Alcohol Withdrawal can kill you. It’s one of only two substances that can be deadly to quit (the other being benzodiazepines such as Valium and Xanax). Many people have a false sense of security when it comes to alcohol. Either they think that since it’s legal it won’t be dangerous to stop or they assume that after the painful first days of detox, they are safe. But, in fact, the potentially deadly effects of alcohol withdrawal will not begin until after at least 48 hours.
+ You are a man who drinks more than 7 drinks a day or 14 drinks a week. OR You are a woman who has more than 3 drinks per day or more than 7 drinks per week.
AND either of the following is true:
- You are quitting “cold turkey.” AKA stopping all at once.
- You have tried to quit before but started drinking again.
How Many People Die From Alcohol Withdrawal?:
Effects of Alcohol Withdrawal:
The brain is a network of connections that operate when electric signals create chemical reactions. When the speed of these signals and the amount of these reactions are balanced, the brain works at its best. If something becomes unbalanced the brain will try to correct it by counterbalancing.
When someone regularly drinks heavily it creates a steady overload of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) aka the brain’s brakes that slow or limit electrical signals. To counterbalance for the slow down the brain stops producing its own GABA, and starts making more “gas pedal” chemicals like Glutamate. As a result, alcohol now becomes the brain’s only reliable way to calm down, which produces that feeling of “needing a drink” more often. Later, if/when this person stops drinking, they are cutting their brain’s brakes. When this happens the high amount of glutamate acts as an accelerant igniting too many reactions in too many parts of the brain. Without any natural GABA reserves and no incoming alcohol, there is no way to slow or stop the uncontrollable surge of electrical activity.
How Can Alcohol Withdrawal Kill You?:
Alcohol withdrawal can kill someone due to the effects of Delerium Tremens and seizures, which include:
- Loss of consciousness in dangerous situations.
- Breathing failure.
- Brain death from severe fever.
- Heart failure.
Seizures in Alcohol Withdrawal:
When there is too much electrical activity in the brain, it increases the risk of overloading certain regions of the brain. If this happens, those affected regions short out like an electrical outlet with too many plugs and stop working. While those regions restart the person has a seizure. The more areas affected, the worse the seizure is. For someone in alcohol withdrawal, electrical activity is so massive that it can shut down several brain areas and produce full-body “grand mal” seizures, which can be fatal.
How Do People Die From Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures?:
- The person will lose consciousness. If they are driving, swimming, operating machinery, crossing the street, or are high up when this happens it can be deadly for them and possibly others.
- They will collapse without any ability to break their fall. This can cause serious injury or be fatal if they fall into something or hit their head on something sharp when they fall. Since head wounds bleed quickly, the person could experience life-threatening blood loss while they are unconscious.
- Even with no head injury, they may stop breathing while they are unconscious and never wake up.
Alcohol Withdrawal & Delerium Tremens:
Delerium Tremens (usually called “DTs”) begins about 2-3 days after the last drink. The high amount of electrical activity and excitatory glutamate plus the absence of GABA forces the brain and body into a neverending overdrive. The symptoms of Delerium Tremens all reflect the effects of what happens when our bodies are pushed too hard.
- Rapid heart rate.
- Rapid breathing or trouble catching your breath.
- Trouble sleeping.
- High blood pressure.
- Hallucinations and confusion.
How Does Delerium Tremens Kill You?:
Death from DTs occurs if:
- The heart beats too fast and stops.
- The brain boils from severe fever.
- Seizures stop someone’s breathing.
- Seizures constrict their airways until they suffocate.
Put simply — just like any machine — the brain and body give out after running too fast, too hot, or too much for too long.
Don’t Settle For Less:
If you or a loved one is thinking of quitting alcohol, get help. Tree House Recovery can help find a detox center near you. You have everything to gain, and nothing to lose. Message or call us 24/7: (855) 202-2138.