The Dangers of Detoxing at Home
Detox triggers withdrawal symptoms, and regardless of the type of substance these symptoms can be severe enough to lead to a relapse. Relapse can cause an overdose, which may be fatal. For this reason, detox should never be attempted alone, without supervision. For anyone detoxing from benzodiazepines or alcohol, there are other, specific risks that can be fatal, making it especially imperative to seek professional support and medical care for detox.
Detox is the first step to recovery from drug or alcohol addiction, but it is a difficult step to take. If you or a loved one is trying to stop using, detox is necessary and will likely trigger uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
There are some very serious risks of trying to detox without professional supervision, including relapse and overdose as well as drug-specific risks. Never try to do this at home. Instead, turn to a professional treatment center to detox and manage withdrawal safely.
What Is Withdrawal?
Withdrawal is a set of symptoms that you experience after stopping use of a substance after long-term, chronic usage. Most people who have a substance use disorder will experience some degree of withdrawal when quitting drugs or alcohol.
The type of symptoms and their severity depend on the substance. Some drugs cause specific symptoms, but there are also some that are common with all drugs, like irritability and cravings. The severity of withdrawal also depends on the level of addiction, how long a person has been using, and the amounts used.
Detox and the Risk of Overdose
The process of going through withdrawal and allowing the drug or alcohol to leave your system is called detox, or detoxification. Many people are tempted to do this alone or at home, but there are some serious dangers of attempting this first step in recovery without professional support.
A big risk that accompanies unsupervised detox from any type of drug or from alcohol is that you will relapse. Relapse is common during detox, because the withdrawal symptoms and the cravings can become overwhelming and impossible to resist. When someone in detox relapses they may end up using a greater amount of the substance than they otherwise would, and this increases the risk of having a fatal overdose.
The Dangers of Alcohol Withdrawal
There are only a couple of substances that can cause withdrawal symptoms or syndromes that are dangerous. For most types of drugs it is the risk of relapse and overdose that poses the biggest danger. People with severe alcohol use disorder are at risk of developing delirium tremens during detox, and this can be fatal if not managed by medical professionals.
Delirium tremens usually begins within two to four days of a last drink, but it can occur up to 10 days later. Characteristic symptoms are delirium, which is a sudden type of severe confusion, tremors, agitation, hallucinations, restlessness and bursts of energy, fear, sudden mood changes, deep sleep, and seizures. This dangerous condition is more common in very heavy drinkers and long-term drinkers. Five to 15 percent of people who develop delirium tremens die from it.
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Benzodiazepine Detox Risks
Another substance that poses a real danger from its withdrawal symptoms is any drug in the benzodiazepine class, like Xanax, Klonopin, and Valium. Withdrawal from these sedatives can cause tremors, mood swings, difficulty sleeping, hyperventilation, panic attacks, and seizures. It can also cause psychotic symptoms, possibly severe, including depersonalization, perceptual changes, delirium, and hallucinations. There are risks that during an episode of psychosis someone will get hurt. People have died from unsupervised benzodiazepine withdrawal.
Detox at a Treatment Center
There are very serious risks of detoxing at home. If you or someone you know is trying to detox without professional support, it could fail and lead to relapse, or worse. The best option is to seek out addiction professionals to help you get through this difficult and dangerous process.
At a treatment center, medical and mental health professionals provide a safe environment where relapse is not a risk. Medications and medical care can provide some relief from withdrawal symptoms. And most importantly for those going through alcohol or benzodiazepine withdrawal, this medical care can be life-saving.
Also important is that detox at a treatment center offers you the opportunity to continue your addiction treatment there. Detox is only the first step. It is not a cure for addiction, and there is a lot of hard work to be done after this process. After detox, caregivers can help you craft an individualized treatment plan that may include medications, therapy, group support, and other types of ongoing care to help you achieve a sustained recovery.