Cirque Lodge > Blog > Addiction > Can You Die From Withdrawal?

Alcohol and drug addiction are powerful diseases that can severely and permanently damage your health. Addiction can alter the chemicals and structure of the brain. If you have chosen to, or are thinking about, entering addiction treatment, you may well have considered withdrawal risks. We look at this topic below and identify helpful strategies to prevent severe withdrawal symptoms from hindering your recovery.

Withdrawal is a complex and challenging process; it can be fatal without medical supervision. However, 'can you die from withdrawal?' is not simply answered. There are different symptoms associated with withdrawal from varying substances, with some bringing higher risk to the individual than others. A safe recovery is possible with medical intervention and a qualified treatment center. In addition, understanding the process and what to expect can help you manage the challenges.

What Is Withdrawal?

Withdrawal is detoxing from a substance whereby all drug traces are removed from the body. Usually, withdrawal follows a long period of substance abuse or addiction; you may develop a physical and psychological dependence on a drug during this time. Symptoms during withdrawal can range from mild to severe. It's strongly advised to embark on this process in a safe setting and with the advice of a medical professional to avoid complications or risks. This is especially important when undergoing: alcohol, ketamine, or benzo withdrawal.

What Happens To The Body In Withdrawal?

When an individual becomes physically dependent on a substance, the body adapts to the presence of the drug in the system. If they stop using suddenly, this can put the body under great strain and cause extreme discomfort. The body is trying to adapt to the absence of drugs that it has become dependent on. It is likely to make the individual very unwell with physical discomfort and significant psychological symptoms.

All substances have slightly different withdrawal effects depending on how the drug works on the brain, although they tend to share some similar symptoms.

Opioids, including heroin and prescription painkillers, work by affecting the brain's neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine enables us to feel happiness and euphoria. After prolonged opioid use, the brain stops producing dopamine on its own and relies on the presence of the substance to feel good. After some time of addiction, the individual will no longer be able to produce adequate levels of dopamine naturally. When they stop using cold turkey drugs, they will likely feel symptoms associated with low dopamine, such as anxiety and depression.

Severe Withdrawal Symptoms

Some drug withdrawal brings a higher risk for the individual. These can be physical or psychological risks. We look at some of these substances below.

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal

When individuals stop using benzodiazepine (benzos), they are at risk of experiencing grand mal seizures. Benzo withdrawal also carries significant psychological risk, leading to suicidal ideation and suicide. Some of these psychological symptoms include:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Panic attacks
  • Aggression
  • Nightmares
  • Disorientation
  • Loss of identity

These severe symptoms can last from months to a year, but research has found that gradual dose reduction combined with psychological treatment results in successful rehabilitation for benzo substance abuse.

Opiate and Opioid Withdrawal

Narcotics are the group of drugs which opiates and opioids come under. Opiates are derived from the poppy plant, including opium, morphine, and codeine. In contrast, opioids are a substance that is synthetic or partly synthetic. They include oxycontin, hydrocodone, and fentanyl. Opioids act similarly to opiates in the human body because of their similar structure.

Opioid and opiate withdrawal symptoms include:

While these symptoms themselves are not life-threatening, dehydration from nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea can be dangerous for the individual, especially if left untreated. For this reason, a medical detox program and certified addiction treatment are strongly advised to manage opiate and opioid withdrawal symptoms and maintain abstinence from the drug.

Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol abuse is a widespread problem. Contrary to popular opinion, there are higher risks of fatal withdrawal symptoms from alcohol than from other drugs. There are some symptoms to be aware of if you or a loved one is embarking on alcohol withdrawal.

Delirium Tremens (DT) is the most dangerous aspect of alcohol withdrawal and can severely damage the brain and nervous system. In addition, it can lead to seizures and high fevers, which, in rare cases, can result in death.

Some alcohol withdrawal symptoms:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium tremens

Research suggests that individuals withdrawing from alcohol should be treated in a quiet, calm environment. They also advise that individuals experiencing seizures or DT should have immediate intravenous drugs and fluids to manage the symptoms.

Multiple Addiction Withdrawal

For individuals living with multiple addictions, symptoms typically increase, which brings a greater risk of fatality or severe health problems. Numerous substance withdrawals can interrupt each other, causing complications for the individual, increasing the dangers without medical support. Specifically, the dangerous symptom of seizures is common in benzo, alcohol, and opiate withdrawal. If an individual is withdrawing from two of these substances, it increases the risk of fatal seizures.

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)

Post-acute withdrawal syndrome is a condition that some people experience months after they stop using a substance. These symptoms, also known as PAWS, can cause extreme discomfort for those in recovery and increase the chances of relapse.

Symptoms include:

  • Brain fog
  • Memory problems
  • Feeling extremely sensitive/reactive
  • Numbness
  • Sleep issues
  • Disorientation
  • Stress

Establishing healthy coping techniques and a clear schedule can alleviate your distress and prevent relapse. Proper sleep, a good diet, daily exercise, and avoiding stressful triggers are effective ways to reduce symptoms.

If you are concerned that you are experiencing PAWS, seek professional advice as soon as possible.

Risk of Relapse

There is an additional relapse danger for individuals who experience a cycle of using and detoxing. Every time an individual attempts detox, their symptoms will progress. This increases the chances of a more severe reaction, especially with alcohol withdrawal, as the seizure risk increases.

It’s crucial that individuals don't try to detox alone and they have medical supervision to manage withdrawal symptoms and their effects.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence describes the need for monitored detox, particularly "[persons] who are unable to abstain with an absence of past withdrawal complications."

Can You Die From Withdrawal?

Every addiction is unique, and withdrawal symptoms can vary drastically from person to person. Yes, the short answer to "can you die from withdrawal?" is. But, with comprehensive detox treatment, therapeutic support, and long-term medical care, you can not only have a safe withdrawal, but you can go on to lead a happy, fulfilled, and substance-free life.

Getting Help For Your Drug Abuse

If you are ready to take the next step in recovery, reach out to us today. We are available to answer any questions you may have regarding addiction treatment and our methodologies. Rest assured you're in safe hands when you choose Cirque Lodge.

You can find us in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, a private and exclusive drug rehab center in a stunning and tranquil setting. The withdrawal process is a physical and psychological challenge, but we make it as comfortable and peaceful as possible.

We offer a holistic, person-centered recovery program focused on personal growth, mind-body connection, and spiritual healing. We frame our program on the 12-step approach, providing a structure for your therapy process. Our treatment programs combine traditional talking therapies with alternative experiential activities to help you again find your sense of self.

We know that you're in it for the long game; that's why we offer personalized aftercare programs to support you after you leave our center. Here at Cirque Lodge, we've thought through the whole process, leaving you to focus on your healing journey.

Read more: How long does cocaine stay in your system

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