Last Updated: February 15, 2023
Going through alcohol withdrawal isn’t easy, but several remedies and tips can make the experience as comfortable as possible.
Detoxing from alcohol is the first step toward a life of sobriety, but many find it the most difficult part of recovery. Detoxing from alcohol at home may be possible for people with mild symptoms. However, a medical detox is recommended for those with moderate to severe alcohol addiction.
What To Expect From Alcohol Detox
What to expect during alcohol detox has to do with how your brain responds to the absence of alcohol. Alcohol withdrawal happens because continued alcohol use changes the sensitivity of brain receptors. Alcohol stimulates GABA receptors, causing suppression of the nervous system. The brain adjusts to the overstimulation of these receptors by reducing their sensitivity, allowing them to function normally while being overstimulated by alcohol.
When alcohol is removed, the GABA receptors are not sensitive enough and cannot suppress the nervous system correctly. This leads to over-excitement of the nervous system until the brain can increase GABA receptor sensitivity and restore balance. This adjustment takes about 7–10 days to complete.
You can expect withdrawal symptoms during detox due to this adjustment. Because the GABA receptors respond the opposite way they would to the presence of alcohol, many of these symptoms are the opposite of what alcohol causes. The severity and duration of these symptoms will correspond with how heavily and frequently alcohol was used.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are caused by overexcitation of the nervous system. Symptom severity is mostly influenced by how heavily alcohol was used, but it can differ based on many factors. Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can include:
- Mood swings
- Sweaty, clammy skin
- High blood pressure
- Rapid breathing
- Elevated heart rate
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea or vomiting
- Weight loss
Alcohol Detox Timeline
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms will begin as soon as alcohol levels in the blood drop below their normal levels. While the alcohol detox timeline will be different for everyone, it will involve:
- Initial symptoms: The first symptoms can start within six hours after the last drink, including headaches, tremors and stomach issues.
- Intensification: Withdrawal symptoms will slowly worsen until 48–72 hours after the last drink. New symptoms may occur, and existing symptoms will worsen.
- Peak: The peak is the worst part of the detox and when the most severe symptoms are likely to occur. The peak of withdrawal symptoms marks the end of the intensification phase and occurs about 48–72 hours after the last drink for most people.
- Improvement: Symptoms will improve following the peak, although they may improve more slowly than they intensified. They will normally resolve within 7–10 days after the last drink. However, it may take up to two weeks or more in some rare cases.
Is It Safe To Withdraw From Alcohol at Home?
It can be safe to withdraw from alcohol at home sometimes. However, speaking with a doctor about your situation is essential before you try this. Detoxing at home works best for people trying to quit alcohol for the first time who are likely only to have mild withdrawal symptoms.
It is not recommended to detox from alcohol at home without proper medical supervision. Alcohol can cause some of the most dangerous withdrawal symptoms of any substance and even be fatal in some cases. For this reason, withdrawing from alcohol at home is highly discouraged for anyone who could experience moderate to severe withdrawal symptoms.
How to Detox From Alcohol at Home
The first and most important step of at-home alcohol detox is checking in with your doctor and ensuring it is safe. They can also provide you with medications to help make the process easier.
If you detox from alcohol at home, several things can make the process safer and more successful. These include:
- Always having someone with you while detoxing
- Clearing your schedule for two weeks so you have time to detox correctly
- Ensuring there is no readily available alcohol in the home
- Avoiding people who could tempt you to drink
- Having an emergency medical plan if severe symptoms occur
Home Remedies for Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Detoxing from alcohol at home can be very unpleasant. However, several tips can help ease symptoms, including:
- Talk to a doctor about home medications for withdrawal symptoms.
- Eat healthy fruits and vegetables.
- Avoid sugary or spicy foods.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Avoid caffeine.
- Try relaxing activities like yoga, exercise or meditation.
- Be prepared to seek medical care for severe symptoms.
How to Safely Taper off Alcohol
Tapering off alcohol involves slowly reducing the amount of alcohol use over time, eventually stopping entirely. However, tapering is not medically recommended for quitting alcohol because it is very difficult. Alcohol addiction is characterized by an inability to control one’s drinking, and a taper requires strict control of how much alcohol is used. This makes it very challenging to taper yourself off of alcohol successfully.
Because alcohol tapers are not recommended, there is very little research on how to do it for those who wish to taper off alcohol. One study suggested a 10-day schedule, but there is no accepted tapering schedule since self-tapering typically does not work for alcohol detox.
Medical Alcohol Detox
A medically supervised alcohol detox is the safest way to detox from alcohol. This method involves monitoring and treatment provided by healthcare professionals. Medical detox allows problems and dangers to be quickly noticed and treated before they become problematic.
Medical alcohol detox is not only the safest way to detox, but it’s also typically the most comfortable. Withdrawal symptoms can be very unpleasant, and a medical detox can offer quick treatment using effective IV medications that cannot be used at home. This provides comfort and reduces the worst alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Alcohol Detox Medication
Alcohol detox medications help prevent severe withdrawal symptoms and improve unpleasant side effects. Common alcohol detox medications include:
- Benzodiazepines: These medications work on the same receptors as alcohol, calming the body and reducing withdrawal symptoms.
- Anticonvulsant drugs: Anticonvulsant drugs are used to prevent seizures in patients who are at risk for one.
- Adrenergic medications: Adrenergic medications help reduce blood pressure and heart rate, improving safety during medical detox.
- Barbiturates: Barbiturates work like benzodiazepines but are not as safe. They may be used in some situations, but benzodiazepines are often preferred for alcohol withdrawal.
- Baclofen: Baclofen works on the neurological pathway that affects the same receptors as alcohol. It is a more recent treatment option for alcohol withdrawals that improves symptoms and reduces alcohol cravings.
Someone planning a medical detox should speak with a doctor about which medications are best for their needs before taking anything for alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Alcohol Detox Near Me
Finding a local detox center can seem daunting, but considering these factors can help you locate the best facility in your area:
- Quality: Checking reviews, accreditations, size and reputation can provide insight into a facility’s quality.
- Capability: Not all detox centers offer the same level of treatment. You will want to ensure your facility can provide the required care.
- Post-detox care: Detox only helps if you can stay sober afterward. Finding a facility with good follow-up care is essential for a successful recovery.
- Cost: Paying for treatment is important to think about. Check with your insurance provider and the detox facility to learn more about rehab costs.
Recovery is possible.
If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, help is available. Call to speak with a Recovery Advocate about treatment options today.