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Why is Alcohol Withdrawal Deadly?

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Many people have heard that quitting drinking abruptly is potentially deadly. Although death from alcohol withdrawal is uncommon, it is true that in cases of severe alcoholism, there are several complications that can be life-threatening. 

Before I quit drinking in 2011, I was physically dependent on alcohol. Although physical alcohol addiction is not uncommon, many people with alcohol use disorder who decide to quit drinking never actually experience a physical dependence. 

Although it is not common, dying from symptoms related to alcohol withdrawal syndrome is possible. When quitting alcohol, entering into a detox program is recommended.

For the last several months of drinking, I generally finished a handle of whiskey in less than two days. I was in my junior year of college and drank around the clock, which slightly minimized my withdrawal symptoms throughout the day. I never brought alcohol into the classroom. But by the time classes were over in the afternoon, I noticeably shook until I got back to my bedroom and drank again. 

Don’t worry. Experiencing tremors (aka the shakes) does not mean that you are going to die. Tremors are not the same thing as delirium tremens (DTs). DTs are essentially a combination of physical tremors but also a rapid onset of mental confusion, and are potentially deadly. Only about 5 percent of people who go through alcohol withdrawal will experience delirium tremens. 

When I began an Intensive Outpatient Program, I hadn’t consumed alcohol in more than a day. Although I had tremors, I was admitted without going through a detox program. While I turned out okay, medically-assisted detox is recommended for those quitting drinking. By managing the physical and mental conditions caused by alcohol withdrawal, you decrease the chances of relapse. Alcohol might be legal, but that doesn’t mean it is any less deadly drug use. 

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms

Depending on the severity of alcohol abuse, symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) can be physical, cognitive and psychiatric. Someone who drinks alcohol regularly, then suddenly stops drinking cold turkey might experience the following symptoms. 

 

Physical:

-tremors 

-seizures

-high blood pressure

 

It is estimated that only 5 percent of those experiencing alcohol withdrawal syndrome will have delirium tremens.

 Cognitive:

-delirium tremens 

-hallucinations

-mental confusion

-disorientation

 

Psychiatric:

-anxiety

-depression

-insomnia

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, cardiac complications such as arrhythmia generally occur after an alcohol binge, not during intoxication. It has been estimated that 6.6 percent of patients admitted to hospitals for alcohol withdrawal syndrome died because of complications from their symptoms. 

Delirium tremens only occur in a small percentage of those experiencing alcohol withdrawal, and an even smaller percentage of those people actually die from them. Still, if someone is experiencing delirium tremens, the likelihood of death is much higher if they are not hospitalized or sent to a detox program. 

Since many people use alcohol as a way to cope with anxiety or depression, removing alcohol without detox or a program to address your mental health issues could be dangerous. As many as 15 percent of alcoholics are at risk for suicide. Recent consumption of alcohol makes the possibility of death by self harm more likely. 

Alcohol: America’s Deadly Friend

Approximately 88,000 American deaths per year are alcohol-related.

The national opioid crisis has been in the spotlight for a while now, as it should be. Opioids were involved in more than 70,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2017. But as pharmaceutical companies are being held accountable for marketing addictive substances, and the rate of overdose deaths continues to rise, it is easy to forget that alcohol is still more deadly than opiates. Close to 88,000 people die each year from alcohol-related deaths.

In the years since prohibition ended in the United States, alcohol consumption has gone from being considered a menace to society to a family friendly activity. But even with the alcohol industry being relatively safe and regulated compared to many drugs, its effects are still just as deadly. 

Although death through alcohol withdrawal is not common, continued use can cause major health problems such as liver diseases, and fatal accidents such as car crashes. Death by alcohol is far from uncommon.

Alcohol Detox Near Atlanta

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol or substance abuse, Atlanta Detox Center can help. Not only are we equipped to manage uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, but we can provide premier mental health services to help you prepare for the stressors and triggers that could cause you to drink.

Getting through detox is the first step, but you won’t leave ADC without getting access to drug and alcohol outpatient treatment in Georgia, and references for sober community building. 

To learn more about medically assisted detox at Atlanta Detox Center, or longer term treatment options at Amatus Recovery Centers around the country, visit atlantadetoxtreatment.com or amatusrecoverycenters.com.