Once you have developed a dependence on an addictive substance, you will experience uncomfortable physical symptoms when you stop using. This is called withdrawal. The fear of withdrawal is often what keeps an addicted person from stopping their drug abuse or getting help. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Drug and alcohol detoxification is a period of time in which physical and psychological dependence on a drug are broken by abstaining from use. This may seem very similar to those popular detox diets that are meant to cleanse the body from toxins found in foods, but the truth is, detoxification from drugs and alcohol can be much more dangerous if attempted in an outpatient setting.

Inpatient Detox vs. Outpatient Detox

Inpatient detoxification refers to a detox program in which an individual is admitted to a medical facility where they receive a medical assessment and a full treatment plan. The process addresses the person’s needs by treating withdrawal symptoms, monitoring their physical and medical progress and preparing the person for addiction rehab.

Outpatient detoxification is typically a less-monitored treatment plan that allows an addicted person to stay home while detoxing, but requires them to return to a medical facility (usually daily) for treatment sessions. In some cases, the person may be required to stay at a medical facility overnight, but otherwise, the majority of detox process takes place at home.

Most often, medical professionals will recommend that you be admitted to an inpatient detox program because they provide much more support and typically result in less instances of relapse. In fact, one study published by the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that significantly more people completed an inpatient detox program than an outpatient program. Additionally, clinical detox treatment offers medical monitoring around-the-clock so you’ll always have a nurse or doctor nearby in the event of a medical emergency.

Particularly Dangerous Substances for Detox

While any detox experience can be unpredictable, there are certain substances that may pose additional risks, especially if detox takes place without medical supervision. The severity of withdrawal symptoms during detox will vary based on the substance, level of dependence and other individual factors, but detox for the following substances should always take place in a medical environment.


Alcohol detox can be very uncomfortable and dangerous. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually occur within 8 hours of a person’s last drink. Severe symptoms can include seizures and delirium tremens, shaking, confusion and hallucinations. Medical conditions associated with alcoholism such as cirrhosis, pancreatitis and gastrointestinal bleeding may also cause complications during detox. Inpatient detox can help lessen the severity of alcohol withdrawal symptoms with tapering medication, which in turn, decreases the likelihood of developing the most severe symptoms in the first place.


Intense psychological symptoms make detox for benzodiazepines particularly dangerous. A study published by the British Journal of General Practice states that psychological withdrawal symptoms are more common with short-acting benzodiazepines, and can lead to self-harming behaviors. Withdrawal symptoms can begin within 1-4 days and may include seizures, severe depression, anger or anxiety. If you are detoxing from benzodiazepines like Xanax, Klonopin or Valium, it would be safest to do so under the supervision of medical professionals so they can help manage both your physical and psychological responses to detox.


Drugs like heroin (and other short-acting opiates) tend to produce more intense withdrawal side effects, although they are typically shorter-lived. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that withdrawal typically begins within 12 hours of the last dose and side effects usually include anxiety, tremors, muscle aches and agitation. Sometimes people may also experience severe nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. This can be extremely uncomfortable without a nurse or doctor to help manage the physical withdrawal symptoms.

Multiple Substances

If you are addicted to multiple substances at once, your physical withdrawal effects can easily worsen. As the side effects of withdrawal from one substance mix with side effects of withdrawal from another substance, you may experience severe physical responses to everything at once, increasing the risk of a serious medical emergency or even death. Polysubstance detox is highly individualized and should always be completed in a clinical environment.

Main Concerns Regarding At-Home Detox

If you are considering completing drug or alcohol detox at home, please consider the following concerns regarding your health and safety before making a decision.

  1. You have no professional support throughout detox. There is no substitute for having a full medical and clinical team by your side as you go through detox. These addiction specialists provide much needed comfort, education and assistance to get through withdrawal.
  2. The overall discomfort of physical withdrawal symptoms is unpleasant. One of the main reasons people fail to completely detox for alcohol or drugs is because it’s uncomfortable. Experienced medical professionals at a detox facility will be able to manage your physical side effects with medication that comfortably brings you down to a stable and sober state of being.
  3. Serious medical complications may occur. The severity of withdrawal symptoms will vary based on the level of dependence as well as other personal factors, but there is always the risk of a serious medical complication. While it’s hard to think about this, we encourage to consider it. In the event that something were to happen, it could be lifesaving to have a nurse or doctor nearby.
  4. You have easy access to addictive substances at home. In a medical detox facility, the environment is controlled and completely substance-free. But a home, friends or family members may still have alcohol or drugs completely accessible. This makes it very difficult to resist temptation, especially in the midst of uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
  5. Your risk of relapse is greatly increased at home. A harmful living environment, easy access, and physical discomfort all lead to an increased risk of relapse. In a detox facility, our treatment team and others in detox with you will help keep you accountable throughout the entirety of your detox program. This increases your chance for a successful detox and continued recovery.

Avoiding the Danger

The best way to avoid the danger of detoxing at home is to find a reputable medical detox center you can trust. Certified, accredited centers like Hill Country Detox provide high quality care without the cold, impersonal feel of a hospital. Our facility is safe and welcoming and our licensed staff is on-site 24/7 to provide the level of care you need and deserve.

Getting started is easier and quicker than you might expect. Simply call our admissions team at 888.512.5020 to begin with a simple screening and insurance verification. Once we have determined that our facility is a good fit for your needs, we will schedule an intake date and time that is convenient for you. This can even be as early as today!

Drug and alcohol detox doesn’t have to be dangerous and uncomfortable. Experience the safe, easy and effective detoxification we provide here at Hill Country Detox and begin your journey to lifelong recovery now.



  1. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh22-1/44-46.pdf
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2047018/
  3. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/drug-addiction-treatment-in-united-states/types-treatment-programs
  4. http://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/treating-opiate-addiction-part-i-detoxification-and-maintenance
  5. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM198902093200605
  6. http://americanaddictioncenters.org/withdrawal-timelines-treatments/
  7. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000764.htm

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