Is Withdrawal Lethal?

Attempting withdrawal on your own from certain substances can result in death.

However, the important phrase here is “on your own.” While detoxing from drugs and alcohol can be a difficult experience, filled with many physical and mental side effects, it can be made much easier with professional assistance. More importantly, detoxing under qualified supervision ensures you’ll be in a safe place under medical supervision.

Alcohol Withdrawal

As a depressant, alcohol slows down your body’s brain functions and nervous system. Heavy drinkers can experience this sedated effect almost continuously because of the high quantities of alcohol they tend to consume. 

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When they stop drinking, the brain suddenly works extremely hard to compensate for the lack of alcohol, which causes numerous side effects like:

  • Anxiety
  • Shaky hands
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Confusion
  • Racing heart
  • High blood pressure
  • Fever
  • Heavy sweating

However, especially heavy drinkers can encounter even worse side effects:

  • Tremors
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Delirium tremens (hallucinations, disorientation, loss of consciousness, angry behavior, irrational beliefs, soaking sweats, sleep disturbances)

About 1 in 20 people who withdraw from alcohol experience delirium tremens, which can lead to heart attack, stroke, or even death. The dangers of alcohol withdrawal make it essential to consult with your doctor or a rehab facility before you detox.

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal

Benzodiazepines (“benzos”) are a class of prescription drugs that calms down the central nervous system. Common benzos like Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin are among the most prescribed drugs in the United States – they are also among the most addictive.

A report published in 1994 by the National Institutes of Health clearly states that, “Physiological dependence on benzodiazepines is accompanied by a withdrawal syndrome which is typically characterized by sleep disturbance, irritability, increased tension and anxiety, panic attacks, hand tremor, sweating, difficulty in concentration, dry wretching and nausea, some weight loss, palpitations, headache, muscular pain and stiffness and a host of perceptual changes.”

Depending on the type of benzo involved, full withdrawal can take as much as four weeks from the original quit date. Withdrawing from benzos can be very difficult, and you should never quit “cold turkey.” Doing so can be lethal. Detoxing from benzos takes supervision, time, and often the support of a professional rehab program where you can be medically monitored to get off the drug slowly and as comfortably as possible.


Cocaine Withdrawal

Unlike alcohol or benzos, withdrawing from cocaine doesn’t typically create physical side effects. It also isn’t deadly on its own, but there are cases of people becoming so severely depressed during withdrawal that they commit suicide.

But just because withdrawal doesn’t lead to physical symptoms, doesn’t mean that getting off cocaine is easy. Cocaine produces a sense of euphoria in the user and coming down from it creates the opposite, which can be difficult to deal with. Long-term users of cocaine who withdraw from the drug will typically experience:

  • Agitation and restless behavior
  • Depression, fatigue, and anxiety
  • Discomfort
  • Increased appetite
  • Vivid and unpleasant dreams
  • Slowing of activity and increased sleepiness
  • Irritability, agitation, and paranoia.

The U.S. Government’s MedLine Plus notes that, “craving and depression can last for months after stopping long-term heavy use. Withdrawal symptoms may also be associated with suicidal thoughts in some people.”

Opioid Withdrawal

Opioids are among the most deadly drugs to withdraw from. Detoxing unsupervised from opioids can lead to a person’s death. In fact, opioid addiction has become a national crisis in the United States with millions of people dying from overdosing and related complications from their addiction.

Usually prescribed to treat pain, legal opioids include drugs like Oxycontin and Vicodin. Illegal substances derived from the same opium poppy include heroin and opium. With prolonged use, chemical changes are made in a user’s brain and the body becomes dependent on the drug. 

Withdrawing from the drug causes a long list of dangerous side effects that can result in death.

 Symptoms of opioid withdrawal can include:

  • Anxiety 
  • Goosebumps
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia 
  • Yawning
  • Body aches
  • Sweating 
  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Fever 
  • Shaking
  • Faster-than-normal heartbeat
  • Rapid breathing
  • High blood pressure 
  • Hallucinations 
  • Seizures 

If you or someone you love has a problem with opioids, it’s crucial that they withdraw through a medically supervised,professional rehab program – their life could depend on it.

Marijuana Withdrawal

Many states have recently legalized marijuana, but this does not mean that marijuana is not addictive or completely safe to use. Typically, though, the symptoms of marijuana addiction are more psychological than physical.

While you can’t die from marijuana withdrawal, you may experience:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Mood changes
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Headaches
  • Loss of focus
  • Cravings
  • Depression
  • Stomach issues

Methamphetamine Withdrawal

Methamphetamine is a synthetic stimulant that rapidly increases the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine, and serotonin. The high is practically instant and goes away rapidly, creating a vicious circle of up and down. An illegal drug, methamphetamine is known on the street by names like “ice,” “crystal meth,” “crank,” and simply as “meth.” 

Frequent meth use leads to intense cravings and has lead millions of people down the path of addiction and even criminal behavior in their pursuit of the drug. 

As noted by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, withdrawing from meth can lead to:

  • Anxiety 
  • Fatigue 
  • Severe depression 
  • Psychosis 
  • Intense cravings 

Withdrawing from meth can take several weeks, but does not result in death.

    In the first couple days after quitting, users will experience a “crash” of energy. Over the next seven to ten days, depression, paranoia, fatigue, and suicidal thoughts can arise. Withdrawal continues into weeks two, three, and even beyond with slowed heart rate, sleep issues, and loss of appetite. Enrolling in a managed detox program can help the process and provide the counseling you need to fully break the cycle of meth addiction.Compared to men, a woman can use smaller amounts of a substance for a shorter period of time and develop an addiction. Hormonal and biological differences can make women more sensitive to the effects of substances, and may make them have more cravings as compared to men. Women are also more likely to experience physical changes due to substance abuse which puts them at an increased risk for emergency room visits or death due to overdose.

    If you or a loved one are thinking about getting clean and sober, it’s imperative to get help. Withdrawing on your own may result in death. Please contact Nexus and talk to one of their qualified – and confidential – professionals to get the help you need.

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