Tuesday September 1st 2015

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Can alcohol withdrawal kill you?

Can alcohol withdrawal kill you?

Yes, alcohol withdrawal can result in death. However, death is usually caused by a primary disease process or events that accompany acute alcohol withdrawal. It is these complications, especially if the body is in very poor health, that can cause significant illness and death.

However, most cases of alcohol withdrawal are routine and can be treated in outpatient health care settings. In fact, fewer than 20% of people going through alcohol withdrawal require admission to an inpatient unit. When is alcohol withdrawal life threatening and what can you do about it? We review here.

When is alcohol withdrawal life threatening?

Most people experience mild to moderate alcohol withdrawal symptoms. It is generally the severe cases of alcohol dependence that lead to fatal consequences. In fact, there are some cases of alcohol withdrawal which require special medical attention and under no conditions should you consider cold turkey stopping drinking. These include conditions that could complicate the withdrawal process such as:

  1. co-occurring medical illness
  2. severe psychiatric disorders
  3. multiple past detoxification from alcohol
  4. past history of alcohol withdrawal seizures
  5. past history of delirium tremens (DTs)
  6. past history of severe withdrawal symptoms

Medical complications during alcohol withdrawal

Other medical complications can occur during alcohol withdrawal. If doctors suspect that you may experience any of the following complications, hospitalization and intensive care may be required.

  • cardiomyopathy (dilation of the heart with ineffective pumping)
  • encephalopathy (generalized impaired brain functioning)
  • gastrointestinal bleeding
  • hypoglycemia
  • infection(s)
  • liver failure
  • pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
  • undetected trauma

Reducing risk during alcohol withdrawal

The best thing to do if you are considering getting alcohol out of your body is to do so under medical supervision. Detox physicians and doctors that specialize in alcoholism treatment can use known protocols to decrease risk of complications or serious symptoms during withdrawal. Doctors not only maintain water and electrolyte balance and correct metabolic disturbances during detox but they can also administer medications to manage withdrawal symptoms. Common medications used during withdrawal from alcohol include:

  • adrenergic medications
  • antipsychotic medicines
  • antiseizure medications
  • benzodiazepines

Medical care is crucial if you have been drinking large amounts of alcohol for long periods of time. Keep in mind that death and disability may result from DTs or seizures without medical care. So, seek professional help any time that you would like to treat alcohol dependence, especially more severe cases.

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Tips for alcohol withdrawal

If you are planning to go through an alcohol detoxification, be sure that you have a sober friend or loved one who can be a reliable support person. Emotional support is crucial during alcohol withdrawal, and will help you get over the most uncomfortable phases of withdrawal. Medications that help you stop drinking are available after you withdraw from alcohol and can help you manage mood disorders and cravings associated with alcohol use.

Reference sources: Alcohol withdrawal in older adults
NIAAA Treatment of Alcohol Withdrawal protocol guidelines
Detoxification and substance abuse treatment: physical detoxification services for alcohol withdrawal
NIAAA: Complications of alcohol withdrawal 

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4 Responses to “Can alcohol withdrawal kill you?
davidlittle jr.
1:57 pm January 19th, 2015

I’m 51 know well educated , by polar, & been drinking pretty much on a daily base, mostly beer, but for the last three years ,it’s been vodca, average ing about 2 5th a week, l screw up yes , & I did 6 days ago & my options are no alcohol at all or get the hell out, ( I went sober for 11\2 yrs. From 08 to 2010) had good insurance good Dr. Here I see a Dr. once a month & can’t see him 4 to weeks. They thank its no big thang
Just quit , how to convince them it could be dangerous until I see my Dr. They won’t read no literature help

5:28 pm January 20th, 2015

Hello David. Have you thought about going to a recovery clinic for some time and getting away from everything. You need to make the time to focus on your recovery process, sobriety, and health. It’s very unprofessional to say “Just Quit” and only people that don’t understand how addiction issues work will say that. But, drop the quilt and do whatever brings you good and keeps you moving forward.

Nina
2:40 am February 13th, 2015

I’m not an alcoholic myself, but my father is. I honestly don’t know what to do. I’m nineteen, and my grandparents (his parents) can’t handle him, so they shipped him off to me and my brother, who live in a different city from theirs. He’s to the point where he lies all the time and drinks both cosmetics and cleaning products, and already has liver problems and high cholesterol levels. I told my grandparents to commit him but they won’t because of their image, but I’m honestly worried I’m going to walk into his room and find a dead body, or getting call from someone telling me he’s dead. I don’t even know what to expect from sending this message, but I don’t know what to do.
PS: I’m not financially stable, so I can’t commit him myself, or do anything about what’s going. My brother and I locked him at home once, but we live high up (over ten floors, with plastic screens on every window, very easy to cut) and what if he decides (consciously or not) to throw himself out?

Whatever anyone can say, I’ll appreciate it. I just don’t know what to do. Thanks in advance.

11:32 pm March 11th, 2015

Hello Nina. I’m very sorry about what’s happening, your grandparents should be helping your father and he should be taking care of you…sometimes things don’t go as they are supposed to. But, alcoholism is a disease and like any disease, it needs to be treated. Without professional help, your father will probably continue to drink and may even become worse over time. Your grandparents HAVE to help out! It’s not fair to leave everything on your shoulders. Speak to them about finding the best course of actions for yours, your brother’s and your father’s sake. They might have given up on your dad, but now they are risking the lives of their grandchildren. I hope they can understand this!

Stay strong until then. And don’t give up on your father either, he also must be very hurt inside to be drinking so much. Can you talk to a psychiatrist or a counselor to get your thoughts together and work things out?

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