The Deadly Dangers of Attempting to Detox Off Alcohol At Home


Alcohol detox at home can be fatal. Actor Nelsan Ellis’ Death Was a Direct Result of it.

  • Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a high profile death to remind people about the dangers of alcohol withdrawal.

Just this month, 39-year-old actor Nelsan Ellis, most famous for his work on HBO’s vampire series “True Blood,” attempted a home detox. His struggle with alcoholism lasted over the course of many years and he’d decided to withdrawal on his own, which resulted in him being rushed to the hospital where ultimately died of heart failure.

“During his withdrawal from alcohol,” Ellis’s father told the Hollywood Reporter, “he had a blood infection, his kidneys shutdown, his liver was swollen, his blood pressure plummeted, and his dear sweet heart raced out of control.”

Amy Winehouse

“While you’re withdrawing from other drugs,” Cyndie Dunkerson told NBC News, “you may want to do die, but alcohol detox is the only actual drug detox you can die from.” Dunkerson, a supervisor at a drug and alcohol detox and rehab center in San Juan Capistrano, California, added, “The body just can’t handle getting off [alcohol] that well. The body just doesn’t handle getting off of it very well,” says Dunkerson. Of those who don’t survive detox, ”most people, if they are not dying from a gastrointestinal bleed, they die from a really bad grand mal seizure.”

Detox should never occur at home because there is no shame in asking for help, getting treatment and getting back to fulfilling, healthy life. Alcohol and drug addiction is a chronic disease, not a moral failing. For those struggling with it, the physical and mental alcohol withdrawal symptoms are very real.

There’s no doubt that addiction to drugs and alcohol brings with it a psychic storage room packed floor to ceiling with guilt, remorse and shame. This is in part due to the effects substance abuse has on the brain’s chemical makeup, which worsens symptoms of depression. Another factor, sadly, is public perception, how society views people battling addiction, that they’re weak or lack morals, despite numerous studies proving addiction is a chronic disease, like diabetes, cancer or Crohn’s.

These issues, among others – no health insurance or access to medical treatment – are why some individuals make the dangerous, occasionally fatal, attempt to stop drinking cold turkey and detox from alcohol at home, by themselves.

woman detoxing off alcohol at homeAlcohol withdrawal, according to Alcohol Health and Research World, affects chronic drinkers who decide to decrease their alcohol intake or stop altogether. The body’s central nervous system adapts and compensates for the depressive effect constant alcohol consumption has on the brain. Going “cold turkey” throws the central nervous system in to a state of shock that brings on alcohol withdrawal.

Symptoms of alcohol detox will vary from person to person, depending on their normal alcohol intake; the length of time and at what intensity alcohol dependency has been a part of their life. Mild effects of detox, such as insomnia or depression, can present as quickly as two hours after an individual’s last drink. Left untreated, however, symptoms can quickly escalate.

Side Effects

Some painful side effects of alcohol withdrawal or detox can include the following:

  • Anxiety, agitation, irritability and other mood swings
  • Hyper-excitability or sensory overload
  • Hand tremors
  • Loss of appetite, digestive distress
  • Headaches, excessive sweating and heart palpitations

Detoxing from heavy, long-term drinking raises the stakes and should never be done at home or without medical supervision. These symptoms can arrive two to three days after a person’s last drink and lead to Delirium Tremens (DTs), which may include the following:

  • General confusion about surroundings
  • Body tremors
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Abnormally rapid heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Profuse sweating and agitation
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Death