Even if someone is not addicted to the point where it poses a risk to their life or health, the pain and discomfort of alcohol withdrawal can be awful. Shakes, sweats, nausea, hallucinations, anxiety, delirium, and insomnia are just a few of the issues which heavy drinkers can look forward to experiencing if they try to quit alcohol cold turkey.
Alcohol withdrawal medications and medical supervision can help manage the severity of these symptoms. If they can be kept in check, someone has a much better chance of making it through acute withdrawal and moving forward with their recovery. Aside from medications to calm the hyperactive symptoms, some treatments can be used to help the body handle the symptoms to the best of its ability. Sleep aids, IV fluids, and vitamin supplements can possibly reduce the symptoms, and they may help speed up the body’s recovery.
For many people withdrawing from alcohol, depression and anxiety are increased significantly both during and especially after, one stops drinking suddenly. Without psychiatric support, dangerous circumstances are created not only for someone’s chances of recovery but often to their mental health and maybe even their life as well.As for the long-term mental health of a recovering alcoholic, there is often a period known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome where symptoms will linger for many months. Without medication and counseling to manage this, the quality of life of a recovering addict will certainly decline and there is also an increased risk of relapse.
When someone who has developed a physical dependence on alcohol stops drinking suddenly, the body and brain are under extreme stress due to chemical imbalances which result in a wide range of physical symptoms. Even if these do not result in death, they can easily lead to situations where someone is unable to get help or is so confused and disoriented that they make a fatal mistake or injure others.
Some of the greatest and most common dangers of detoxing from alcohol at home include:
For more information about alcohol withdrawal seizures, check out our detailed article.
The greatest danger in quitting alcohol without medical supervision is that simply put, it can kill you. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is a serious condition that may result in multiple health issues, seizures, and death. Due to the changes the brain makes from the chronic presence of alcohol, the brain is suddenly unable to function properly without alcohol present.
Finally, delirium tremens is a condition unique to alcohol withdrawal. It is a comprehensive condition involving both the mind and body and is very dangerous – especially to those who detox at home. It is estimated that untreated delirium tremens has a mortality rate of 35% which is extraordinary. While delirium tremens is still extremely dangerous, modern medications and treatment available at alcohol detox centers will reduce the mortality rate to about 5%.
These risks can typically be managed with medication and medical supervision, but unmonitored they are a very real concern.
The greatest risk of self-detox, other than death of course, is the issue of relapse. While studies vary in the exact numbers, it is certain that the relapse rates are much higher for those who detox from alcohol at home. Having access to support from medical, psychology, and psychiatry professionals will substantially increase the chances of successful recovery. A detox program is often the first introduction to recovery and can help them safely and comfortably endure withdrawal, and continue long term treatment.
There are also unique long term risks associated with detoxing from alcohol at home. These are mostly caused by the actual withdrawal process itself and are made much more severe by going “cold turkey” without medications to manage the symptoms.
Self-detoxing from alcohol increases the level of risks associated with each of the following:
While putting an exact number on this is difficult, a cohort study done by the VA and Stanford provides an effective illustration. This study looked at two groups, alcoholics who received treatment and alcoholics who were untreated over two milestones at 3 and 16 years. It was found that of those who were untreated, only 43% were still sober after 3 years. Of those that did receive treatment, 62% had stayed sober after 3 years. This shows that receiving treatment significantly increases someone’s chances of staying sober long term.
Furthermore, at the 16-year mark this trend continued. Of those who were not treated but who were sober at 3 years, only 40% of them remained sober at 16 years. Of the group who did receive treatment and were sober at 3 years, 58% of them remained sober at the 16-year mark.
To summarize, the chances of successful long term recovery are increased if someone reaches out for help and undergoes treatment.
Lasting recovery requires support. This could be in the form of family, friends, others in recovery themselves, or trained treatment providers. Either way, quitting alcohol cold turkey is a lonely method and is unlikely to produce positive or long term results. The care and support of others in recovery, doctors, psychiatrists, therapists, caseworkers, and support groups can make all the difference in the world.
Support while going through withdrawal is crucial to success. Aside from the direct risks, the first few days of detox pose the highest risk of relapse by far. Someone who is going the cold turkey route will probably be alone and will definitely be miserable. The prospect of ending the discomfort with just a single drink may look more and more appealing as the alcohol withdrawal symptoms intensify.
Having access to support from medically trained recovery professionals will substantially increase the chances of successful alcoholism treatment. Entering an alcohol detox center can provide access to resources that may not be available otherwise. This can help someone safely and comfortably endure withdrawal, and continue long term treatment.
If you are seeking drug and alcohol related addiction rehab for yourself or a loved one, the sponsored hotline is a confidential and convenient solution.
Calls to any sponsored hotline (non-facility) will be answered by:
If you wish to contact a specific medical detox center then find a specific detox center using our detox locator tool.
Alternatives to finding addiction treatment or learning about substance abuse:
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