Many people with substance use disorder (SUD) wonder if they can detox at home.
(They shouldn’t – detoxing on one’s own can be dangerous, and it’s much less likely to be successful)
They may view attending a detox center as an inconvenience or a waste of money.
What Does Withdrawal Feel Like?
When a person develops an addiction, their body becomes dependent on the substance to function. The continued use causes chemical changes in the brain. Neurotransmitter levels change. The more an individual takes, the more their body becomes desensitized.
Called “tolerance,” this results in people taking higher quantities to get the same effects.
Detoxification occurs when a person stops using or drinking after a long period of regular intake. As the body slowly tapers toxins out, a person will experience acute withdrawal. The exact feeling depends on the duration of use, type of substance, frequency of consumption, potency, and co-occurring disorders. The symptoms can include the following:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle aches
- Extreme anxiety
- Panic attacks
- Severe fatigue
- Abdominal cramps
- High blood pressure
- Suicidal ideation
- Substance cravings
The withdrawal experience is uncomfortable and mildly painful at best and can be fatal in some instances. Withdrawal symptoms cause both mental and physical pain. People struggle with even the least severe symptoms.
Withdrawal lasts anywhere from a few days to many weeks, depending on a number of factors. Unfortunately, there is always an element of unpredictability. However, professional detox can make for an easy withdrawal.
Nobody experiences drug detox in the same way.
The Dangers of At-Home Detox
Anyone experiencing acute withdrawal is at a heightened risk for relapse. As substances taper out, the body begins craving more. It can feel unbearable. This causes an issue, though. Tolerance for substances decreases with every passing minute. A person can no longer handle the same quantity, frequency, or potency of drugs and alcohol.
This opens the door to the possibility of a fatal overdose. Just a little too much during a relapse, and a person can lose their life.
In a detox facility, people are protected and monitored. Everything that comes in is screened for possible substances. Anything remotely questionable cannot be brought in. A person cannot even bring mouthwash with alcohol as an ingredient.
If a person goes through detox at home, they can easily obtain more substances. Their willpower may not be enough, and they may not know how much of the substance they can handle.
Additionally, at-home detox includes experiencing unnecessary symptoms. Detox centers can prescribe and regulate medications. The doctors and nurses watch patients 24/7. When people choose to detox without medical supervision, they cannot access prescription medications. They are left with only over-the-counter options, some of which are not strong enough to assist a person. A person’s acute withdrawal symptoms may make them unable to drive, walk distances, or call a cab. They may not be able to think straight, let alone get themselves to and from the store safely.
People who choose not to attend a detox center must manage their mental symptoms without any assistance. They do not receive immediate access to group or individual therapy. They are not speaking with mental health professionals every day. Nobody will know if their mental health takes a turn for the worse. They might feel suicidal without ever reaching out. This creates another life-threatening circumstance one must handle alone.
If a person enters a treatment facility, they face a far lower risk.
The Benefits of a Detox Center
Detox centers are built to help people going through acute withdrawal. They are filled with medical and mental health professionals who specialize in addiction treatment. They know how to tell if a person is getting better or worse. They regularly evaluate everyone under their care, adjusting medications and treatment plans as needed. They will not leave an individual in pain and anguish without offering assistive medications.
Mental health assistance is another major benefit of detox centers. Counselors can offer different forms of individual psychotherapy like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and humanistic therapy. Patients may also participate in various group therapies. This provides social support from others who understand the situation first-hand. Additionally, many programs offer self-help groups like Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) or SMART Recovery. This starts the difficult process of healing from SUD.
After finishing the detoxification process, a good detox center will help set a person up with continued rehab. They understand that treatment does not end after drugs or alcohol are out of an individual’s system. Long-term care must occur if a person hopes to lead a substance-free life. Rehab provides the next step in that direction.
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