Can You Die From Withdrawal? What You Need to Know

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Withdrawing from alcohol or other drugs can be a deeply distressing experience. When symptoms peak, you might feel like you are about to die. But are you in actual danger? Can you die from withdrawal?

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What Is Withdrawal?

When you abuse alcohol, opioids, or other substances over an extended period, they can cause drastic changes to your body and mind, such as altering how your central nervous system functions and causing imbalances in certain brain chemicals. 

When you abruptly end your use of a substance that you have become addicted to, your body may struggle to re-establish a sense of equilibrium. This process can cause a variety of physical and/or psychological symptoms, which are referred to collectively as withdrawal.

Common Withdrawal Symptoms

Your experience during withdrawal can be affected by a variety of factors, including:

  • Your age and gender
  • Your weight and metabolism
  • What substance you are withdrawing from
  • How long you have been abusing that substance
  • How much of the substance you typically use
  • If you have any co-occurring mental health disorders
  • If you have any medical concerns

Depending on those and other factors, the potential physical effects of withdrawal can include:

  • Watery eyes and runny nose
  • Blurred vision
  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension
  • Abnormal heart rate
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Stomach aches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Pain in muscles and bones
  • Tics and tremors
  • Insomnia

Withdrawal can also cause a variety of psychological symptoms, such as:

  • Drug cravings
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Increased sensitivity to light, sound, and touch

Withdrawal from some drugs involves primarily physical symptoms, while others may cause mostly psychological distress or a combination of the two. Withdrawal from opioids, benzodiazepines, and alcohol are typically among the most difficult, involving a number of intense symptoms from both categories.

Can You Die From Withdrawal?

As we noted in the introduction to today’s post, withdrawal can sometimes make you feel like you’re dying. How accurate is this feeling, though? Can you die from withdrawal, or is fear of death simply an overreaction to acute (but temporary) physical and psychological pain?

The good news is that going through withdrawal is not usually accompanied by a risk of death.

The bad news is that “not usually” isn’t the same as “never.”

So, to repeat the question: Can you die from withdrawal? In some extreme circumstances, yes, you can. 

Most withdrawal-related deaths involve people who experience a particularly dangerous set of symptoms called delirium tremens (DTs) while attempting to rid their body of alcohol.

Research indicates that about 3%-5% of people with alcohol use disorder (alcoholism) will develop the DTs during withdrawal. Typically occurring about 48 hours after a person’s last drink, the DTs can include extreme restlessness, profound confusion, hallucinations, cardiovascular distress, and respiratory failure.

To underscore the seriousness of the risk posed by the DTs, experts estimate that the mortality rate would be about 37% without treatment. Among those who complete withdrawal under the care of trained professionals, the risk of death from the DTs is about 3%.

People have also died while withdrawing from opioids, though this happens far less frequently than alcohol withdrawal deaths. 

The biggest risk during opioid withdrawal appears to be dehydration due to severe vomiting and diarrhea. This is a far less complex problem than the DTs, and one that can be relatively easily managed when a person withdraws with proper professional support. However, if someone tries to go through opioid withdrawal at home on their own, their risk of death could increase.

Benefits of Detox for Withdrawal

Detoxification, or detox, is a short-term program that can help people get through withdrawal safely and as comfortably as possible.

The information in the previous section alludes to perhaps the most significant benefit of detox for withdrawal: safety. In a reputable detox program, you will be cared for by a team of experienced professionals. In addition to providing medication to ease the severity of your symptoms, the members of your detox treatment team can also monitor your vital signs and ensure that you receive proper nutrition and hydration.

Detox for withdrawal also offers a host of additional benefits, such as:

  • Drug-free environment: While you’re in detox, you won’t have access to the substance you’ve become addicted to. This prevents you from relapsing during periods of particularly difficult withdrawal symptoms.
  • Comfort: The professionals who care for you during detox will be familiar with all phases of the withdrawal process, and can provide various services to ease your discomfort as your symptoms intensify and peak.
  • Therapeutic support: You may be able to begin therapy while you’re still in detox. This can help you learn to manage symptoms that aren’t alleviated by medication. It can also prepare you to start making the changes that will support your successful recovery.
  • Success and hope: Getting through withdrawal is a significant accomplishment. The knowledge that you are capable of doing more than you may have once believed can be valuable to you throughout your recovery journey.
  • Continuity of care: Once you have completed detox, you can transition directly into a residential or outpatient program, where you can begin to develop the skills that will help you achieve long-term recovery. 

Learn More About Detox in Atlanta

Peachtree Detox is a premier provider of medical detoxification services for adults in the Atlanta, Georgia, area. With our help, you can successfully rid your body of alcohol and other addictive substances safely and with minimal discomfort.

Features of care at our center include thorough assessments by medical professionals, personalized detox plans, medication management to ease your symptoms, emotional support via counseling services, and round-the-clock supervision.

To learn more about our detox in Atlanta, please visit our Admissions page or call our center today. We look forward to answering all your questions and helping you decide if Peachtree Detox is the ideal place for you or a loved one.