing from alcohol at home” make about as much sense as suggestions for “staying safe while driving the wrong way down a one-way street”—while there may be ways to make it less dangerous, the only sane approach is to avoid doing it at all. Nonetheless, there are a few grains of wisdom in the foolishness. The approaches that give the best chance of surviving home detox can also help you choose a professional alcohol detox center and plan your stay there. Never consider an alcohol detox program that fails to take the following points seriously.

1. Never try to detox without human support close at hand.

For those who suffer medical emergencies during drug and alcohol detox, chance of survival is much improved when someone else is on hand to call for professional help—the detoxer may be in no condition to do it. At a treatment center, staff will fill the support role, keeping an eye on you and staying ready to act quickly even if you lose control of your own mental or physical functions. That said, you will still frequently be the first to get your body’s SOS signals if trouble starts to develop. Ask for help immediately if you notice any of the following alcohol-withdrawal symptoms:
  • Severe headache
  • Severe nausea
  • Uncontrollable diarrhea
  • Muscle spasms
  • Hammering heart
  • Heavy perspiration
  • Stiffening or trembling muscles
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Feelings of panic, rage or disorientation
Don’t wait to “see what happens”—a false alarm is better than a dangerous delay. And at an alcohol detox center, you can count on getting help without delay. To further reinforce the human-support aspect of detox, check your treatment center’s rules regarding visitors: will friends and family be able to come and offer support regularly, especially during the long inpatient period following physical withdrawal? The more involved your family is from the beginning, the better; their support may make or break your success in long-term sobriety.

2. Get advance advice from your regular doctor.

For all the inadvisability of home alcohol detox, some MDs do give patients the go-ahead to try it—presumably based on intimate familiarity with the patient’s coping abilities and physical condition. Do yourself and your primary-care doctor a favor by not burdening him or her with such a decision, but do make an appointment to discuss your plans for alcohol detox treatment. Your regular doctor is best qualified to advise you on concerns specific to your medical history, temperament and overall physical condition—and to judge the seriousness of your addiction and any health damage it may already have done. Your doctor can also provide you with copies of your medical and insurance records—bringing these to your detox center will help them give you the best possible treatment. It’s always best to get advance advice from a doctor who’s worked with you for some time and whom you know you can trust. If you don’t have a regular doctor, get a referral from your health insurance agent or a trusted friend, or choose an alcohol detox center that includes complete physicals in its care regimen—but don’t go to any doctor or treatment center without checking their reputation carefully in advance. Seeking detox advice at random could leave you vulnerable to “patient brokering,” where unscrupulous medical detox centers (often ones that provide inferior treatment or even encourage further addiction) pay off doctors or clinics for recommending them without considering the patient’s actual needs.

3. Keep comfortable.

You’re going to endure some physical discomfort any way you go about this, but a good detox center will do much to keep you as comfortable as possible. Ask to tour the facilities in advance, including a room like the one where you’d be staying. Check the size and feel of the beds, the decor and how much personal space you’ll have. If there are textures, smells or lighting that make you feel particularly uncomfortable, make sure these won’t be part of your environment. There’s another aspect of comfort that may be relevant to your situation. If you’ve considered home detox because you cope best in familiar surroundings, look for an alcohol detox center with an environment similar to the ones you know best. Arrange to bring some of your own blankets, pillows or room decorations so your surroundings will retain a “familiar” feel. See if you can also bring favorite scents (besides alcohol!) or sounds into your detox environment.

4. There are often safer approaches than stopping cold turkey.

“Cutting down gradually”—slowly reducing doses to minimize the severity of physical symptoms during the journey from heavy dependence to sobriety—is a classic approach to home detox, and is also used in professional addiction detox when dangerous withdrawal symptoms are likely. The center is unlikely to provide you with doses of alcohol (a nonprescription drug): however, if withdrawal symptoms become intense, an alternate depressant such as diazepam may be given. This decision must be made by a medical professional; no layperson is qualified to judge.

5. Stay hydrated.

You do, however, have a right to request some say in your intake of nondrug substances. Since vomiting and diarrhea are common during alcohol detox treatment, dehydration is a major concern: your treatment providers may recommend intravenous fluids during acute detox. Otherwise, make sure water will be within reach at all times, and continue to consume it regularly throughout the inpatient-care period (this will also help appease cravings to “drink”). Ask also about keeping other healthy liquids at hand: juices and electrolyte drinks can be invaluable in remedying the malnutrition that frequently goes with alcoholism, particularly while nausea is still a problem and you have difficulty digesting solid food. Beware of caffeinated drinks, though—they can dehydrate you further.

6. Get back into healthy habits as soon as you are able.

Consider the rest of your physical needs, too—overall good health will be an important aspect of long-term sobriety. Make sure that during your inpatient treatment, you’ll be allowed plenty of sleep and that healthy food will be available. Ask if the center provides instruction in exercise and physical relaxation techniques—and whether your sobriety counseling will include planning a schedule to keep these up for the long term. Plus, learn to nurture your self-esteem! While “I’m tough enough to detox on my own” is never wise thinking, appreciating your talents and good qualities will go a long way toward motivating you to stay clean from alcohol after detox. If you or a loved one need a safe and professionally managed alcohol detox, Inland Detox is the top provider in southern California. Please call us today at (888) 739-8296.