Alcohol Detox at Home: Safety First

Medically reviewed by Dr. Paul R. Linde, MD on March 15, 2021

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Now that everyone is quarantined, there’s never been a better time to consider alcohol detox at home. But is it safe? Conventional wisdom says that the detox process should be done at a rehab center, doctor’s office, or other medical facility. In this article, we’ll explore some of the options—how to do it, and how long it takes—and above all, how to keep safety at the forefront.

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We’ll say this right away: If you want to detox at home, you should check in with a doctor first. Withdrawing from heavy alcohol use can be done at home, but there are some risks. (We’ll repeat this caveat during this article.) We will also give you some advice on how to do it and how long it takes.

Detoxing at home should be done with the guidance of a doctor, counselor, or other health care professional. You should also consider letting a few friends know what you’re doing, so they can support you.

Is Quarantine a Good Time to Detox at Home?

During the current pandemic, people may feel more comfortable detoxing on their own time, at home. The advantages include privacy, as well as a familiar environment.

This process can be similar to cutting down on nicotine (such as with patches) or reducing one’s dosage of antidepressants. But for most people, “cold turkey” (stopping all alcohol immediately) doesn’t usually work. For some people, quitting suddenly can increase the risk of a relapse later. In extreme cases, going “cold turkey” can actually be hazardous, causing delirium, hallucinations, or even death.

In January, the American Society for Addiction Medicine (ASAM) published a 74-page guide on alcohol withdrawal management. Intended primarily for physicians, the publication can also help lay people looking to safely reduce alcohol. (For example, note page 5, which lists symptoms of “alcohol withdrawal severity.”)

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How To Detox From Alcohol At-Home: Telemedicine Can Help

One of the big factors in making home detox possible (and safer) is telemedicine. A revolution in the making, telemedicine means you can consult with medical experts from the convenience of your smartphone. No more travel time, no more waiting in a doctor’s office. And many issues can be resolved with a quick call, and a few questions.

After a discussion with a doctor, it’s time to make a plan. For most people, that means cutting down on alcohol gradually. If you’re regularly having four drinks a day, try cutting back to three for a week, and then two the next week. Harvard Medical School suggests setting a drinking goal, putting it in writing, and then keeping a diary (sometimes called a “drink log”) to monitor consumption.

Other Possible Steps for Home Detox

Consider removing any remaining alcohol from your home. Or at least, relocate it to a closet, a basement corner, or another place where you won’t be tempted if the cravings return.

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Some people benefit from benzodiazepines, drugs that help reduce anxiety. Some of these are alprazolam (trade name: Xanax), diazepam (Valium), and lorazepam (Ativan). These may be helpful, but again, should be discussed with your doctor. Consulting with a doctor is also important if you are taking other medications for conditions such as high blood pressure.

Benzodiazepines, especially Xanax, can be habit-forming to people who drink too much. Also, mixing benzodiazepines with alcohol put you at a much higher risk for falls and blackout episodes. At Ria, we usually prescribe gabapentin, a drug originally designed for preventing seizures, for alcohol detox at home instead. It is well tolerated and not habit-forming.

Some people swear by herbal remedies to help with symptoms. While we can’t vouch for the success of most of these, some may be helpful. Meditation and breathing practice can also calm your system. But again, ask your doctor.

Also, let some trusted friends know what you’re doing, and when. They will appreciate being in your “inner circle,” and can help prop you up if you have a weak moment and the cravings return.

How Long Does Detoxing From Alcohol Take?

Reducing alcohol should be done gradually, and opinions differ on exactly how long that should be. According to Healthline, a person should expect 4 to 5 days after the last drink to detox properly. Strategies for reducing alcohol over time include changing the amount of liquor in drinks—or even switching to drinks you don’t like as much.

We Are With You is a UK-based charity that offers “free, confidential support to people experiencing issues with drugs, alcohol or mental health.” On its website, the organization has guidelines for home detox. Their staff also recommend gradually cutting down on alcohol over a period of a few weeks.

The point is that most heavy drinkers cannot simply stop cold, without risks. All of these opinions suggest a gradual, controlled “phasing out” of alcohol as the safest method.

What Else Should I Know About Detoxing At Home?

When you quit drinking, your body will try to compensate for the lack of alcohol. For heavy drinkers, this can mean withdrawal symptoms, which can be serious. We’ll say it over and over: Even if you’re detoxing at home, you should alert your doctor. Yes, some people can go through the process with little or no effect. But for others, suddenly stopping drinking can be dangerous.

Consider taking a multi-vitamin. In addition to a proper, balanced diet, vitamins (a reasonable amount) can help your body stabilize while it is adjusting to not having alcohol. And drink lots of water. (Keeping hydrated is a good idea, no matter what you’re doing.)

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Getting Back to Normal

At Ria, we can help you detox at home, safely. Our telemedicine-based method means you don’t have to leave your house. The advice of medical professionals is just a smartphone call away. We work with you, whether your goal is to get off alcohol completely, or to cut down to a more moderate drinking level.

(Note: In July 2020, the New York Times reported on upcoming revisions to the U.S. government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The new recommendation will be just one drink per day, for both men and women. Previously, the allowance for men was two drinks.)

Again, if you do choose to detox at home, get good advice before you start. It’s not impossible—and now is a great time to do it—but it also means exercising care in the process.

Written By:
Bruce Hodges
New York-based writer, editor, and fundraising consultant with over three decades of experience.
Reviewed By:
Evan O'Donnell
NYC-based content strategist with over 3 years editing and writing in the recovery space. Strong believer in accessible, empathic, and fact-based communication.
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