Is it possible to detox at home? What happens if I quit drinking by myself without going to rehab?
Are you thinking of quitting alcohol? Have you decided not to check into rehab? Many people choose not to go to an inpatient detox or rehab. There are a variety of reasons not to go.
You may have work or family commitments that you cannot afford to put aside for days or weeks. Just because you are drinking too much does not mean you are not functioning in your life.
The cost of residential detox and rehab are high.
Even if you have insurance covering some of the expenses, you may still choose not to spend tens of thousands of dollars on rehab.
Another issue is that the rehab industry in the US follows the principles of AA and the 12 steps. 12-step-based programs typically believe in abstinence-based therapy without medical treatment, even when proven medical therapeutics exist.
And, many institutions employ counselors with minimal credentials in providing therapy. Why can’t rehabs afford to have doctors of psychology see their patients?
The fact is that a large percentage of the budget of most rehab programs goes back into marketing. These institutions are in a never-ending escalating battle for bodies to fill their beds. One clue to the nature of the rehab business is that these medical facilities refer to their admissions as clients, not patients.
You may have chosen not to be a pawn in this game played by competing treatment programs. Yet, you should be aware of the risks of detoxing from alcohol. While you may decide not to check yourself into detox or rehab, you should be under the care of a medical doctor if you choose to stop drinking.
Alcohol withdrawal is dangerous.
Some drug detoxes are not physically dangerous. For example, cocaine and methamphetamine do not have hazardous withdrawal syndromes. The withdrawal symptoms for these drugs may be unpleasant, yet there is no physical danger in quitting.
Surprisingly, opioid withdrawal is also typically not physically dangerous. Even though opioids cause the most unpleasant of withdrawal syndromes, opioid withdrawal is not life-threatening.
Alcohol withdrawal, on the other hand, can be life-threatening. Why is it so dangerous?
After quitting alcohol, within a short time, a condition may occur known as the DTs, or delirium tremens. Delirium tremens is an alcohol withdrawal syndrome that includes symptoms such as irregular heartbeat or palpitations, elevated blood pressure, elevated pulse, hallucinations, agitation, sweating, shaking, tremors, and shivering. Life-threatening hyperthermia or seizures may occur.
Doctors treat alcohol withdrawal with rest and anxiety medications. Patients withdrawing from alcohol may be given a benzodiazepine, such as Librium, Valium, or Ativan.
In addition to treating anxiety and preventing seizures, doctors will also often address nutritional deficiencies caused by drinking too much. Thiamine, or vitamin B1, is typically included in the treatment regimen.
Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS), sometimes known as “wet brain syndrome,” is a neurological syndrome with vision changes, memory loss, and a loss of control of bodily movements. Permanent brain damage may result from this condition.
Since the cause of WKS is a lack of thiamine, it is essential to give this vitamin to patients who have quit drinking. Alcohol abuse blocks the absorption of vitamin B1 and other nutrients.
Another essential supplement that doctors give to alcohol withdrawal patients is folate, also known as folic acid. In addition to thiamine and folate, doctors also administer or recommend Vitamin B6, B12, A, D, E, and other vitamins and supplements. Patients may also receive Vitamin C.
So, does this treatment have to occur in an inpatient detox facility?
Remember, detox programs are not hospitals. If a patient is in critical condition, they belong in the intensive care unit of a real hospital. For example, a patient abusing alcohol with multiple health conditions or other forms of substance abuse may do best by going to the hospital emergency department for an evaluation.
Otherwise, it may be possible for a doctor to provide outpatient therapy. If you are wondering how to safely detox from alcohol at home, it is best to do under the care of an experienced physician.
What is the Alcohol Deprivation Effect?
The Alcohol Deprivation Effect, or ADE, is a condition in which a patient who quits drinking has worsening cravings for alcohol over time. Even with support from loved ones, rehab, aftercare meetings, and Alcohol Anonymous meetings, patients with ADE may still relapse.
While not all patients have ADE and not all patients with ADE end up relapsing, it does make it difficult for many people to maintain long-term sobriety. Is there a better way to get sober to avoid ADE?
There is a method of detoxing from alcohol at home that involves the pharmacological extinction of the internal drive to consume alcohol. When successful, this method of reducing and eliminating alcohol intake results in few, if any, cravings for alcohol.
The key to making this work is for a doctor to prescribe the drug naltrexone to take before drinking alcohol. Naltrexone blocks endorphins from binding to opioid receptors in the nucleus accumbens. The reward center of the brain learns not to crave alcohol.
This treatment method was first studied in Finland by Dr. John David Sinclair. It is now known as The Sinclair Method or TSM. TSM is thought by some experts to be safer than quitting alcohol “cold turkey.”
What are some detoxification protocols I can follow at home?
When you are ready to quit drinking, you should remove alcohol from your home. Your first step in at-home alcohol detox should be to get rid of your alcoholic beverages. Clearing out the alcohol from your house is a good idea, whether you are a gray area drinker or you have an alcohol addiction.
Even if you are planning to follow TSM, it is good to clear out your alcohol collection. Not having a large amount of alcohol around will remove the trigger and the temptation to drink.
Clear your schedule.
It is essential to plan for some downtime when you first quit or cut back on your drinking. You are not going to want to go to work or take care of your family right away. At least keep responsibilities to a minimum.
Who will be available to support you if you need help or to talk to someone? It is essential to plan for who will be there for you in your support network.
Focus on hydration first.
You cannot underestimate how important it is to stay hydrated. Drink water or an electrolyte drink during the withdrawal period. If you become dehydrated, your withdrawal will become a medical emergency.
Start with a balanced diet.
Eating may be the last thing you want to think about in the days after quitting alcohol, but it is essential. Eating a healthy, balanced diet will help you feel better and will support optimal nutrition.
Take your vitamins and minerals.
As we discussed earlier, vitamins are critical to take after you quit drinking, especially thiamin. Some minerals can help as well. For example, magnesium and calcium supplements will help to improve your recovery.
Other supplements that may be helpful during the detox process are L-tyrosine, L-tryptophan, taurine, acetyl-L-carnitine. These amino acid supplements may help during the withdrawal process with mental functioning and reduced cravings.
There are many benefits of a medically-supervised detox treatment.
Even if you are detoxing from alcohol at home, you do not have to do it without supervision. Your doctor can provide medical treatment and oversight that will make the experience less stressful and safer.
You may find that your doctor can prescribe effective medical therapy that many rehabs do not offer. And, mental health services are also available in your community without going to rehab.
Is it possible to detox from alcohol in a restaurant or bar?
As crazy as it sounds, some people successfully quit drinking by going out and drinking. How is this possible?
I previously mentioned The Sinclair Method or TSM. The way TSM works is simple. The doctor prescribes naltrexone to the patient.
The patient then takes a tablet one hour before having an alcoholic drink. They then restrict themselves to no more drinks for the evening.
The effects of naltrexone on cravings and the pleasure center of the brain make this possible. Over time, many patients who follow TSM drink less often and eventually give up alcohol altogether. One benefit of TSM is that a patient does not have to give up the social aspect of having a small drink with dinner immediately. Imagine quitting alcohol by having a glass of wine with dinner.
TSM may seem unusual and unorthodox to people in the US. However, in other countries, where the abstinence-based philosophy of AA does not have a strangle-hold on medical addiction treatment, TSM is accepted as a standard medical treatment for alcoholism.
Are there other medications that help people to quit drinking alcohol?
One drug that has declined in popularity is disulfiram or Antabuse. Antabuse is a drug that delivers a swift and severe punishment to patients who take it and then have a drink. The drug causes the patient to become severely ill if they drink alcohol. Experts are learning that this sort of punitive treatment is not successful long-term.
Another available drug is Campral or acamprosate. Doctors prescribe this medication to patients who have already quit drinking. It helps to stabilize brain function during the alcohol withdrawal phase to minimize alcohol cravings.
While it does help, it has many potential side effects. Naltrexone tends to be the better choice. In cases where a patient cannot take naltrexone, Campral may be the best alternative. Occasionally, doctors may even prescribe both naltrexone and Campral together.
Can a sober coach help?
After you have prepared to quit drinking and have seen your doctor, you may want to look into getting a sober coach. Sober coaching is a relatively new field. While you can go to an AA meeting and find a sponsor, the system for finding a sponsor in a meeting is not always reliable.
Sometimes, it can take weeks or months to find the right candidate. And, AA sponsors are volunteers who agree to take on the responsibility of helping you work the 12 steps.
A sober coach is similar to a sponsor in some ways. You hire a sober coach to work with you on planning your sobriety. This professional has experience in working with people who are quitting or reducing alcohol intake. They will provide motivation and useful information to help keep you on track.
For women, finding a sponsor in AA is especially tricky. In many areas, AA members are mostly men. The program guidelines recommend that men pick male sponsors, and women choose female sponsors. Unfortunately, women who attend AA may not be able to find a female sponsor readily.
Women who want support in getting sober but cannot, or do not want to, find an AA sponsor, may prefer to go with a sober coach. Additionally, many sober coaches also focus on life coaching and life success beyond sobriety, whereas a sponsor may only focus on abstinence.
AA sponsors tend to be more problem-focused, leading you to dwell on your defects of character and shortcomings. You may want to leave this serious introspective work to a professional psychologist. A sober coach may be the answer when it comes to general encouragement and guidance towards life successes and a brighter future.
Still, for many people, the 12-steps will be the solution that works best for them. I would not try to discourage people from working on the steps, but people should be aware that there are alternatives.
Can an interventionist help in detoxing from alcohol at home?
If you have a loved one who is drinking too much and will not slow down or stop, you may want to do whatever it takes to make them quit. It is essential to be careful in your approach to helping someone quit alcohol. If you are too forceful in your efforts, you may push them away, and it will be harder to provide support.
An interventionist may be able to help. A professional interventionist can speak to your loved one on your behalf. This expert can have an intelligent and informed conversation to explain treatment options clearly.
You may be surprised how well this process can work. It may just be a matter of having someone outside of the family dynamic explain the process of medical treatment and recovery in clear terms.
What is the next step to get help?
Before starting an at-home detox, you should see your doctor. If your doctor does not have experience in treating alcohol use disorder, ask for a referral to a doctor who does. After establishing medical supervision for your detox treatment, you can begin to make plans for your overall recovery program. By making careful plans, you will ensure that you have the best possible success in reducing or eliminating alcohol.