Detoxing at home from alcohol or benzodiazepines (drugs like Valium, Xanax, Ativan), can seem easier,  less expensive and more comfortable, but can also pose serious health risks. Most people are unaware of the potential dangers of withdrawal and are often surprised to discover that abruptly stopping can be more dangerous than withdrawal from other addictive substances. In fact, serious cases can result in seizure, heart attack, and even death. Nevertheless, as many people do detox at home, here are some things to be aware of.

 Symptoms of withdrawal include:

  •  Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Digestive discomfort
  • Headaches
  • Heart palpitations
  • Hallucinations
  • Panic attacks
  • Tremors
  • Muscle pain
  • Psychosis
  • Seizures
  • Delirium tremens
  • Relapse
  • Increased risk of severe symptoms with the next withdrawal attempt

Research indicates that most minor symptoms generally appear within 6-12 hours after the last drink, while in more serious cases, hallucinations may appear 12-24 hours later. In severe cases, seizures can occur in as little as two hours, but could take up to 24-48 hours to appear.

Again, while many of these symptoms may seem to be mild, they can progress in waves over the course of days, weeks, or even months, and have serious health consequences. Seizures, in particular, are a major risk during benzodiazepine detox. Delirium Tremens (DTs) is the most dangerous alcohol withdrawal symptom, and will generally appear 48-72 hours after the last drink. DTs can involve severe hallucination, heavy perspiration, an abnormally fast heart rate, high blood pressure, fever, and agitation. In severe cases without adequate treatment, these symptoms can lead to heart attack and death.

The severity of withdrawal symptoms generally depends on how often and how long one drank or used. Heavy or prolonged alcohol or drug abuse will generally result in more intense withdrawal reactions.

Benefits of medically supervised detox

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Individuals with alcohol or benzo addictions are generally advised to detox at a treatment facility. Aside from medical supervision, facilities offer supportive care, such as counseling, therapy, or an introduction to a 12-step program—all helpful tools for maintaining long-term sobriety. In a supervised medical detox program, clients are shielded from temptation, and supported by experienced providers that can help control health risks and create a treatment plan.

If you are going to detox at home, it is advisable to seek support from friends, family and your doctor, and connect with a support group, such as a 12-step program. Should your symptoms escalate, call 911 or your doctor immediately.

From Detox to Contented Sobriety

Although critical, detoxing from alcohol or drugs is merely the first step in long-term recovery. Seeking ongoing support from a 12-step program or treatment facility—or ideally both—will be vital in learning how to live sober. Most of us needed to address deeper underlying issues or we would end up drinking or using again eventually, despite having endured an uncomfortable or painful detox process. Although this may sound unpleasant, it usually leads to a happier, richer life and a renewed sense of self. We are rooting for you!