Can You Die From Withdrawal?

Monday, October 31, 2022 | By Andrew Bramlett

Is it Possible to Die From Withdrawal? 

Yes, death can occur when someone experiences drug or alcohol withdrawal. Complications encountered during withdrawal are often underestimated and not adequately monitored. 

Almost all drugs and alcohol will cause some level of physical and emotional symptoms. However, the risk of a fatal withdrawal is only likely for certain substances, not all of them. 

 

Which Substances Cause Fatal Withdrawal?

Withdrawal syndromes will differ from one substance to another. This is especially true if someone abuses more than one substance at a time. 

The most life-threatening withdrawal symptoms tend to occur when detoxing from the following: 

  • Alcohol 
  • Sedatives (benzodiazepines, barbiturates, z-drugs) 
  • Opioids (heroin, fentanyl, pain medications) 
  • Stimulants (cocaine, meth, ADHD medication) 

 

Alcohol and Sedatives 

These two substance categories are considered central nervous system depressants, reducing respiratory rates to unsafe levels. 

Alcohol and sedatives both affect the body in similar ways, and stopping them can produce similar withdrawal symptoms, including: 

  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Anxiety 
  • Insomnia 
  • Hallucinations 
  • Seizures 

Seizures present the most significant risk to someone’s physical well-being during withdrawal. If someone doesn’t receive medical attention right away, seizures could result in heart failure, breathing failure, and ultimately death. 

 

Opioids and Painkillers 

Withdrawal symptoms from opiates may include: 

  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea 
  • Excessive sweating 
  • Fever 

While none of these symptoms are deadly on their own, they cause a silent killer to emerge: dehydration. 

Each symptom causes the body to lose water and electrolytes and can aggravate underlying heart issues. In some cases, severe and sudden dehydration can cause death in individuals who do not seek medical attention. In comparison, others may experience a cardiac event that may or may not be fatal. 

Aspirating on vomit is also a risk of detoxing from opioids. When you’re alone, it can be challenging to take care of yourself while under such distressing symptoms. 

 

Stimulants 

It’s a rule of thumb that a drug’s withdrawal symptoms are typically the opposite of their effect. As stimulants cause hyperstimulation, decreased appetite, and increased energy, withdrawing from them causes excessive fatigue, insomnia, and increased hunger. 

While none of these symptoms are hazardous, the cardiovascular system is highly affected, especially if someone suddenly quits a drug, as this can send their body into shock. 

Seizures, brain bleeding, and mental health issues are also possible during stimulant withdrawal. 

 

Effects of Withdrawal on Mental Health 

It’s common to consider physical withdrawal symptoms when thinking of fatal withdrawal. However, mental health risks are also a concern. 

Increased depression symptoms triggered by withdrawal can lead to suicidal ideation and planning. This is especially true for those with pre-existing mental health disorders. 

These risks also extend to those close to you, as withdrawal can cause someone to experience excessive mood swings, including anger, aggression, hallucinations, or delirium, and may last out violently because of them. 

 

The Dangers of Detoxing At Home 

Many people are tempted to detox at home, where they can avoid the shame of attending a supervised detox. A home detox may even be appealing due to the cost of treatment. 

But the reality is you can’t put a price on your life. The safety of which is in question if you detox at home, outside of skilled medical care that can provide support for whatever situation may arise. 

While detoxing at home may seem like a good idea at the time, it also leads to an increased relapse rate and accidental overdose. Intense cravings are the most formidable withdrawal symptom to handle on your own. 

Without a sober environment and a support structure to help see you through, you’re more likely to use, and potentially overdose on substances of abuse. 

 

How To Stay Safe During Withdrawal 

One of the best ways to stay safe during a difficult withdrawal period is to enroll in a medical detox. This treatment setting can help you navigate withdrawal symptoms and ensure you’re as comfortable as possible. 

Contact our Journey Pure Emerald Coast addiction treatment team today to discover the best treatment plan for your unique situation. 

 

Sources: 

National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre – Yes, people can die from opiate withdrawal

National Library of Medicine – Withdrawal Syndromes

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