Detoxing from alcohol may seem simple: Just stop drinking. But quitting cold turkey can be dangerous if you’re dependent on alcohol. For people who experience mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms, there are safe ways to detox at home. People who experience tremors, shakes or confusion when they quit drinking should consider medically supervised detox.
It is possible to safely detox from alcohol at home without medical supervision. But extra caution should be taken if you’re detoxing on your own. Alcohol withdrawal can cause serious health issues that require medical treatment.
To avoid severe withdrawal symptoms, you should slowly reduce alcohol consumption. Cautious tapering may take longer than medically supervised detox, but it will help you avoid major health problems.
Tapering can help you overcome alcohol dependence, which is a side effect of chronic alcohol use that causes cravings and withdrawal. Detox doesn’t treat addiction, which is a disease characterized by compulsive behaviors, such as chronic alcohol use.
If you’re addicted to alcohol, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to recover without some form of addiction treatment. You may be able to detox at home and recover from alcoholism with the help of support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. However, medically supervised detox and professional rehab are more likely to help you maintain long-term sobriety.
If you’ve been unable to quit on your own, you should consider attending an alcohol rehab center. Alcoholism treatment allows you to detox in a safe environment. It teaches you healthy ways to cope with stress and techniques for overcoming the underlying causes of alcohol addiction. It also prepares you for life without alcohol.
You may be able to detox at home and still attend outpatient therapy or support group meetings. But beware that severe alcohol withdrawal can kill you. Alcohol relaxes the brain. The brain compensates for the depressive effects of alcohol by increasing its activity. When people who are dependent on alcohol drink, they feel normal.
When they suddenly quit drinking, the brain continues its hyperactivity, but alcohol no longer suppresses the effects. This can cause seizures and delirium tremens, a severe form of withdrawal marked by tremors and hallucinations. Both complications can be life-threatening. If you taper off alcohol slowly or with medical supervision, the brain has time to adapt without causing severe side effects.
The purpose of tapering off alcohol is to avoid major withdrawal symptoms so you can achieve sobriety safely. The time it takes to taper will depend on how long you’ve been drinking, how much you’ve been drinking and a variety of personal factors.
You should start by determining how much alcohol you drink per day in terms of standard drinks. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines standard drinks as:
The alcohol content in specific beer, wine and liquor products differs. You can use the guidelines to get an idea of how many standard drinks you’re used to. Experts at The HAMS Harm Reduction Network, which comprises doctors, social workers, therapists and other experts, recommend using beer to taper because it’s easier to get drunk from liquor or wine.
You should plan to taper for between three and seven days depending on how much you’re used to drinking. Slowly reduce the amount of alcohol you consume each day until you reach sobriety. If you begin to experience serious withdrawal symptoms, drink enough to make the symptoms subside.
If you’re unable to reduce how much you drink, you may have a disease called alcoholism that requires professional addiction treatment. Alcohol rehab helps you taper off alcohol, and it treats other side effects and causes of alcoholism.
Before beginning a tapering schedule, speak with your doctor about the risks of detoxing at home. Tapering off alcohol may complicate other medical conditions or co-occurring mental health disorders.
If you’re used to drinking more than 20 beers per day, the experts at HAMS recommend the following tapering schedule, which includes eight hours of sleep per night:
If you’re used to drinking less than 20 beers per day, HAMS recommends reducing your alcohol consumption by two beers per day until you achieve sobriety.
Here’s an example of a schedule for someone who is used to drinking 12 beers per day:
Your tapering schedule should be flexible. Expect to feel some discomfort, including anxiety, sweating or irritability. If you feel more severe symptoms, such as paranoia, tremors or increased pulse, you should taper more slowly and consider seeking professional help. If you feel severe symptoms, such as hallucinations, rapid heartbeat or disorientation, call 911 immediately.
Our medication-assisted detox programs are designed to deliver treatment that really works.
The amount of time it takes to detox from alcohol depends on several factors, including whether you’re detoxing at home or with medical supervision. Detoxing at home usually takes longer because you should be cautious to avoid serious complications.
When you detox at a rehab center, nurses and doctors monitor vital signs, provide adequate nourishment and treat complications if they occur.
Early symptoms of alcohol withdrawal usually begin about six hours after the last drink. They intensify for about a day before diminishing. Early symptoms include headache, sweating, tremor, vomiting and difficulty concentrating.
Seizures can occur within the first 24 hours, but seizures occur only in about 25 percent of patients, according to the NIAAA.
Late symptoms begin between two and four days after the last drink, and they usually include changes in heart rate, breathing and blood pressure. Serious symptoms caused by delirium tremens include hallucination and seizure. DTs occur in about 5 percent of patients.
Possible detox timeline for at-home detox with no tapering:
Most people recover from alcohol withdrawal within a week, but people with severe dependency may experience withdrawal for multiple weeks. Alcohol causes serious changes in the brain, and prolonged symptoms such as sleep problems, mood changes and fatigue may take months to overcome, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Some people avoid medically supervised rehab because they prefer natural remedies for alcohol withdrawal. Slowly tapering off alcohol is the safest way to naturally overcome alcohol withdrawal, and many at-home remedies can help you cope with mild withdrawal symptoms. However, medical treatment is necessary to treat major symptoms of withdrawal.
Home remedies for alcohol withdrawal include:
Nothing can replace the value of water. The body requires it to function. When you’re dehydrated, you can experience irritability, fatigue and confusion. Some people mistake symptoms of dehydration for symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
Water is important, but individuals should also consume beverages that contain electrolytes. Electrolytes are vital nutrients, including calcium, potassium and sodium. Alcohol intoxication and withdrawal can create electrolyte imbalances, which causes side effects such as muscle spasms, numbness and seizures.
A healthy diet includes eating foods that contain the proper balance of carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, proteins and fats. These nutrients help the brain and other organs function. If a person is malnourished, the body doesn’t have the energy it needs to recover from alcohol dependence.
Taking a shower doesn’t help you sober up, and it doesn’t help alcohol leave your body more quickly. But it can relieve some symptoms of alcohol withdrawal by helping you relax. Taking a shower that is too hot or too cold can cause dangerous changes to body temperature, but a lukewarm shower may distract you from some minor withdrawal symptoms.
Breathing deeply can relieve stress that accompanies alcohol withdrawal. Deep breathing helps the body receive adequate oxygen, which can normalize heart rate and stabilize blood pressure, according to Harvard Medical School. In contrast, shallow breathing limits oxygen intake and can make you feel anxious.
In addition to helping you control your breathing, meditation can help you clear your mind and focus on the benefits of detoxing from alcohol. Some small studies have found that meditation techniques, such as yoga, may help treat alcoholism when used with other therapies. However, more research is needed to prove that yoga is an effective complement to treatment.
Overall, do whatever you can to make yourself as comfortable as possible. If you’re sweating, place a cold towel on your forehead or on the back of your neck. If you’re cold, bundle up in blankets. Prepare a playlist of your favorite songs or movies to pass the time.
Avoid taking prescription drugs that your doctor hasn’t prescribed to you. If withdrawal is so uncomfortable that you’re turning to drugs for comfort, you should contact your doctor or a rehab center to discuss medically supervised withdrawal.
Alcohol dependence and addiction are serious medical conditions. Minor symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be overcome with rest and at-home remedies, and it is possible for some people to taper off alcohol without supervision. However, individuals who are addicted to alcohol require professional rehab.