Addicts and alcoholics are natural-born do-it-yourselfers. They habitually go about “doing things my way,” often with less than spectacular results. So it’s no surprise that many of them repeatedly try at home detox rather than submitting themselves to treatment. This has led to a burgeoning market in questionable remedies available on the internet.
The problem is that at home detox is unsafe and ineffective. The safety factor is paramount: unsupervised detox can lead to severe consequences and even to death. Symptoms of withdrawal from opiates, for example, include:
- Nausea and cramps
- Chills and sweats
- Depression and/or irritability
- Extreme craving to recommence opiate use
Alcohol dependency is even more difficult to interrupt without help. Withdrawal from alcohol (as well as from benzodiazepines) poses even more acute discomfort and possibility of life-threatening complications.
Besides the consideration of safety, there’s the problem of effectiveness. The addict’s primary dilemma is being trapped in a cycle of obsession to use while not under the influence and a craving to continue once having started. If the cycle is interrupted, the obsession to resume increases in direct proportion to the discomfort the withdrawals cause. The addicted brain knows what it wants and gives priority to getting it; without supervision, the alcoholic or addict needs a tremendous amount of willpower to endure detox without help. Unfortunately, willpower, at least in the domain of substance abuse, is by definition exactly the quality that the alcoholic/addict cannot bring to bear on his or her problem.
Whether or not the addict needs full medical detox depends on the severity of their dependency (usually determined by the consistency and length of usage, and the dosage) as well as by the presence of co-occurring medical conditions. Most alcoholics and addicts can benefit from what is called “social detoxification,” which is defined as detox in a residential, nonmedical environment with trained staff, monitoring, counseling, and peer/social support. Government standards are provided for facilities that provide social detox.