Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms That Can Kill You

Quitting alcohol can make your life better. It can also be dangerous without medical help. If you’ve been abusing alcohol for a long time, quitting may throw your system into shock. You could experience dangerous alcohol withdrawal symptoms. These may include delirium tremens (DTs). Delirium tremens can put you at risk for a number of complications, including death. If you’re trying to quit alcohol, be aware of these dangerous alcohol withdrawal symptoms:

Delirium Tremens (DTs)

Delirium tremens, more commonly known as “the DTs,” can lead to:

  • Grand mal seizures (withdrawal seizures)
  • Stroke
  • Heart attacks

Studies show 20% of people with delirium tremens die. Some people die of a head injury from falling during withdrawal delirium. They’re disoriented from symptoms of delirium tremens. Others die from health complications that come with delirium tremens. With appropriate treatment, the death rate from delirium tremens drops to around 1%. Warning signs of delirium tremens include:

  • Shakiness
  • Confusion
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Sweating or shivering
  • Restlessness
  • Fever
  • Hallucinations
  • Vomiting

Delirium tremens typically begins one to two days after people with alcohol dependence quit drinking. The science behind delirium tremens is complex. In a nutshell, delirium tremens is brought on by problems in the central nervous system. When you abuse alcohol for a long time it messes up the way your brain produces chemicals. Brain chemicals help regulate your physical and mental health. When you quit drinking, the brain quickly tries to rebalance itself without alcohol. It’s dependent on alcohol to function. The brain goes into overdrive to get back to normal. It produces large amounts of chemicals. This can lead to delirium tremens.

Seizures and Cardiac Issues

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms that can lead to death include:

  • Convulsions
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Seizures

Alcohol abuse weakens the heart over time. Low electrolyte levels from dehydration can cause cardiac stress when alcoholics quit drinking. You may be more vulnerable to deadly cardiac complications if you have alcohol dependency. This is because your heart and other organs are already working overtime because of alcohol abuse. Alcoholics often already struggle with heart conditions. These can put them at greater risk for withdrawal complications. Heart issues may include:

  • Weak heart muscle
  • Heart disease
  • Abnormal heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke

Alcohol Poisoning

Binge-drinking college students aren’t the only people dying from alcohol poisoning. An average of six Americans die every day from alcohol poisoning. Seventy-six percent of them are between the ages of 35 and 64, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Alcohol poisoning is the opposite of alcohol withdrawal. It’s alcohol overdose. It’s worth mentioning here because some of the same people who will have alcohol withdrawal may also drink to fatal excess. Alcohol poisoning occurs when large amounts of alcohol cause important parts of the brain to stop functioning. These may include parts that control body temperature, heart rate and breathing. Warning signs of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Vomiting
  • Disorientation
  • Irregular breathing
  • Dangerously low body temperature
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness

Other Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal is not a pleasant experience. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms that aren’t necessarily deadly, but are uncomfortable include:

  • Nausea
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Depression and mood swings
  • Headache
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Insomnia
  • High blood pressure

While alcohol detox in an addiction treatment facility may not eliminate all alcohol withdrawal symptoms, it will make the process much more comfortable. Detox specialists help ease discomfort and attend to any medical issues.

Who’s at Increased Risk of Dying From Alcohol?

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms like delirium tremens can be life-threatening. Some people are at greater risk of dying from alcohol withdrawal complications than others. Some risk factors that make alcohol withdrawal especially dangerous include:

  • Co-occurring illnesses like pneumonia, hepatitis or pancreatitis
  • Chronic conditions like liver disease and cancer
  • Injury or infection of the central nervous system
  • Being of advanced age
  • Pre-existing heart conditions

Safely Detoxing From Alcohol

Not everyone will experience life-threatening alcohol withdrawal symptoms. It’s impossible to predict what alcohol withdrawal will be like for you. Data show about half of people with alcohol addiction have severe withdrawal symptoms like delirium tremens. You don’t want to go through symptoms of delirium tremens on your own. It can be painful and fatal. Withdrawing from alcohol abuse is safest in the hands of medical professionals. Medical detox specialists know the types of medication and safe doses to ease your symptoms. Treatment center staff can help keep you safe and comfortable during alcohol withdrawal. Physicians can immediately provide critical care if you have symptoms of DTs like withdrawal seizures.

After Alcohol Detox

Alcohol detox is the first step. It’s very unlikely it will keep you sober. Inpatient treatment and rehab helps you address the reasons behind alcohol addiction. Alcohol addiction treatment also helps you begin repairing the damaging effects of alcohol. You may take part in treatment options like:

  • Individual behavioral therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Psychiatric appointments to manage medication if needed
  • Exercise
  • Mindfulness
  • Healthy lifestyle education

You’ll also learn new coping skills in alcohol rehab. You can use these instead of substance abuse when you face stressors. This helps prevent relapse when you return to everyday life.