Risks of Home Detox & Going Cold Turkey

Many people just want to stop using drugs and alcohol. They think the easiest way is to just stop on their own and detox at home. While it sounds simple enough, home detox comes with many risks, some of which can be life-threatening.

Withdrawal Symptoms

If you struggle with ongoing addiction, drug dependence is likely present. When you stop taking drugs, you will experience withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

These withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to even potentially life-threatening. Withdrawal from some substances, like opioids, benzodiazepines, and alcohol, can be deadly.

Drug withdrawal symptoms often include both emotional and physical symptoms like the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Mood swings
  • Mental cloudiness
  • Muscle aches
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Pain sensitivity
  • Stomach pain and cramps
  • Changes in body temperature
  • Irregular heart rate and blood pressure

During detox, the body processes out drugs and alcohol. Medications can aid the detox process by lessening withdrawal symptoms and cravings, but withdrawal is a physical process the body must go through.

Stopping a drug suddenly, or cold turkey, can bring on some dangerous side effects, depending on the drug of abuse.

Why People Choose to Detox at Home

Choosing to detox at home can be a risky undertaking, but many people do it anyway. This may be because they can’t afford treatment services or don’t have insurance. They may not  want to deal with medical interventions, or they just think they can do it on their own.

Detox can be a painful and uncomfortable undertaking. Some people think if they detox at home, they’ll feel safer and more comfortable than if they are in a strange and unfamiliar environment.

woman feeling hopeless

Typically, detoxing at home should be reserved for people who do not struggle with significant drug dependence. It could be a viable option if someone experiences only mild cravings and withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking drugs.

Support for At-Home Detox

People who detox at home will need to have a high level of support and people around them who understand what they are going through and are willing to help them through it.

The first few days after stopping a drug can be difficult and unpredictable. It is important to be surrounded by loved ones who can help to keep you on track and stable. They also should know the potential warning signs to watch for in case withdrawal symptoms escalate and become a medical emergency.

Detox needs to be performed in a quiet, calm, and stable environment that is free from the temptation to use drugs and alcohol.

You should not attempt to detox completely on your own. If you are trying at-home detox due to mild withdrawal symptoms, support from a family member or friend is crucial.

What to Expect From At-Home Detox

Drug addiction has a high relapse rate as a chronic disease, per the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

During detox at home, you can expect to experience intense drug cravings that can make it difficult to refrain from using drugs. Withdrawal symptoms can also make returning to drug use seem like a good idea in order to make them go away.

Stopping a drug cold turkey can invoke dangerous withdrawal symptoms within a few hours of your last dose as your brain works to find balance.

The progression of withdrawal depends on several factors.

  • Drug of choice: The type of drug makes a difference when it comes to the significance of withdrawal. The following drugs are considered to be highly addictive with potentially serious withdrawal symptoms:
  • Heroin
  • Prescription painkillers (opioids)
  • Benzodiazepines (benzos)
  • Alcohol
  • Methamphetamine (meth)
  • Cocaine
  • Prescription stimulants (ADHD medications)
  • Duration of abuse and dose levels: The more of a drug you use at a time and the more often you use it, the more heavily dependent your brain and body will be on the substance. The higher the level of dependence, the more intense withdrawal will be.
  • Comorbid medical or mental health conditions: Medical conditions can complicate drug withdrawal. If you suffer from a condition that impacts blood pressure or heart rate, for example, you could experience serious consequences during detox. At-home detox can then be even more unpredictable and potentially dangerous.

More than 8 million Americans struggled with both a mental health disorder and addiction in 2016, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reports. Co-occurring mental health issues can make at-home detox riskier and worsen possible side effects.

  • Use of detox medications: Medical detox programs often use medications to minimize the side effects and intensity of drug withdrawal. Vitamins, supplements, and over-the-counter (OTC) medications can be used during at-home detox, but they won’t be as effective as prescription medications. For instance, you may suffer from pain, stomach upset, and insomnia, and OTC products like gastrointestinal medications, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and antihistamines can help.Some OTC medications and supplements can be dangerous during withdrawal. Talk to a doctor before you take anything at home.

Why Speaking With a Medical Professional to Plan Detox Is Best

Detox can be unpredictable. It can include a range of medical and mental health effects that you may not be able to manage on your own.

A medical professional can help you determine your level of drug dependence, so you can better understand what your options may be. They can look at your medical and mental health history to determine how your body may react during withdrawal.

doctor at a detox facility

They can also walk you through what the detox process may look like for you specifically. This information can help you decide if at-home detox is really a safe or viable option, or if an inpatient or outpatient detox program may be more beneficial.

Continuing in Recovery Process

Detox is generally the first step in the recovery process, but it’s not all you need. A structured detox program can help to balance your physical system while keeping you safe and minimizing the likelihood of relapse. It is a great start in recovery, but not the whole story.

You will need to retrain your brain through behavioral therapies and counseling in order to build healthy habits and make positive lifestyle changes. A complete addiction treatment program after detox can set you up for success in recovery.

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