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For many people suffering from Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) or milder alcohol dependencies, detox is the first step toward reclaiming their health. It describes the process of eliminating all traces of alcohol from the body, typically over 1-2 weeks.
During this time, the levels of alcohol being consumed are gradually reduced using a process called tapering to reduce the likelihood of withdrawal symptoms developing.
Regardless of whether someone is detoxing from alcohol as an inpatient or starting their recovery journey under a home detox programme, most plans use the following 3-part structure:
The existence of guides for ensuring a safe home detox implies that there are some risks to be aware of when removing alcohol from the body.
Before beginning your home detox, it’s important to consider the following dangers and seek help from a professional who can accurately assess your situation.
One of the main risks associated with home detox is the likelihood of experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol dependence can cause the victim to experience both psychological and physical symptoms within 8 hours after their last drink.
This is particularly likely to occur if the individual is attempting to quit cold turkey, and hasn’t planned a tapering schedule to use at home whereby alcohol levels are gradually reduced.
While milder symptoms such as headaches, nausea, and fatigue are manageable with time and rest, others experienced by those with severe addictions can be life-threatening.
Such complications must be immediately treated by a medical professional in a clinical setting.
While many people are aware of the physical withdrawal risks associated with alcohol detox, the process can also impact someone’s mental well-being.
Many individuals suffer from co-occurring mental health disorders alongside their addiction such as depression or anxiety. Some people may also experience adverse mental symptoms due to the lack of alcohol in their bodies.
This is because as the body and brain attempt to stabilize following alcohol consumption, certain chemical processes go into overdrive.
This causes many individuals to feel more anxious than they normally would, or to experience low moods that can make them a danger to themselves.
Moreover, the lack of medical support in the home environment means that any withdrawal symptoms experienced may continue to get worse. High levels of physical and/or psychological discomfort increase the danger of relapse: another risk of detoxing at home with severe Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).
Individuals trying to abstain could be overwhelmed by the severity of their withdrawal symptoms: turning back to alcohol as a means of self-medication. They might also be detoxing in an environment where alcohol is accessible, making it incredibly difficult to abstain.
In the past, all detoxification programmes were based in hospitals or clinics, However, alcohol addiction is a vast spectrum, and it was quickly realised that one treatment methodology may benefit some and not others.
Those with mild alcohol dependencies may not be suited to the intensive nature of an inpatient detox plan.
Home alcohol detoxes are an increasingly popular option for those with less severe alcohol dependencies and a lower risk of withdrawal. Ideally, they’ll have a strong support network of friends and family to help manage their detox and make sure all temptations are removed from the home environment.
An ideal candidate for home detox will also be high-functioning enough to attend medical appointments, and pick up any prescriptions from the pharmacy if necessary.
These individuals may also be able to continue going to work or school while detoxing, and ensure their daily lives are uninterrupted.
It’s also important to consider the risks associated with any pre-existing medical or psychiatric conditions before choosing a home detox.
As previously mentioned, the body and brain enter an adjustment phase following abstinence that can exacerbate the symptoms of certain conditions.
Lastly, home detox can be optimal for those who have a previous understanding of recovery and who have undergone a brief period of relapse.
Gradually tapering their alcohol consumption in a space where they feel most comfortable is less commital than re-entering rehab, not to mention less expensive.
If you’re wondering whether you fit the criteria for a home detox, the first way to ensure your safety is to seek a medical assessment. A healthcare provider can provide a comprehensive physical and psychological evaluation to determine your eligibility.
This assistance can be accessed either via privately or publicly funded services. If you’re concerned about your alcohol intake, The NHS offers free advice and intervention counselling.
This often consists of a nurse, GP, or specialist NHS practitioner assessing your situation before deciding which type of detox is suitable for your unique needs.
Whether this evaluation is carried out via the NHS or by a clinician at a private clinic, the process remains the same.
This includes assessing the severity of your alcohol dependency and gathering any information regarding pre-existing health conditions. They’ll also carry out a series of blood tests to check your liver function and nutrient levels which can be used later to decide whether any supplements or medications are necessary.
Your consultant may also ask you to describe your home environment: including any relapse triggers that could be present, and whether someone will be there to support you throughout the detox.
Following the consultation and providing they are happy for you to go ahead with the home detox, your doctor will start curating a bespoke detox plan. This will include designing a tapering schedule for you to follow, and any medication to relieve potential withdrawal symptoms.
Your doctor will also ensure that you have a series of phone evaluations booked for your detox duration.
This means that, despite being at home, you can update a clinician on how you’re feeling, and whether any withdrawal symptoms have started to show. Medicines can be prescribed to reduce anxiety, nausea, and other flu-like symptoms.
While medication is vital for victims of severe AUD, The best way to naturally overcome withdrawal symptoms is by slowly weaning yourself from alcohol.
Therefore, making sure you have a tapering schedule in place is vital to ensure a safe home detox.
The time it takes to taper depends on how long someone has been drinking, how much they’ve been drinking, and a range of other personal factors. Your doctor will take all of this into careful consideration when helping you plan a tapering schedule.
This schedule will correspond to the amount you have been drinking and the amount of withdrawal you might have as a result.
If an individual has been drinking around 20 beers per day, their doctor may recommend that on the first day of their taper they drink one beer per hour starting when they wake up in the morning. This will equate to no more than 16 beers for this day.
On the second day of their detox, they’ll be advised to drink one beer every hour and a half for a total of ten beers. They’ll then continue to taper down by reducing the amounts by two beers per day until you are down to zero.
However, if an individual’s baseline alcohol consumption is less than 20 standard drinks (similar to a 5% beer in strength) per day, their clinical tapering schedule will look somewhat different. Their doctor may recommend reducing their intake by two standard drinks every day.
For example, if someone has been drinking an average of 12 glasses of wine per day then their taper schedule might be 10 glasses on the first day, 8 on the second, 6 on the third, 4 on the fourth, and so on.
However, it’s important to note that a tapering schedule is only a safety measure if it is personalised to suit your specific alcohol intake and other physiological factors.
As a result, it’s strongly recommended that you don’t try to design your schedule without the approval of your GP or healthcare professional.
While eating healthily should be a priority in everyday life regardless of the struggles you’re facing, it’s especially important when your body is under strain. Maintaining a healthy, nutrient-rich diet can help you reduce many of the uncomfortable effects related to alcohol withdrawal and detox.
Many individuals find that, when undertaking their home detox, they start craving sugar. This is because, without alcohol, the body desperately looks for other sources of serotonin and other “feel-good” hormones.
Fluctuations in blood sugar combined with the imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain contribute to these cravings.
While it may be tempting to satiate these cravings with sweets and chocolate, opting for fruit is a far better choice for someone detoxing from alcohol.
Fruits also contain natural sugars, which can fulfil the craving for something sweet without putting pressure on the digestive system of someone in recovery. Fruit is also hydrating and packed with vitamins and antioxidants.
Another food group proven to ease discomfort during detox is vegetables. Like fruits, vegetables digest slowly due to their high fibre content, which helps regulate hunger and maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
Healthy carbohydrates, specifically whole grains, are another vital part of an optimal recovery diet as they provide your body with the energy to heal and plenty of B vitamins.
Prolonged alcohol consumption leads to a lack of vitamin B, so it is important to replenish your body’s supply. Wholegrains high in vitamin B include beans and green and red lentils.
Moreover, Whole grains like brown rice, oats, and whole wheat bread are high in fibre, which is important for maintaining gut health.
Healthy gut bacteria can help support a healthy liver and kidneys: two of the body’s most important organs during the detox process.
While maintaining a healthy diet during your home detox keeps your body in optimum condition, certain foods have also been proven to help reduce alcohol cravings.
Snacks such as sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, and pumpkin seeds are considered essential to your alcohol detox diet as they help increase your dopamine levels.
The lack of sufficient dopamine levels in the body is what leads to alcohol cravings, so consuming foods that help boost the levels of this feel-good hormone is an excellent way of managing cravings.
Adding cayenne pepper to your meals has also been proven to lower alcohol cravings by boosting dopamine levels. It can also help decrease withdrawal symptoms such as nausea while also helping to increase appetite.
Numerous studies have shown that heavy alcohol consumption eventually leads to various vitamin and mineral deficiencies. The symptoms associated with such deficiencies can lead to more discomfort than there needs to be during home detox.
Among heavy drinkers, the most common deficiencies are low magnesium, vitamin C, B, folic acid, and iron. Symptoms associated with these deficiencies include nausea, headaches, and fatigue. All these can combine with withdrawal symptoms to make an individual feel far worse during their detox.
As such, it’s important to get any vitamin or mineral deficiencies under control before the home detox begins. Consulting a healthcare professional when planning your alcohol detox is the best way to achieve this. They’ll perform blood tests to identify any inconsistencies, and can prescribe tailored supplements for you to take throughout your detox.
Drinking plenty of water while reducing your alcohol consumption can help alleviate withdrawal symptoms and flush out toxins. While it won’t speed up the detox process, staying hydrated allows you to feel better while your body works hard to repair itself.
Heavy drinkers are also more likely to experience vomiting during their home detox: which can lead to dehydration. Restoring hydration via electrolyte beverages helps you feel better and reduces the risk of health complications and worsening withdrawal symptoms.
Experts recommend that individuals going through an alcohol detox should drink water slowly but consistently: consuming at least one glass per hour.
Adding lemon or lime to your water can also assist liver processing, while green tea is a hydrating antioxidant that can help with the removal of toxins.
Too often, people attempt to detox from alcohol alone. This might be because they keenly feel a stigma of shame surrounding their addiction, or they simply don’t want to burden their loved ones.
However, the expert opinion states that one of the key ways to ensure your safety while you detox at home is to enlist the help of a loved one. Whether they’re an immediate family member, close friend, or neighbour, they must be available to stay with you for the entirety of the detox, or until you start feeling better.
Companionship while detoxing is crucial because you never know how you’re going to feel mentally or physically.
If part of your alcohol withdrawal is feeling sick or experiencing flu-like symptoms, you’ll need someone to prepare meals and ensure you’re staying hydrated and well-rested.
It’s also important to note that, while you might be able to manage the physical symptoms of withdrawal, alleviating the psychological symptoms on your own can be much more challenging.
If you’re experiencing intense alcohol cravings paired with anxiety or low mood, it often helps to confide in someone. After all, a problem shared is a problem halved.
It’s crucial to note that there’s no “one-size-fits-all” treatment for alcohol addiction, and the time taken to completely detox from alcohol relies on many different variables.
Moreover, detoxing in your home environment shouldn’t be rushed. Instead, the correct precautions should be taken to ensure safety and comfort.
For those with mild alcohol addiction and a low risk of developing withdrawal, the home detox process will be a fairly easy one.
Oftentimes, they’ll be able to complete the process in less than a week and require no prescription medication to ease their transition to an alcohol-free life.
On the other hand, those with moderate alcohol dependencies will require more time to stabilise and complete their tapering schedule. They’ll often need at least 7 days to recuperate and allow withdrawal symptoms to completely dissipate.
If you’re ready to face your problematic relationship with alcohol head-on, our team at Rehab 4 Alcoholism is here whenever you’re ready to reach out. We recognise the difficulty that comes with discussing a potential alcohol problem, whether it concerns a loved one or yourself.
With this in mind, we’ve made it our mission to develop a confidential, expert service providing those in need with advice for tackling alcohol use disorders. Our team is made up of non-judgmental, friendly professionals, many of whom have also struggled with problematic drinking.
Each member of our team has helped us to curate a partnership with over 100 rehabs throughout the United Kingdom and abroad, with each clinic carefully vetted by The Care Quality Commission.
Once you’ve called us on 0800 111 4108 ,we’ll usually recommend a free consultation with one of our experienced psychiatrists or clinicians.
During this 15-20 minute call, they’ll ascertain the risks alcohol is posing to your physical and mental health. They’ll use this information to form some treatment recommendations and help you decide what steps to take next.
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