How Can I Detox From Alcohol?
Alcohol is one of the most common addictions, and yet detoxing from it isn’t as simple as it seems. Is it safe to quit alcohol by yourself, and if so, how should you do it? Read more to find out.
Substance abuse comes in many forms. Although we associate more this disease with those taking illicit drugs, alcohol claims the top spot as the most abused substance. Compared to marijuana, opiates, or cocaine users, 25.1% of the total American population has engaged in heavy drinking in the past year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The Dangers Of Quitting Alcohol By Yourself
That being said, many people who are going through alcoholism and are planning to quit wonder if they can do it by themselves. Sadly, there is limited information about the safety of attempting to detox at home. There are several cases of people who died from alcohol withdrawal, especially when trying to do so without medical help. This is mainly due to the reason that the body experiences a drastic change when people who are dependent on alcohol quit abruptly.
Aside from the body experiencing shock, there are also other disadvantages in do-it-yourself detox:
- You may have no assistance when you experience the discomforts of withdrawal
- It is highly likely that you will revert to drinking alcohol once again when faced with triggers
- You may not be aware of specific medication doses and schedule of intake depending on your body type and level of addiction
- There is a risk of forming a new addiction with the drugs used during detox, especially when not taken with medical guidelines
The best decision when deciding to detox from alcohol is to seek professional help. As you admit yourself to a high-quality rehabilitation center, there will be a specific process of detox, of which a general outline will be provided in this post.
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How To Detox From Alcohol Safely
Detoxing from alcohol safely takes time, energy and patience on the individual’s part–as well as the commitment to enter to a rehab program that also targets the root cause of the addiction.
There are several routes to go out detoxing from alcohol safely, which are:
Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)
It is never safe to detox from alcohol by quitting cold turkey. One of the best approaches is through the use of medications to help reduce alcohol dependence, as well as managing the discomforts of withdrawal. There are several drugs used to treat alcohol addictions, and they are broken down into three different types:
- Prescription drugs: These are also known as antagonist or partial agonist drugs. They either dampen the effects of alcohol in the body once taken or provided as a way to mimic the effects of the addictive substance but in a more subdued form.
- Over-the-counter drugs: These drugs are used mainly to help in alleviating the discomforts of alcohol withdrawal. OTC pain medications may be taken to alleviate headaches, muscle tension or fatigue upon the advice of a doctor.
- Nutritional supplements: Supplements may also be provided to boost immunity and improve general wellness during detox. For example, B-vitamins can help reduce the fatigue a person is feeling during the detox period.
Detox Diet and Fitness
Another helpful method is detoxifying alcohol in the body is through incorporating a healthy diet and exercise. When you participate in an alcohol rehab program, a set of physical nutrition and fitness guidelines will be given to help you overcome alcohol cravings and ease through the withdrawal period.
Having a detox diet and exercise problem can help you:
- Overcome anxiety and depression related to withdrawal
- Improve general wellbeing, thus increasing motivation to stay sober
- Find natural ways to release brain chemicals that make one feel good, without dependency on addictive substances
Tapering Off Alcohol Use
Another well-known method is to “taper off” or gradually decrease alcohol use until the dependency is no longer observed. Instead of taking drastic measures, it is safer for individuals to decrease alcohol intake day-by-day in a controlled setting. It is best to be in an environment where professionals can monitor alcohol drinking so that they can keep track of how much you are allowed to drink in a day.
Attempting to taper off use at home may not be as effective as there is no source of accountability and monitoring to see if you are gradually decreasing the number of drinks you have in a day.
These detox methods can be combined to increase the effectiveness of the detox program. The type of detox depends on several factors such as the level of alcohol addiction, sensitivity to pain and discomfort, and overall health of the individual.
How To Taper Off Alcohol
As tapering off remains one of the most cost-effective options for detox, one is left to wonder, how can gradually decreasing alcohol use be done safely?
The best way to safely taper off alcohol use is dependent on the following:
- Your amount of use: How many drinks do you have daily? Weekly? Monthly?
- The type of alcohol you are taking: Wine, beer, or other hard drinks may have varying timelines.
- Your sensitivity and dependency on alcohol: Tapering off without medical assistance can lead to deprivation, which results in binge drinking and alcohol poisoning, a serious condition where your body cannot handle the amount of substances. This condition leads to breathing problems, heart rate issues, coma, and death. Gradually decreasing use means the doctor or addiction specialist may recommend you to do the following options:
- Subtracting one drink from your average intake per day
- Providing alternative beverages with lesser alcohol proof
- Diluting the usual beverage with other non-alcoholic drinks
These tapering off methods can be used in conjunction with one another to increase the chances of success, as well as the patient’s response to the detox.
How Long Does It Take To Detox?
Just like the whole process of detox, the time spent experiencing withdrawal symptoms can last from a few days to several weeks. Again, this all depends on factors such as one’s previous drinking habits and physical dependence on alcohol. On average, most people recover from the discomforts of detox after 4-5 days.
The detox program is a flexible period and will be determined on how well you are before proceeding with other treatment programs. The range of people staying within the detox period can be as short as 2 days, and some even as long as 2 weeks. It is important not to rush the process of detox, as this is a period of recovery for your body and brain after a long period of alcohol dependence.
How To Deal With Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcohol detox can often be compared to an uphill climb, of which most of the difficult part is going through the motions of withdrawal. At the very least, alcohol withdrawal is uncomfortable, but without professional assistance, it can even be deadly. Here are some of the ways people can deal with alcohol withdrawal in a rehab setting:
- Monitored bed rest: Bed rest is recommended to save energy as most people will experience fatigue and flu-like symptoms during withdrawal. Adequate sleep is also associated with decreased mood problems which can trigger alcohol use. Monitoring this time is also important to safely manage withdrawal complications.
- Medications and supplements: Pain OTC medications, fever medications, herbal supplements, and detox drinks can help in relieving the discomforts of withdrawal as well.
- Nutrition and exercise: Eating a whole range of healthy, whole foods, while incorporating physical activity is known to boost overall health. Additionally, exercise is known to flush out toxins in the body through sweating.
Alcohol Tapering Schedules
Tapering schedules depends on the number of drinks and the type of drinks taken regularly by the patient. This will all be recommended by an addiction specialist just before the detox program starts. Below is an example of a 12-day tapering schedule of a patient who drinks 12 glasses of beer in a given day:
Sample schedule for tapering off alcohol
- Day 0: 12 glasses, usual beer
- Day 1: 11 glasses of light beer every hour, from 10 am to 9 pm
- Day 2: 10 glasses of light beer every hour, from 10 am to 8 pm
- Day 3: 9 glasses of light beer every hour, from 10 am to 7 pm
- Day 4: 8 glasses of light beer every hour, from 10 am to 6 pm
- Day 5: 7 glasses of light beer every hour, from 10 am to 5 pm
- Day 6: 6 glasses of light beer every hour, from 10 am to 4 pm
- Day 7: 5 glasses of light beer every hour, from 10 am to 3 pm
- Day 8: 4 glasses of light beer every hour, from 10 am to 2 pm
- Day 9: 3 glasses of light beer every hour, from 10 am to 1 pm
- Day 10: 2 glasses of light beer every hour, from 10 am to 12nn
- Day 11: 1 glass of light beer, from 10 am to 11 am
- Day 12: No beer
In some cases, more drinks can be skipped per day or the schedule may be adjusted depending on the level of the patient’s comfort.
Alcohol Detox Diet
Another point of curiosity for those with alcoholism is the types of detox diets effective for sobriety. There is no clear-cut protocol for the type of food needed for alcohol detox, but there are general guidelines that can help patients recover better due to the health benefits of proper nutrition.
Once you undergo alcohol detox, you will be provided with meals which emphasize the following food groups:
People who detox from alcohol will tend to crave sugar as alcoholic beverages often contain moderate to high amounts of sugar. Including fruits in your diet will be helpful in reducing alcohol cravings as they contain the natural sugar fructose. Examples of healthy fruits are:
- Berries (Strawberry, Blueberry, Raspberry, Blackberry)
- Apples and Pears
- Citrus (Oranges, Grapefruit, Lime, Lemon)
These fruits also have their separate benefits such as antioxidants to boost overall health.
Detox can be exhausting in the body, which results in fatigue and experiencing mental fog. Whole grains can be a great source of energy as they contain more fiber while providing energy from carbohydrates. Examples of whole grains ideal for alcohol detox are:
- Brown or red rice
- Whole wheat bread, pasta, and crackers
B-vitamin rich foods
B-vitamins are essential in fighting mood problems related to alcohol withdrawal. They can also help in transforming glucose from other foods into energy. Additionally, prolonged alcohol use is associated with low B-vitamins. Some foods rich in B-vitamins are:
- Beans (Lentils, kidney beans, white beans, etc.)
- Meat (Chicken, fish or beef)
- Dark leafy vegetables (Spinach, kale, collard greens, etc.)
A balanced meal plan for alcohol detox will be provided containing these types of foods.
Medications And Vitamins For Alcohol Detox
What specifically are the medications and vitamins that can be used for alcohol detox? High-quality rehab centers have these prescribed medications and supplements in stock to help improve the process of treatment:
These drugs help relieve anxiety and tension related to withdrawal. Additionally, they are used to help alleviate symptoms of insomnia. Common drugs used for alcohol detox under this category are alprazolam, diazepam, and clonazepam.
Note: These medications can be habit-forming when not taken without doctor or specialist advice.
Vitamins and supplements
Vitamin-B supplements such as Thiamine can help replenish the deficiency related to alcohol use. L-glutamine is another supplement that can be given to reduce alcohol cravings. A study indicated that the lack of glutamate compounds in the brain is associated with untreated Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).
Intravenous fluids can be another way to provide hydration and sugars in the body. Some people experience diarrhea and vomiting during the withdrawal period, and giving IV fluids can be helpful in replenishing the body’s water content and electrolytes.
Alcohol Detox: Don’t Do It Alone
As the saying goes, “No man is an island”–and this also holds true for any person in their recovery journey. Alcohol detox is safe and effective at best when done with the help of experts. Not only will you be spared from the harm of severe withdrawal, but you will also gain a supportive community who truly understands your needs.
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- Cdc.gov – “Fastats – Alcohol Use”.
- Livescience.com – “Can You Really Die From Alcohol Withdrawal?”.
- Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – “B Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy–A Review”.
- Health.usnews.com – “The Link Between Nutrition, Exercise, and Mood”.
- Mayoclinic.org – “Alcohol Poisoning: Symptoms and Causes”.
- Healthysleep.med.harvard.edu – “Sleep and Mood”.
- Organicconsumers.org – “Yes, You Do Sweat Out Toxins”.
- Healthxchange.sg – “Vitamin B: Best Sources and Signs of Deficiency”.
- Aafp.org – “Outpatient Management of Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome”.
- Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – “Perturbation of the Glutamate–Glutamine System in Alcohol Dependence and Remission”
Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.
Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.