Drinking alcohol is risky business. At first, it is just a cheap thrill, a way to spend the weekend getting a little high and feeling just a little happier. Then it creeps up like kudzu, overtaking the life of the drinker, asking for a little more time and attention. It rapidly progresses from fun to dependency, like kudzu, crowding out all life, consuming all the good things surrounding the life of the drinker.
Alcohol dependent individuals are seeking the taste, feeling, and the reclusiveness of a “drunk.” They want isolation because they don’t want to share their experience. They become more self-centered not realizing how toxic the alcohol is to their body. All the while the individual is engaging in adding alcohol to the bloodstream, the alcohol is eating away at vital organs, including the arteries, nerves, central nervous system, brain, kidneys and liver.
The individual becomes more dependent as the practice of drinking begins to take over their life. Now the individual is become addicted, drinking to avoid withdrawal symptoms. The individual is having pain from both emotional isolation and the alcohol’s physical damage to the body. The person realizes he/she is trapped in a situation that has progressed from harmful to destructive. Family members and friend are avoiding him/her. Work problems are developing, and pain is increasing. Alcohol has become toxic.
When it gets to this point, poisoning the life of the drinker, the individual realizes there is a problem. What happens now? Either the drinker gets outside help or tries to stop on their own. Now we’re entering the danger zone because alcohol withdrawal is just as dangerous as the continued practice of drinking.
So, What is Alcohol Self-Detox or Detox at Home?
Simply put, self-detox is an approach to give up drinking either cold turkey or by tapering it off gradually, with minimal to no outside help. Here’s how the process typically works: the person sets a quit date, and then stops drinking instantly or gradually reduces their intake over time. People try to avoid the triggers that force them to grab a drink, get themselves busy in their favorite activities to keep the cravings at bay, use vitamin supplements, start doing exercise, and eat healthy to ensure a successful alcohol detox at home. While some of them may talk to their doctor to assess whether self-detox is a viable option for them or not, usually the only outside help they get is from their friends and family.
Alcohol detoxification can be done at home, under very limited circumstances. Alcohol detox at home is usually safe for the binge-drinker that only parties on the weekend because their body has not moved into the full-blown addiction. That person will be seriously uncomfortable, but likely not move into the life-threatening category. Even full-fledged alcoholics that drink daily but in small amounts can detox at home safely, by tapering their consumption each day. The individual should not attempt to cope at home without an overseer, a supervisor per se. If there is someone else monitoring the quantity, and if they are drinking a beverage with a lower alcohol content, like beer, and if this consumption is doled out by the supervisor only, it can be done safely. If the alcohol dependent person is left to monitor himself/herself, the individual will increase the consumption to avoid the pain of withdrawal.
How successful is alcohol self-detox?
However, if the person is heavy into the addiction, drinking because they have severe symptoms of withdrawal when they don’t, they should heed the warning: Do not try this at home! It is obvious that it is a painful process, but why is this more dangerous for heavier drinkers, those that consume alcohol to avoid symptoms of withdrawal, than the previous people?
Risks of Alcohol Self-Detox
The risks of Alcohol Detoxification at home far outweigh the benefits for a number of reasons. We can begin by saying that detoxing at home is rarely successful. Many individuals quit within the first 24 hours, just from the difficulty of managing the symptoms. A study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence reports the success rate as only 30%, and a continued sobriety for over 4 years is less than 90%. Part of this issue is that the alcoholic does not have the support at home that he/she would make at a treatment center. There is a need for counseling, friends, helpful mentors, and group support that is rarely present in the home situation, and certainly not for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The alcoholic needs to be away from the trigger situations that are cues to drinking, like people, places and bottles. The drinker needs medical attention, because of the life-threatening physical and psychological symptoms that happen in detox.
What are the side effects of self-detoxing?
Side effects of self-detox include:
- Pacing, restlessness, and irritability.
- High blood pressures
- Body pain and tremors
- Increased heart rate
- Diarrhea and other bowel crises
- Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar level
- Headaches, dizziness, and confusion
- Hot and cold flashes changes of body temperature
- Muscle cramps
It is the serious and disabling symptoms of detox that change the drinker’s mind about continuing with the process. These symptoms are severe and need to be monitored by medical staff. Some of the physical problems include:
- The need to move around, restlessness and irritability.
- The skin is crawling and the person is agitated.
- Blood pressure increases to very high levels.
- Aches and shakes, every muscle hurts as the alcohol is flushed out of the system.
- Pulse increase with the stress of the withdrawal
- The digestive system moves into crisis; diarrhea is common
- The blood sugar is dropping, because alcohol is a form of sugar in the body.
- The individual now has symptoms of hypoglycemia
- Headaches, dizziness, and confusion
- Tiredness, temperature changes in the body, hot and cold flashes
- Shaking and cramping muscles
Also, there are serious psychological symptoms as well, including:
- Feeling like a hammer is hanging over the head and bad things are going to happen.
- Intense cravings to get relief
- Feeling like the body is coming apart.
- Mood swings from depressed to hopeless to suicidal.
- Paranoia goes with the hallucinations and can escalate into defensive actions.
Delirium TremensThe symptoms can occur within 72 hours of alcohol withdrawal and can happen with no warning. DTs can realize any time in the withdrawal stage but are more likely to present during the first ten days.
Signs of delirium tremens during self-detox include:
- Grand mal seizures characterized by loss of consciousness and violent muscle contractions.
- Compromised heart functions including high blood pressure, suppressed breathing, and low oxygen level.
- Anxiety and agitation
DTs need medical intervention and monitoring as they have many dangerous qualities, such as:
- Grand mal seizures. The individual can be thrashing about, swallow their tongue or bite it off; they can lose consciousness and be physically hyper strong.
- The heart functions will be compromised as the pulse and blood pressure rises, but breathing may be suppressed, causing the oxygen supply to the heart to decrease. The possibility of stroke or heart attack is increased.
- The alcoholic may have hallucinations like bugs crawling on their skin or spiders in the room. They may claw at their face and rip their skin. The individual could do permanent damage to their eyes, thinking the eyes are damaged because of the hallucinations.
- The alcoholic can become paranoid and attack someone because they believe they are being hunted or threatened. They may see a painting come alive.
- The alcoholic will be confused from the sugar withdrawal, and use bad judgement in all situations.
- The individual will be anxious and agitated, not able to cope with any social situation.
Why People Take the Risk to Continue Drinking
The number one reason individuals continue to drink is they believe they have it under control. This is a dangerous thought because these individuals are likely to die from alcohol poisoning, like Amy Winehouse. The following are the most cited reasons that someone continues with their addictive behavior:
- Denial- They deny the problem, ignore their behavior, and withdraw from criticism and those that confront them with their addiction issues.
- Lack of Control at the treatment center- They want to control the issue themselves as they have already lost control of their bodies and relationships.
- Fear of change in their lives- They fear the pain and discomfort of withdrawal, and the process of rehabilitation. Change moves them out of the “comfort zone.”
- Fear of life – The individual knows they don’t have the coping skills to have a normal life, so they choose a dysfunctional pattern. It may be bad but it is better than appearing inadequate.
- Self-Defeating Attitude- Some individuals believe they are past all help and hope. These people need mental health treatment and counseling for depression, simultaneously with addiction rehab.
- Stigma- Many people fear “what other people will think” if they go to rehab for help. They don’t realize “other people” already notice the addiction problem.
- Desire to Die- The addicted individual has lost the desire to live and is using alcohol to commit suicide. This person will drink until they die, unless they receive unwanted intervention.
- Cost- Most individuals will say the cost is prohibitive to seek professional help through a rehab center, but this is erroneous. Insurance will cover 30 days of rehab, Medicare will cover 30 days and if someone has no insurance at all, a judge can order rehab at no cost to the individual seeking help.
If you have no financial resources or insurance, make an appointment with the County Judge that oversees Drug Court.You don’t have to suffer alone. Ask for help.