Alcoholism is a highly complex disease, and the treatment plan must address each of these factors. If you’ve decided to quit drinking, detoxing is the first step in the recovery process and involves breaking your physical addiction to alcohol. If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence, a clear protocol for detoxing will help you feel prepared and more at ease.
You may be hesitant about entering a treatment program for a variety of reasons. A self-detox program is significantly less expensive than traditional inpatient detox and rehab programs, which usually cost thousands of dollars. Completing a detox program at home means that you can remain in the comfort of your home and within the infrastructure of support from your family members, friends, and community.
Here we discuss strategies for how to safely detox from alcohol at home and how to physically and mentally set yourself up for success in the post-detox recovery period.
How to Detox from Alcohol at Home Naturally and Safely: Have a Game Plan
A well-planned alcohol detox program can be successfully completed at home. Understanding symptoms of withdrawal, incorporating nutritional and herbal remedies into your diet, and preparing for the post-detox recovery period are the vital components of a home detox program.
Alcohol Withdrawal: What to Expect
Chronic alcohol use essentially rewires your brain and central nervous system. Neurotransmitter receptors become more or less active to compensate for the presence of alcohol. When you suddenly stop drinking, cellular activities proceed as if you were still drinking. This results in neurotransmitter levels that are imbalanced and cause a variety of symptoms.
If you’re detoxing from alcohol, you will experience several uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms as your body readjusts to functioning without alcohol.
Common, minor symptoms include:
- Increased heart rate
- High blood pressure
- Pupil dilation
- Mood swings
- Hand tremors
- Increased body temperature
Seizures and delirium tremens are life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. Immediate medical treatment is required in the case of severe symptoms like seizures, hallucinations, delusions, hyperactivity, and disorientation.
Wean Yourself off Alcohol Slowly
Slowly tapering your alcohol intake, instead of quitting cold-turkey, decreases the chance of experiencing serious symptoms requiring medical attention.
So how long does it take to detox from alcohol at home? This will vary depending on the level of dependence and volume of alcohol consumption but generally, plan to give yourself a week to taper your drinking. When gradually reducing your consumption, plan to reduce the number of drinks by about two each day. Space out your drinking over the day, to prevent acute alcohol intoxication and poisoning. After your last drink, withdrawal symptoms will continue to subside.
Taking Care of Your Body During Alcohol Detox
Detoxification is the first step in fighting alcohol addiction and is the starting point for cellular repair. Eating nutritious foods and replenishing your body with essential vitamins and minerals will help your body reverse alcohol-induced damage and ease alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Feeling healthier will help you stay strong during recovery and curb your desire to reach for another drink.
Before exploring therapeutic foods and herbs, let’s first take a look at what happens to your body during alcohol consumption.
What Does Drinking Do to Your Body?
Alcohol is a chemical that causes oxidative stress and inflammation throughout your body. In turn, your cellular processes are less effective at clearing waste products and carrying out normal functions. The resulting impact is inefficient cellular activity that can be compared to premature aging.
Heavy drinking impacts nearly all organ systems and depletes your body of essential macronutrients and micronutrients, especially those necessary for brain and liver function.
Your liver is the primary organ responsible for processing alcohol, and continual alcohol intake can cause liver inflammation. Over time inflammation can lead to steatosis, which is the accumulation of fat cells in the liver. Continual steatosis results in scar tissue formation, a condition called fibrosis. If you’ve been dependent on alcohol for over a decade, you are at a higher risk for liver cirrhosis, which is an advanced form of liver damage that requires specialized treatment to prevent the development of serious complications.
Nutrients for Healing
Proper nutrition is key to healing alcohol-induced damage, promoting recovery, and ameliorating unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Eating a balanced diet will help ensure adequate intake of essential nutrients. Individuals who drink heavily are particularly susceptible to deficiencies and imbalances in vitamin B, vitamin C, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, and amino acids.
Alcoholism causes deficiencies in B vitamins, including thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pyridoxine (B6), and folate (B9). Alcohol has a detrimental impact on the digestive system and intestinal absorption of nutrients, and folate especially is not absorbed efficiently. B vitamins are critical for neurological functioning, and deficiency can exacerbate neuropsychiatric symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal. Natural food sources of B vitamins include vegetables, fruits, eggs, lean meats, cheese, and milk. In cases of severe deficiency, supplementing with a vitamin containing a complex of all B vitamins may be the best option.
Vitamin C and Zinc
Chronic alcohol intake also increases the likelihood of vitamin C and zinc deficiency. Both of these micronutrients support immune system function and counteract inflammation caused by alcohol consumption. Green vegetables, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, citrus fruits, and red peppers are rich sources of vitamin C; lean meats, yogurt, oatmeal, nuts, and seeds are rich sources of zinc.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Alcohol deprives your brain of healthy fats needed for brain function. Omega-3 fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory impact on the brain and facilitate neuronal function by fortifying brain cell membranes and structure. Fatty fish, flaxseeds, and chia seeds are excellent dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Amino acids are the smallest units of protein and are critical for nearly all physiological functions. Amino acids are also building blocks of neurotransmitters. Chronic alcohol use tends to disrupt the body’s natural balance of amino acids. Research shows that branched-chain amino acids )BCAAs) are essential amino acids that play an important role in mitigating liver damage associated with alcoholism and can also help prevent complications of alcoholism like hepatic encephalopathy. Other essential amino acids, particularly phenylalanine and tryptophan, are used in the production of neurotransmitters dopamine, noradrenaline, and serotonin. Restoring healthy neurotransmission can help improve sleep cycle and mood during alcohol withdrawal. High-quality protein sources like lean meats, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, nuts, and vegetables provide your body with ideal ratios of amino acids for healing. A well-balanced amino acid supplement can help prevent serious cognitive symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, and enhance healing post-withdrawal.
Herbal Remedies to Cleanse Your Liver
In addition to nutritional changes, you can also incorporate herbal remedies into your diet. The healing effects of certain herbs can expedite the repair of alcohol-induced damage.
- Dandelion: You may know dandelion as just a weed with bright yellow flowers that grow in abundance during the summer. It may be surprising that dandelion was originally used in traditional Chinese medicine as a healing herb and is a potent protector of the liver. Research shows that dandelion fights against alcohol-induced oxidative damage and inflammation in the liver. Brewing a cup of dandelion tea is a great way to isolate dandelion’s medicinal properties.
- Milk Thistle: Milk thistle is a leafy plant with purple flowers, and like dandelion, it is considered to be a weed. Milk thistle serves as a cleanser for your liver. Eating milk thistle greens in salad or taking high-quality supplements can help your liver recover from damage. Research demonstrates that components found in milk thistle combats alcohol-induced fat accumulation in the liver.
- Ginseng: Ginseng is a plant native to East Asia and used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. This remedial root has protective effects on both the brain and liver. Studies show that ginseng helps prevent brain cell damage caused by inflammation and mitigates liver fibrosis. Ginseng has a spicy taste and drinking a cup of ginseng tea can harness its healing effects.
Taking Care of Your Mind Post-Detox
Alcohol abuse is often a product of several intertwined factors, including neuropsychiatric factors, genetic predispositions, and psychological patterns. Detox may take care of the physical dependency on alcohol but unearthing the cause of psychological dependency on alcohol is another journey. Mental health care is vital to understanding your triggers and ensuring that you’re on a path to healing. Setting up an appointment with a mental health care provider as soon as possible post-detox will lower the risk for relapse and facilitate mental healing.
Establish New, Healthy Habits
During the period of alcohol withdrawal, begin setting up healthy habits as you enter the post-detox recovery stage. This includes planning meals that are nutritious and high in important vitamins, minerals, and proteins, as well as maintaining a regular sleep schedule. Taking up a new hobby can help distract yourself from cravings. Many times, an active hobby helps divert attention from mental cravings to the physical task at hand.
Surround Yourself with Support
Family members, friends, and other trusted people can help you as you detox from alcohol. Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous can be a resource to connect you to others with similar experiences and can help relieve the feeling of isolation.
How to Help Someone Detox from Alcohol at Home
If you are helping a loved one detox from alcohol at home, your encouragement and support is absolutely invaluable to a successful and sustained detox and recovery.
Here are a few examples of ways you can provide support:
- Help plan meals
- Keep an eye out for worrisome symptoms that may require medical intervention
- Help create distractions
- Driving your loved one to appointments
Though alcohol detox can be safely done at home, it’s important to know when you need professional help. Some alcohol withdrawal symptoms are life-threatening and need immediate medical attention.
Seizures and delirium tremens cannot be managed at home and can lead to cardiovascular failure and death if left untreated. If you notice seizing, confusion, hallucinations, or any other concerning symptoms, it’s best to receive immediate medical attention.
If you have underlying heart conditions, history of suicidal ideations, have experienced seizures or delirium tremens during a previous detox, use other drugs, or have any other serious illness, it is better to do a medically-supervised detox program.
Even without underlying medical conditions or serious withdrawal symptoms, it can still be a good idea to check in with your general practitioner. Your doctor can perform blood and urine tests that assess liver and kidney function, to ensure that you’re fit enough to continue detox without constant medical supervision.
Recovery is a Process; Detox is the First Step
An at-home detox that is well-planned will make alcohol withdrawal more tolerable and set the tone for the recovery process. A holistic approach to detox that optimizes nutrition and lifestyle will support the health and healing of your body and mind.