Can You Die During Alcohol Withdrawal?

Without treatment, alcohol abuse can lead to serious long-term health consequences. Alcohol abuse is linked to chronic medical issues, including high blood pressure, certain cancers, and digestive problems.

Choosing to stop drinking can be a life-saving decision, but giving up alcohol after a period of frequent, heavy, or long-term alcohol use can be very challenging. When someone has been living with alcohol abuse for some time, their body adjusts to the presence of alcohol. Without it, their body cannot function like it is used to doing, and they will likely experience uncomfortable physical and emotional symptoms. This is called withdrawal.

While many of the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are uncomfortable, some people develop life-threatening complications that require immediate medical intervention and treatment. While rare, it is possible to die during alcohol withdrawal.

Seeking medical care from an alcohol detox center in New Jersey can help you stay safe and comfortable during the process, making it easier to have a complete detox. Learning more about what to expect during detox can help you anticipate what’s coming next and stay motivated throughout withdrawal–even when it feels challenging.

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What Are Common Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms?

Alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant. If a person drinks frequently or heavily for a period of time, their body adjusts to the continual presence of alcohol by boosting CNS activity. If they abruptly stop drinking, their CNS remains in a heightened state, which causes many of the common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms often begin within a few hours or days of a person’s last drink. For most, withdrawal symptoms are physically and emotionally uncomfortable. Common alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:[1]

  • Sweating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Hand tremors
  • Insomnia
  • Physical agitation
  • Auditory and visual hallucinations
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Anxiety

Many people find alcohol withdrawal so uncomfortable that they begin to drink again to get relief. This is known as a relapse. Relapsing after a period of abstinence can sometimes be dangerous, and many people feel discouraged when it happens.

While most people who go through alcohol withdrawal have uncomfortable symptoms for a few days or weeks, some people die during alcohol withdrawal after developing severe complications.

Can People Die During Alcohol Withdrawal?

 

In rare circumstances, people can die during alcohol withdrawal. Certain factors make it more likely for someone to develop life-threatening complications of withdrawal, but anyone can face severe harm. Understanding the dangers of alcohol withdrawal can help you make informed choices about your care and treatment.

Seizures

Up to a third of people in alcohol withdrawal experience seizures.[2] Without treatment, these seizures can cause someone to die from alcohol withdrawal. Benzodiazepines can be prescribed by alcohol detox facilities to help prevent seizures.

Increased central nervous system activity can lead to grand mal seizures. Head injuries and other bodily trauma are possible when someone has untreated seizures, which can lead to death.

Depression

Many people with alcohol withdrawal experience disruptive psychological symptoms, including severe depression. Without treatment, severe depression can result in suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (Wet Brain)

This severe medical condition can develop after a long period–usually years–of heavy drinking. Alcohol prevents the body from absorbing and storing an essential vitamin called Thiamin. In time, a Thiamin deficiency can cause brain damage. People with Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome experience symptoms similar to dementia–called “wet brain”–and can die without extensive medical intervention.

Delirium Tremens (DTs)

This rare, life-threatening condition can develop during alcohol withdrawal due to excessive central nervous system agitation. Delirium Tremens causes seizures, stroke, and heart attack if left untreated.

Some of the early symptoms of DTs are:[3]

  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting
  • Hallucinations
  • Dangerously elevated body temperature
  • Rapid heart rate

Delirium Tremens can be fatal. About 5% of people who develop DTs die from it directly, but a fifth will die from other complications of the condition, including injuries from falls and other accidents.

Cardiac Arrest

Alcohol withdrawal can trigger a fatal cardiac arrest or heart attack. People with a history of heart disease are especially likely to die during alcohol withdrawal from cardiac arrest.

Alcohol Poisoning/Overdose

Drinking after a period of abstinence can be life-threatening because tolerance is reduced. People may be more likely to experience alcohol poisoning during a relapse.

While life-threatening complications during alcohol withdrawal are rare, it’s crucial to be aware of the possibility of these events and seek professional treatment to prevent them.

What Factors Increase the Likelihood That Someone Will Die From Alcohol Withdrawal?

Some risk factors can increase the risk that someone will experience potentially life-threatening from alcohol withdrawal. These include:

  • Serious health conditions like cancer, heart disease, pneumonia, hepatitis, liver disease, and pancreatitis
  • Recent or severe injury
  • Infection
  • Old age

Even without these risk factors, a person can develop life-threatening complications during alcohol withdrawal. It’s essential to seek treatment from a medically-supported detox program to prevent severe withdrawal symptoms and increase your odds of success.

During detox, medical and support staff will monitor and treat your withdrawal symptoms with medications, emotional care, and holistic therapies to support your overall well-being as you go through withdrawal. This care and treatment will help you achieve a safe, comfortable, complete detox from alcohol and prepare you for comprehensive substance abuse treatment. Medical detox is the best way to ensure your safety while detoxing from alcohol.

Find Help Now

At Moving Mountains Recovery, we understand the seriousness of alcohol addiction, especially since it is the most common addiction that our clients struggle with. The objective at Moving Mountains is to help clients recover in a safe and comfortable environment, with an abundance of peer and clinical support.

Treatment begins with detox, so we will help you find a licensed alcohol detox facility for you to go to before transitioning to one of our supportive alcoholism treatment programs. Our staff is equipped and ready to help with any questions or concerns. Make the life-changing phone call today.

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4085800/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1312739/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6286444/
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