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Can You Die from Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms?

Are you concerned about your alcohol intake?

Maybe you feel like you are drinking too much, or your drinking habits have gone out of control. You might want to check with your doctor. A medical professional can give you advice on whether to cut down on alcohol or abstain.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) recommends a cautious approach to alcohol consumption, with men limiting themselves to 2 drinks daily and 1 drink daily for women.

If you drink more than this for days, weeks, or years, you may suffer from severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms when you stop.

That said, the decision to quit alcohol can have life-threatening consequences for heavy drinkers. And this brings us to the question: Can you die from alcohol withdrawal symptoms? Keep reading to learn more about the dangers of alcohol detox symptoms.

What Is Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal is a set of distressing symptoms that stem from the brain due to a lack of alcohol influence in the system. Simply put, it’s the changes the body goes through following a reduction in alcohol intake after a period of excessive use.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define heavy drinking as more than 15 drinks per week for men and more than 8 drinks per week for women. Such heavy drinking can aggravate the withdrawal symptoms and increase the alcohol detox period.

But if you drink alcohol only once in a while, it’s unlikely that you’ll experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms when you stop.

What Causes Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol has a sedative impact on the brain. It suppresses certain neurotransmitters when it gets into the central nervous system, causing people to feel elated. This is why people under the influence of alcohol express initial feelings of happiness and increased sociability.

Over time, the brain becomes continuously exposed to the depressant effects of alcohol. This causes the central nervous system to adjust to having alcohol around all the time.

And once your body becomes dependent on alcohol, it requires more and more of it to produce the same effects.

When you suddenly quit drinking, the neurotransmitters are no longer inhibited by the alcohol. Your brain struggles to adjust to the new chemical imbalance, causing the distressful side effects of withdrawal, which are precisely the opposite of the “feel good” effects one feels when under the influence of alcohol.

Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline and Symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can start as early as 6 hours after your last drink. The severity of the withdrawals can depend on many variables and vary greatly from person to person.

Typically, the symptoms will peak within the first 24 to 48 hours after quitting. During this timeframe, you’ll experience the most distressing symptoms such as:

  • Hallucinations
  • Sweating
  • Changes in blood pressure
  • Fever

Life-threatening symptoms occur 72 hours after your last drink. In most cases, alcohol withdrawal symptoms will manifest following the following timeline:

6 – 12 Hours After Your Last Drink

Mild symptoms will typically surface 6 to 12 hours after your last drink. They include:

  • Anxiety
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Shaky hands
  • Sweating

12 – 24 Hours After Your Last Drink

More severe symptoms begin to manifest within this timeframe. Hallucinations are very common at this stage, where people start seeing things that are not there.

Other symptoms include:

  • Seizures
  • Changes in blood pressure
  • Hand tremors
  • Disorientation

24 – 48 Hours After Your Last Drink

Those who experience severe withdrawals may suffer from what doctors call Delirium tremens (DTs) within this timeframe.

If you’re at risk of delirium tremens, we highly recommend that you undergo detox under medical supervision because DTs can be life-threatening.

If you have delirium tremens, you’ll exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Severe seizures
  • High blood pressure
  • Racing heart
  • Stroke
  • Heart attacks
  • Stupor
  • Profuse sweating
  • Increased rate of respiration

If you have a history of daily binging, seizures, liver disease, or poor health, you’re at high risk for delirium tremens.

Can You Die from Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms?

The simple answer is Yes.

Though rare, it’s possible to die from alcohol withdrawal symptoms, especially if you have delirium tremens—a condition that occurs in 5% of withdrawal cases.

Most people don’t die from alcohol withdrawal but may experience life-threatening symptoms like tremors, seizures, and a racing heart.

The withdrawal itself is not a cause of death. However, there are two notably concerning symptoms of withdrawal that are linked to deaths.

1. Seizures

If you need to rid your body of the toxins ingested through alcohol, you’ll need to undergo detox, either at home or in a medical detox facility.

The thing with detox is that it dehydrates the body by any means possible—notably sweating, diarrhea, and vomiting to remove alcohol and its toxins. Keep in mind that alcohol itself is also a dehydrating substance.

Combining alcohol’s pre-existing dehydration properties with withdrawal-related dehydration is what causes seizures. Alcohol-induced seizures can cause choking, aspirations, or physical injuries due to uncontrollable convulsions.

2. Delirium Tremens

Delirium tremens is responsible for the majority of alcohol withdrawal deaths. A 2013 study published in the Muller Journal of Medical Sciences and Research (MJMSR) found that 20% of people with delirium tremens die.

People with delirium tremens experience seizures, stroke, heart attack, and hyperactivity, which can lead to death if not treated early.

How to Treat Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Treatment will depend on the severity of the symptoms.

If you have mild symptoms like fever or sweating, you may be able to detox at home, though it’s recommended to check with your doctor first.

If your symptoms are severe, you’ll need to detox under the care and supervision of a trained professional in a healthcare setting. A physician may run blood tests, monitor your vital signs, and even administer intravenous (1V) fluids to keep you hydrated.

Wrapping Up

Never underestimate the dangers of alcohol detox symptoms.

Depending on your level of alcohol dependency, you may experience mild to severe withdrawal symptoms that call for medical attention.

If left untreated, some symptoms like seizures can lead to alcohol withdrawal deaths.

For this reason, it’s highly recommended that you undergo treatment at a medical detox center or an inpatient rehab facility. Such facilities can even help you address the reasons behind your alcohol addiction.

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