• For 24/7 Treatment Help Call:

    (800) 526-5053

  • Withdrawing from alcohol isn’t as safe as some people may think it is, especially when it’s done without medical supervision. 

    Those struggling with alcohol abuse or alcohol addiction can end up dying due to a number of alcohol withdrawal symptoms like seizures and delirium tremens (DTs)

    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
    • hyperthermia
    • cardiac arrhythmias
    • complications from seizures
    • gastrointestinal bleeding
    • cirrhosis or liver disease
    • pneumonia
    • 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

    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:

    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. 

    Medical Support

    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.

    Medications

    Medical professionals may also give you medications when certain symptoms develop. Most of the time, these medications include benzodiazepines and antipsychotic medications. 

    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. 

    Fluids

    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.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2022 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.
    Sources

    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

    Medically Reviewed by
    Dr. Manish Mishra, MBBS
    on June 28, 2021
    Questions About Treatment?

    Ark Behavioral Health offers 100% confidential substance abuse assessment and treatment placement tailored to your individual needs. Achieve long-term recovery.

    100% confidential. We respect your privacy.
    Prefer Texting?
    We've got you covered.

    Receive 24/7 text support right away.
    There is no obligation and you can opt out at any time.

    chat-header

    For Immediate Treatment Help Call 800-526-5053