Can You Die From Alcohol Withdrawal? – The effects of alcohol withdrawal range from mild to life-threatening. Symptoms may onset within a few hours of cessation of alcohol use and can persist for days or weeks.
The worst outcome from alcohol detox is death. To ensure the safety of the client, detox should be monitored by medical professionals. Likewise, these professionals are trained to assist in the event of an emergency and to ensure comfort and relieve symptoms during the withdrawal process.
Why is Alcohol Withdrawal Dangerous?
An alcoholic is dependent on the presence of alcohol in order to keep their body functioning normally. Alcohol is physically addicting, so when an addicted person doesn’t receive the alcohol they’re accustomed to, it can be fatal.
Other Effects of Alcohol Withdrawal
Those who attempt to detox on their own without medical supervision are risking their safety. The following symptoms are common:
- Delirium tremens
Around 5% of people undergoing an alcohol withdrawal experience delirium tremens, otherwise known as the DTs. Delirium tremens is characterized by the following:
- Confusion and disorientation
- Severe tremors
- Racing heartbeat
- High blood pressure
- Low-grade fever
- Excessive sweating
- Severe anxiety
The risk of DTs is higher for those who have been drinking excessively every day for a prolonged period. For instance, a person who consumes more than two bottles of wine, seven pints of beer or a half-liter of hard alcohol each day for several months have a much higher risk of experiencing DTs.
Only about 1 in 20 people who suffer from DTs die, but this death rate is significantly reduced with the receipt of medical care. This is one of the more compelling reasons that alcoholics should receive inpatient medical care during detox.
Mortality From Alcohol Withdrawal
The DTs are the most significant determinants regarding the mortality rate from alcohol withdrawal, but there are also other factors. Withdrawal seizures alone have not been conclusively shown to cause fatalities.
A Spanish study that examined the overall mortality from alcohol withdrawal revealed that 6.6% of people admitted to a hospital due to alcohol withdrawal syndrome died. Furthermore, it was found that patients were more likely to die if they experienced liver cirrhosis, the DTs, pneumonia, difficulty breathing, or some other chronic illness.
What Happens During Withdrawal?
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant (CNS) meaning that it reduces activity in the CNS. Following chronic use, the body becomes accustomed to alcohol’s presence, and upon cessation, the CNS attempts to adapt to the lack of alcohol. Moreover, the system becomes overactive and out of balance.
Anyone who has experienced a hangover has encountered these symptoms to some extent. While most people can cut down or quit without medical supervision and suffer no major complications, there are some exceptions that require clinical assistance.
Other Potentially Serious Effects
The effects of alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) can manifest within hours of discontinuing drinking. Symptoms of AWS can include trembling, headache, hypertension, anxiety, and tachycardia (increased heart rate).
Low electrolyte levels can also result in cardiac complications during withdrawal, including arrhythmia and sudden death due to cardiac arrest. Hypophosphatemia (low levels of phosphate) can cause muscle weakness, coma, and the impairment of normal breathing functions.
Metabolic abnormalities can also impact heart and lung function if the blood becomes too acidic, which can occur following a seizure or as a result of excessive alcohol use. These metabolic abnormalities can often be corrected through an adequate intake of vitamins, fluids, and sugar.
A condition known as alcoholic ketoacidosis, a potentially fatal condition, is similar to that experienced by those with type 1 diabetes mellitus. Ketoacidosis is induced by alcohol’s effect on the pancreas’ ability to create insulin but can be treated effectively with medical assistance.
As far as medications are concerned, only benzodiazepines, such as diazepam (Valium) and lorazepam (Ativan), have been shown to reduce the risk of the fatal complications caused by seizures and the DTs. Many health providers, however, choose to avoid benzodiazepines because of their addictive potential.
Detox and Treatment for Alcoholism
Getting sober requires detox from alcohol, but ensuring safety and relative comfort, it should be performed only under proper medical supervision. During a medical detox, patients are monitored around-the-clock and watched for signs of severe complications. A supervised detox also prevents relapse and offers mental health support.
Following detox, patients are urged to participate in long-term inpatient or intensive outpatient treatment that consists of evidence-based services such as behavioral therapy, psychoeducation, individual and family counseling, and group support.
Our center employs compassionate addiction professionals who deliver services with care and expertise. We provide clients with the resources and support they need to achieve abstinence and sustain long-lasting wellness and sobriety.
You can reclaim your life and experience the happiness and harmony you deserve! You don’t have to continue to suffer from alcohol addiction indefinitely – call us today to find out how we can help!