Naturally Detoxing from Alcohol
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines alcohol use disorder as severe problem drinking characterized by physical dependence on alcohol and a compulsion to consume it, which cannot be controlled. Other kinds of problem drinking include binge drinking (consuming five or more drinks in a short period of time for men, or four or more drink for women) and heavy drinking (consuming more than seven drinks per week for women and more than 14 drinks per week for men). Problem drinking causes 88,000 deaths annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from alcohol poisoning, liver failure, related cancers, and more.
People who struggle with compulsions around alcohol consumption, and who often feel sick after drinking, may want to end their struggles with alcohol. For those with alcohol use disorder, withdrawal symptoms may occur due to the body’s dependence on the intoxicating substance. While there are some natural and home remedies that can ease less intense withdrawal symptoms, getting professional help with detox is essential. Not only does medical oversight help to prevent relapse, but it keeps individuals safe during detox, as alcohol withdrawal can lead to life-threatening symptoms.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
When a person attempts to stop drinking, symptoms of withdrawal are likely to begin 8-72 hours after the last drink – that ranges from within the first day of quitting to three days after the last drink.
- Other mood swings
- Physical tremors
- Cognitive “cloudiness”
- Nightmares or insomnia
Less common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:
- Loss of appetite
- Clammy skin
- Rapid heartbeat
People who experience severe withdrawal symptoms may also develop delirium tremens.
This is an extreme form of alcohol withdrawal. Although some other conditions, like a head injury, can cause the condition, delirium tremens is typically associated with people who quit drinking after consuming several pints or liters of alcohol daily for months or who have been drinking heavily for 10 years or more.
Symptoms of delirium tremens include:
- Changes in cognition
- Shivering or shaking
- Mental agitation and mood swings
- Low attention span
- Fear or paranoia
- Sensitivity to stimuli like light, sound, or touch
- Stupor or fatigue
The danger of delirium tremens means that people who have struggled with alcohol use disorder, heavy drinking, or problem drinking for a long time need medical supervision to safely detox. It is important to see a doctor to assess detox options.
In some instances, a doctor may determine that detoxing from alcohol will not be life-threatening or intensely uncomfortable, so their patient may be able to detox without medical intervention. In this case, there are some natural and home remedies that may ease symptoms during the first week. While these symptoms can get uncomfortable, they are not considered risky.
Natural Remedies a Doctor May Recommend for Alcohol Detox
For people who are not susceptible to delirium tremens or life-threatening alcohol withdrawal symptoms, natural remedies can ease any discomfort felt during the detox process. Again, detox should be overseen by a doctor who can point their patient toward vitamins or over-the-counter medicines to ease symptoms.
- Vitamin B1, or thiamine. Heavy alcohol use strips thiamine from the body. Over years, this process can cause Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome; however, in the short-term, adding B1 vitamin supplements or B1-rich foods to the diet can replenish the body’s reserves and relieve some of the mental fog.
- Other vitamins and minerals. Vitamin C, selenium, magnesium, zinc, and amino acids also ease cravings and discomfort. These should be balanced both in supplements and in foods like lean proteins, green vegetables, and plenty of fruit.
- Herbal remedies: Alcohol is fermented sugar, so it adds a quick burst of energy; when a person stops drinking, adrenal glands may be fatigued from managing these bursts. Herbal remedies can ease this fatigue. Ginseng, rhodiola, or ashwagandha can be found in health stores that supply herbal and vitamin supplements.
- Electrolytes: Drinking water fortified with salts or electrolytes, adding a teaspoon of salt and lemon juice to water, or drinking seltzer water can ease imbalances in sodium and potassium, two very important minerals for mental and physical functioning.
- Melatonin or valerian for sleep: The natural remedy market has many supplements available to ease insomnia and help a person get a full night’s sleep. People experiencing alcohol withdrawal will have a hard time sleeping, so taking small doses of these supplements for a week can ease insomnia and nightmares.
- NSAIDs: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, aspirin, and acetaminophen ease aches and pains in muscles and joints, relieve mild fevers, and lessen headaches. Mild versions of these symptoms during alcohol withdrawal can be managed with NSAIDs in appropriate doses.
Medical Supervision Is Key to Safe Alcohol Detox
Although there are natural remedies to use at home to ease alcohol withdrawal symptoms, detoxing from alcohol or any other drug should never begin without visiting a physician first. A doctor will conduct a physical and ask questions about substance abuse patterns to determine how intense the detox process may be. If withdrawal is mild, the doctor may recommend some of the remedies above along with regular checkups to continue to monitor detox. However, people who are likely to experience more intense withdrawal symptoms, or delirium tremens, need medical interventions, including prescription help. Studies show that medical supervision and social support help more people safely detox from alcohol and prevent relapse during withdrawal.