Dangers of Detoxing from Drugs or Alcohol at Home

Content reviewed by Karen Rubenstein, LMFT, Chief Clinical Officer at Cliffside Malibu

The common first step towards sobriety after seeking help is detoxing from the substances themselves. If you are considering doing this at home without the supervision and assistance of professionals, please reconsider. Detox can be a potentially dangerous and sometimes fatal process that requires medical intervention to ensure success and safety. In addition, not all substance detoxes are the same. Each substance has a variety of withdrawal symptoms that occur from detoxing, and some are more dangerous than others.

Detoxing from Alcohol

Detoxing from alcohol can be accompanied by a large number of symptoms of withdrawal and possible complications. You might possibly experience:

  • Acute Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome
    • These symptoms can begin within six hours of the last drink consumed or intoxication. Symptoms include fever, anxiety, insomnia, nausea, tremors, rapid breathing and increased heart rate. Depending on how much and how long you consumed alcohol, there is potential for cardiac arrest due to complications in the cardiovascular system.
  • Delirium Tremens
    • DTs are a result of hyperactivity in your nervous system caused by the onset of acute withdrawal symptoms. DTs can also cause you to have auditory and visual hallucinations that can lead you to dangerous situations if not supervised by a professional. When severe enough, DTs can be fatal, but there is less than a 5% chance of this occurring when detoxing in a medical environment.
  • Seizures
    • More than 90% of seizures caused by alcohol withdrawal occur within the first 48 hours after alcohol consumption. The likelihood of these occurring is increased by the rate and length of your alcohol consumption over time. They have the potential to be fatal if you are not stabilized by medication or accompanied by a medical professional throughout the detox process.

Detoxing from Benzodiazepines 

Common Benzodiazepines

  • Valium
  • Xanax
  • Ativan
  • Klonopin
  • Halcion

The detox and withdrawal symptoms from benzodiazepines are extremely close to those of alcohol. The most common include:

  • Irritability
  • Hand tremors
  • Sweats
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety/Panic Attacks
    • The rebound symptoms from anti-anxiety medications are extremely dangerous in relation to self-harm. The risks of suicidal thoughts increase drastically when detoxing from these medications and should not go unsupervised.
  • Seizures
    • Much like alcohol withdrawals, these seizures can be fatal.

Detoxing from Opioids/Opiates

Common Opioids/Opiates

  • Oxycodone
  • Hydrocodone
  • Morphine
  • Methadone
  • Heroin
  • Fentanyl

Opioid/opiate withdrawal is fortunately not believed to be as commonly fatal as the previous two, but just as dangerous all the same.  The fatality rate dramatically decreases when the withdrawals are monitored and assisted with medication to taper the patient off of opioids rather than stopping cold turkey. Specific complications of these withdrawals are:

  • Aspiration
    • When detoxing from opioids/opiates, the most common reaction is nausea and vomiting. Aspiration occurs when the lungs fill with liquid due to the inadvertent breathing of vomit during sleep. At the very least, you will get pneumonia due to the build-up of liquid in the lungs from aspirating. If not monitored closely, aspiration can be fatal in a very short amount of time.
  • Diarrhea/Vomiting
    • The rapid loss of fluids during diarrhea and vomiting can cause electrolyte loss and even cardiac complications. Dehydration can cause an abnormal beating of the heart which can lead to cardiac arrest.

Detoxing in a facility that manually tapers your dependence on opioids/opiates and closely monitors your withdrawal symptoms is safer and more successful than detoxing at home. In addition, detox facilities can help with unpleasant withdrawal symptoms you may experience during detox.

Detoxing from Stimulants

Common stimulants include:

  • Cocaine/Crack Cocaine
  • Methamphetamine
  • MDMA
  • Amphetamine based prescription medications

Stimulant withdrawal poses the lowest detox-caused fatality rates but causes mental anguish that can lead to making decisions that cause the same fate. These withdrawals can include:

  • Severe anxiety, depression, emotional outbursts and/or irritability
    • While in detox, you will have several specialists at your disposal to help you work through the emotional roadblocks you will face while withdrawing. It is important to have someone assisting you when being at high risk of endangering yourself due to emotional stress.
  • Confusing or impaired thoughts
  • Uncomfortable and uncontrollable twitching
  • Body aches and pains

The benefits of detoxing in a medical environment surrounded by professionals greatly outweigh detoxing at home. Professionals monitor your symptoms and assist in providing a healthy way to detox. One of the greatest advantages of detoxing in a facility is going directly from detox and into treatment in one step. When you attempt to detox on your own, you run the risk of losing your life or relapsing in an attempt to lessen uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Make sure you give yourself a fighting chance to get sober in a safe environment to create your path to recovery.

Detoxing under the supervision of medical professionals is undoubtedly the best course of action when first considering recovery. A detox center like Cliffside Malibu will provide you with around the clock care to make the withdrawal process as comfortable and safe as it could possibly be. Call us at (855) 403-5641 today.