Can Alcohol Withdrawal Be Fatal?

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a chronic mental health disease that has a significant and potentially long-lasting impact on the brain, its chemistry, and its functioning. For people who\’ve been drinking heavily and for an extended period of time, sudden abstinence can be dangerous. In fact, without professional, medical intervention and support, alcohol withdrawal can even prove fatal. Unless the initial symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are quickly mitigated, severe symptoms known as delirium tremens can develop.

When people consume alcohol, they experience feelings of relaxation, heightened confidence, and euphoria. The changes that intoxication produces in mood, behavior, and functioning are the direct result of chemical changes that have occurred in the brain. Alcohol stimulates massive surges in dopamine, gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), and other neurotransmitters. These chemicals play important roles in mood regulation.

They also control multiple aspects of basic physiological functioning including nausea regulation, temperature control, smooth muscle control, and balance. Long-term alcohol use wears these neurotransmitters out, causes them to misfire, and makes both their production and distribution reliant upon continued alcohol consumption. Once this level of physical dependence has been achieved, sudden cessation causes the body to send out intense and widespread distress signals. These signals are referred to as withdrawal symptoms. The good news is that although alcohol withdrawal has the potential to be fatal, it certainly doesn\’t have to be.

Medically Managed Alcohol Detox Is Always Safest

Studies show that managing alcohol withdrawal symptoms early-on can actually prevent delirium tremens from ever developing. Early alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Disorientation

When people detox on their own or go \”cold turkey\”, these symptoms can progress to include visual and auditory hallucinations, seizures, difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness, and multi-organ failure among other things. The risks of detoxing alone are especially high when people have other co-occurring conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, liver disease, or heart disease. During medically managed detox, people are given evidence-based withdrawal medications that gently ease the brain and body away from dependence.

Not only do these medications make detoxing safer, but they also make it much easier. Rather than dealing with constant, severe, and progressive discomfort, people are made to feel as comfortable as possible. Nurses and other medical professionals regularly check their vital signs, and ongoing efforts are made to prevent dehydration, nutritional deficiencies, and sleep troubles. There are also a number of psychological withdrawal symptoms that people can experience throughout their physical detox. Many suffer from intense depression and anxiety, others deal with confusion, anger, and frustration.

Just as nurses and doctors carefully monitor people during their physical detox, mental health professionals drop in as well. They offer non-habit-forming medications to ensure mood balance and to prevent or alleviate severe emotional distress. Detoxing with medical support greatly decreases the likelihood of relapse during the formative stages of recovery. With medical support, people are less likely to succumb to overwhelming temptation.

Moreover, given that medically assisted detox occurs on closed, secure campuses, patients are completely removed from all outside triggers, stressors, and temptations. Best of all, if new physical or psychological challenges ever arise, rehab centers can refine and streamline their care to meet the unique and constantly changing needs of the individual. Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of detoxing on a secure campus with the help of medical and mental health professionals is the ability to shorten the duration of withdrawal.

With adequate nutrition and hydration, and with the help of effective withdrawal medications, many people are able to complete this first and most challenging step in recovery within a far shorter period of time than if detoxing on their own. This expedites their ability to participate in group and individual counseling, and to take part in other treatment-related activities that are designed to establish a solid foundation for lifelong sobriety.

Choosing to receive treatment for alcohol use disorder in a rehab center also makes it easier for people to contend with the largely psychological post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS) that invariably follow physical detox. If you\’re ready to quit abusing alcohol and want to complete your detox in a safe, comfortable setting, we can help. Get in touch with us today by calling 833-610-1174.

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