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Alcohol and Health

Alcohol Withdrawal Treatment at Home: What To Know

January 23, 2024
16 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
January 23, 2024
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
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Reframe Content Team
January 23, 2024
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Finding Hope in the Comfort of Home

  • Alcohol withdrawal is an important period of adjustment in the transition from alcohol dependence to an alcohol-free lifestyle.

  • Treating alcohol withdrawal at home is possible with proper planning and support.

  • The Reframe app offers daily check-ins, professional-led meetings, and a 24/7 peer support network to encourage you on your journey.

Humans are incredibly adaptable — we thrive in extreme environments across the globe, and we’ve made it through incredible natural disasters, pandemics, wars, and great migrations. This adaptability shows up in everyday life when we bounce back from common setbacks.

When we develop alcohol dependence and make the brave choice to change our relationship with alcohol, there may be a period of adjustment — withdrawal. Let’s take a good look at this adjustment period and ways to manage alcohol withdrawal at home, where we are most comfortable. Even if it’s unpleasant, the payoff is worth it: once we get through this, we can start enjoying all the benefits of living alcohol-free.

What Is Alcohol Withdrawal?

When we drink regularly for weeks, months, or years, our body makes fundamental adaptations to the “new normal” of alcohol being present. Once dependence develops, a sudden stop or sharp reduction in alcohol use is a huge shock for our system — a.k.a., withdrawal. It’s our body’s process of recognizing and adjusting to its new-new normal. Depending on the severity and length of our dependence, symptoms can range from mild discomfort to life-threatening. 

During this time, the central nervous system (CNS) is hyper-excitable, which creates our symptoms of withdrawal. Let’s look at some possible symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Tremors
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea

In severe cases, we may experience more life-threatening symptoms:

The symptoms are essentially the opposite of the effects of alcohol, sort of like a rebound from alcohol’s sedative effects

How Does Alcohol Withdrawal Happen?

Regular consumption of alcohol affects the central nervous system. Consider how different we feel when we drink — calm, numb, sleepy, slow. Our body jumps into action to counteract these effects and bring us back to homeostasis.

Over time, our body adapts to the effects of alcohol by adjusting the production of neurotransmitters transmitters — their functions are either functions are either replaced by or hindered by alcohol. Think of it like sitting at home in the heat of summer: you’re in shorts and a t-shirt with the A/C blasting and a fan on. Suddenly, it’s a freezing cold winter’s day. You need to unpack your sweaters from storage, put on some fuzzy socks, turn on the heat, and maybe make some warm tea.

When alcohol use is abruptly reduced or stopped, our brain needs to unpack all the neurotransmitters it had stored away and turn off the overproduction of others — and this takes some time.

While alcohol is in our system, it increases the function of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), an inhibitory neurotransmitter that calms us and slows us down. It also suppresses glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter. When we sober up, the suppressed glutamate system rebounds, causing increased activity and excitability, a key factor in many withdrawal (and hangover!) symptoms.

Cold Turkey

Quitting alcohol abruptly, known as going “cold turkey,” usually produces the most noticeable symptoms, and it’s most commonly associated with the state of withdrawal. The cold turkey approach can be difficult (and sometimes dangerous), but it is also a decisive step towards recovery. With the proper support, it can be effective.

So, what can we expect from withdrawal? Let’s take a look.

How Is Alcohol Withdrawal Treated?

Treating alcohol withdrawal involves a combination of medical interventions, therapies, and, in some cases, rehabilitation programs. The approach depends on the severity of the withdrawal symptoms and our overall health.


Benzodiazepines are frequently used to treat alcohol withdrawal symptoms by calming the nervous system. They help prevent seizures and reduce agitation. Other pharmaceuticals may include anticonvulsants, antipsychotics, and medications to address specific symptoms like nausea or headaches.

For long-term treatment, a doctor may prescribe medications like naltrexone or disulfiram to help maintain sobriety and prevent relapse.

Acute Therapies

Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) are not just for long-term peer support. They can be a crucial lifeline during the withdrawal period when we may be tempted to pick up a drink and “make all the symptoms go away.” In addition to in-person meetings, many support programs offer online, video, and phone meetings throughout the day. (The Reframe app offers meetings multiple times each day and 24/7 access to forums full of supportive, encouraging people to help during the withdrawal process.)

Rehabilitation Programs

In the most severe cases of withdrawal, medical support may be necessary. Inpatient rehab programs offer a controlled environment with supervised medical care. Mild to moderate withdrawal symptoms can be weathered at home or in outpatient rehab settings.

Can Withdrawal Be Treated at Home?

It’s absolutely possible to treat alcohol withdrawal at home with patience, support, and a clear plan. Withdrawal can be managed with home remedies for alcohol withdrawal or under the guidance of a healthcare provider or support partner.

When undergoing alcohol withdrawal treatment at home, it’s important to be familiar with the symptoms and be alert to signs of needing to seek more advanced care. Let’s break it down:

  • Mild symptoms include anxiety, insomnia, nausea, and mild tremors.
  • Moderate symptoms include all of the mild symptoms, plus agitation, mood swings, hot flashes, cold sweats, nausea, and slight fever (under 100.3 F/ 38.3 C).
  • Danger signs include hallucinations, rapid heart rate (tachycardia), persistent vomiting, seizures, severe tremors, confusion, and high fever (above 102 F/ 39 C). These symptoms can indicate a more serious condition like delirium tremens (DTs), which can be life-threatening.

Those of us who have experienced severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal previously are more likely to experience them again. In this case, it may be better to seek preemptive medical care during the withdrawal process.

A care partner, peer support network, or healthcare professional can be a crucial independent observer during the withdrawal period, providing us with comfort care through the process. Even in cases of mild withdrawal, a healthcare professional can offer guidance and support for managing symptoms safely. If we have someone to lean on or can reach out to a professional when necessary, we should include this in our plan.

How To Treat Alcohol Withdrawal at Home

If you're managing mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms at home, here are some essential tips to make the process as safe and effective as possible:

  1. Water, nutrition, sleep. Everything we need for everyday health is even more important during withdrawal. Between sweating and vomiting, withdrawal can leave us dehydrated and low in nutrients. Replenish with water and electrolytes and focus on a balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein.
  2. Create a restful environment. Withdrawal can disrupt sleep patterns. Create a calm, quiet environment with soft lighting, comfy clothing, aromatherapy (if you can tolerate it), and other things that bring you comfort.
  3. Consider over-the-counter medications. For symptoms like headaches or nausea, over-the-counter medications can help. Pain medications like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen are good, but avoid Tylenol because it can be hard on the liver during this stressful time. Antacids and anti-nausea meds can help calm the stomach and allow for proper eating.
  4. Utilize telehealth services. Many primary care physicians offer telehealth services, and most insurance companies have 24/7 nurse lines. If you're unsure about your symptoms or need medical advice, schedule a virtual appointment. Your healthcare provider can also prescribe medication for symptom management, like benzodiazepines or — Zofran, which prevents nausea and vomiting.
  5. Have a support system. Withdrawal can be emotionally taxing. Lean on friends, family, or support groups for emotional support. Asking for help can be difficult, but it’s an important act of self-care — just as alcohol cessation is.
  6. Know when to seek urgent care. If symptoms worsen or if you experience severe withdrawal symptoms like seizures, hallucinations, or intense tremors, seek immediate medical attention. If you’ve been dependent on alcohol for a long time or have used alcohol heavily, this is even more important. (And consider your care partner’s opinion as well; they may be observing things about you that you cannot see.)
  7. Avoid triggers and temptations. Stay away from environments or situations that might tempt you to drink. This approach can help prevent relapse during the withdrawal process.
  8. Be aware of medication interactions. If you're on any medications, be aware of how they might interact with alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Consult a healthcare professional for guidance, and if you’re seeking prescription medications, be honest with your provider about your substance use. There’s no judgment when your safety is at stake.
  9. Avoid drinking. During home treatment, it's important to avoid any alcohol consumption. Allow the body to detoxify. This may mean recruiting an accountability partner or removing temptations from your home (whether that means dumping your booze or hiding away your wine glasses). Whatever it means for you, remember that every drink ultimately prolongs the withdrawal process.

By following these tips, you can help ensure a safer and more manageable withdrawal process at home. However, always be prepared to seek professional medical help if the situation warrants it.

The Long View

After the acute symptoms of withdrawal wear off, the long-term period of alcohol misuse recovery begins. This extends beyond the immediate management of withdrawal symptoms and encompasses a comprehensive approach of therapy, support, and self-work. Over the next few months, your body will continue to adjust to its “new-new normal” as the hedonic setpoint recovers to a healthy baseline level of happiness and well-being.

Long-term recovery entails seeking out support in whatever way works — whether that’s a support group, professional counseling, or a self-care routine. Processing the dependence period is crucial to prevent relapse and set us on the course for long-term recovery. It requires dedication and resilience, but users of the Reframe app are an example that it is possible to thrive in a life of sobriety!

Summary FAQs

1. What is alcohol withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal is a set of symptoms that can occur when regular alcohol users suddenly stop drinking.

2. What are the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal?

Symptoms can range from mild discomforts like insomnia, nausea, anxiety, and mood swings, to severe symptoms like hallucinations, seizures, and delirium tremens (DTs).

3. What helps with alcohol withdrawal?

Rest, hydration, sleep, and proper nutrition are key. Over-the-counter pain and nausea meds can help with the most uncomfortable symptoms, while moderate symptoms can be managed with medications prescribed by a healthcare provider — even over televisit.

4. Can I treat alcohol withdrawal at home?

Yes. With a solid plan and a care partner (or support network), it is possible to treat alcohol withdrawal at home — but keep an eye out for severe and life-threatening symptoms and make a plan to get help if they show up.

5. What are the danger signs of alcohol withdrawal?

If you notice hallucinations, rapid heart rate (tachycardia), persistent vomiting, seizures, severe tremors, confusion, or high fever above 102 F (39 C), it’s time to go to the hospital.

Take the Next Step With Reframe

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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