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Can You Die From Alcohol Withdrawal?


Medically Reviewed by Dr. Mohammed Saeed, MD.

Can you name one thing that your body absolutely needs for survival? Maybe it’s your heart beating within your chest, the air you breathe effortlessly into your lungs, or the nourishing foods you eat each day. Now, think of something you might consume on occasion that may do your body more harm than good. Surely a handful of readers out there would quickly agree upon one obvious example: alcohol.

Yes, alcohol, the 100% legal substance that kills more than 85,000 people each year. While it’s true that the average person could certainly remove alcohol from their diet without consequence, others who may be struggling with alcohol abuse should, in fact, be mindful of the potentially life-threatening repercussions of stopping drinking outright.

Although it’s uncommon, severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms can actually lead to death during the addiction recovery process. This can happen in a number of different ways, most commonly among alcoholics attempting recovery without medical supervision.

How Death Can Occur During Withdrawal

Ask any recovering alcoholic and they may tell you that the detox process often made them feel as if they were dying. Of course, we do know that withdrawal itself is not a cause of death. However, there are two notably concerning symptoms of withdrawal that are linked to the occasional death of recovering alcoholics.

Seizures: Those who have been drinking heavily for several years are more likely to experience seizures during the detox and withdrawal process. This can lead to choking, aspiration, or physical injury due to uncontrollable convulsions.

Delirium Tremens: Otherwise known as “DTs,” this serious condition presents a number of dangerous symptoms of withdrawal, such as confusion, disorientation, hyperactivity, seizures, heart attack, and stroke.

Why Alcohol Withdrawal Occurs

As with any addiction, repeated long-term consumption of alcohol causes chemical changes in the brain over time. Once the brain develops a dependency on alcohol, it becomes nearly impossible for the user to function without it. For an alcoholic, consuming alcohol can seem necessary for survival and for daily living. Remove that substance abruptly and the brain becomes confused and begins to panic, inducing symptoms that can range from mild and tolerable to severe and potentially fatal.

What You Can Do

If you’re struggling with alcohol addiction, you may feel like you’re in somewhat of a bind: continue to depend on alcohol and risk death as a result of its effects on your body or quit and risk death as a result of withdrawal symptoms.

Luckily, there’s little to fear as long as you pursue recovery options under close medical supervision. As stated earlier, deaths linked to alcohol withdrawal are extremely rare and are almost completely preventable.

So, before you surrender all hope to a seemingly double-edged sword, explore your medical options and pursue recovery the right way: with an experienced medical team to guide and monitor your health throughout your healing journey.

Dr. Mohammed Saeed, MD.

Dr. Saeed is a psychiatry specialist with over 40 years of experience in the medical field. He received training in General Psychiatry at the University of Texas Medical Branch, where he was selected as the Medical Director of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. He currently serves as the medical director at Into Action Recovery Centers. Full Bio

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