Is It Possible To Die From Alcohol Withdrawal?
Withdrawing from alcohol isn’t as safe as some people may think it is, especially when it’s done without medical supervision.
Because of these risks, it’s not advised to go through withdrawal alone. Medical detox with an experienced healthcare professional, as well as other preventative methods, can ensure you stay safe while making the change to lead an alcohol-free life.
What Causes Death During Alcohol Withdrawal?
It’s not necessarily alcohol withdrawal alone that kills people, it’s usually the disorders and medical conditions that can occur during withdrawal that could lead to death.
Some of the conditions that can appear during alcohol withdrawal that can be life-threatening include:
- delirium tremens
- cardiac arrhythmias
- complications from seizures
- gastrointestinal bleeding
- cirrhosis or liver disease
- Wernicke-korsakoff syndrome
Delirium Tremens (DTs)
Delirium tremens refers to the hyperactivity and hallucinations that can develop with alcohol withdrawal syndrome.
DT’s can develop within 24-72 hours after your last drink and symptoms tend to stay around for 1-7 days. For those who go through alcohol withdrawal and experience DTs, it’s estimated that one to four percent of them die.
Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is a nervous system disorder caused by a deficiency of vitamin B1 or a thiamine deficiency. Symptoms include ataxia, paralysis of eye muscles, severe amnesia, cognitive impairment, disorientation, and delirium.
If not treated fast enough, it can lead to coma and eventual death.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Before someone gets to the point of DTs or fatal seizures, they may experience a variety of withdrawal symptoms that can include:
- trouble sleeping
- nausea or vomiting
- feeling on edge or restless
- visual, auditory, or tactile hallucinations
- feeling disoriented or confused
- rapid heart rate
- high blood pressure
- high body temperature
Factors That Increase The Risk Of Severe Alcohol Withdrawal
How severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms are and how likely you are to get DTs or some of the more fatal symptoms is based on a number of different factors including:
- prior detox attempts
- prior seizures
- prior history of delirium tremens
- nervous system disturbances
- elevated liver enzymes
- co-occurring mental health disorders
- how long you’ve been using alcohol
- level of alcohol consumption
- level of alcohol dependence
- how long since last drink
- other underlying medical conditions
How To Reduce The Risk Of Severe Alcohol Withdrawal
While alcohol withdrawal can become severe, there are a couple of ways to reduce the risks to make it less likely you’ll need to worry about the potentially fatal effects.
Seeking medical support is the best thing you can do when going through alcohol withdrawal. With medical supervision, you’re much less likely to experience more serious symptoms like DTs and seizures.
Additionally, medically supervised detox programs and inpatient detox programs address and treat symptoms as they occur, making you much more comfortable than if you try to detox on your own.
Whether you seek treatment at an alcohol detox center or at a hospital, medical support is the most important thing you can do to reduce the risk of death.
These medications can help manage anxiety, tremors, and hallucinations. They can also help with any mental health issues or co-occurring disorders that the alcohol was hiding.
You may also be given anti-seizure medication to decrease any abnormal brain activity and reduce the risk of seizures.
Because alcohol is a diuretic and causes the body to take fluids from the blood, it’s very important that you keep yourself hydrated during the detox process.
You also may be vomiting a good amount during this time and need to rehydrate your body so it can continue to function properly.
If you or a loved one struggles with substance abuse, call our helpline today to determine which addiction treatment options are best for you.
DovePress - Management of Alcohol Withdrawal in the Emergency Department: Current Perspectives
Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hepatology - Delirium Tremens: Assessment and Management
National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Complications of Alcohol Withdrawal
StatPearls - Alcohol Withdrawal
StatPearls - Delirium Tremens
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