Can You Die from Alcohol Withdrawal?
If you are struggling with an alcohol use disorder and want to quit drinking, you may be worried about some of the more serious symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, including death.
What Are the Chances of Dying from Alcohol Withdrawal?
While severe alcohol withdrawal can sometimes lead to death, the chances of dying during withdrawal are relatively low for most people.1 With proper treatment, the overall risk of death during alcohol withdrawal is fewer than 3 in 100 people.2 But the mortality rate can be much higher for those who don’t seek proper medical treatment and are having severe alcohol withdrawals.3
Some of the factors that may increase the risk of dying from alcohol withdrawal include:1–3
- Having a history of delirium tremens (DT), a serious stage of alcohol withdrawal that causes sudden, severe confusion and agitation, fast heart rate, high blood pressure.
- Cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver.
- Needing to be intubated, especially if you have pneumonia.
- Older age.
- History of other medical issues.
The lack of these risk factors is not a guarantee that you won’t have any more serious withdrawal symptoms. Predicting who will have severe withdrawal or who is at greater risk of dying is complicated. Your doctor can use special assessment tools to help predict your specific risk, as well as the proper course of treatment to prevent complications.1
Why Is Alcohol Withdrawal Life-Threatening?
Alcohol withdrawal sometimes causes very serious symptoms such as seizures, DT, high blood pressure, and heart failure.3,4 Without the right care and treatment, these and other medical issues that happen during withdrawal can be life-threatening.
Alcohol withdrawal seizures can happen suddenly and without warning.4 Seizures can lead to injuries or even death and are a medical emergency. While only 2 or 3 out of 100 people in alcohol withdrawal will have a seizure, your risk increases if you have: 4
- 3 or more previous withdrawals.
- Been drinking alcohol for more than 2 decades.
- A history of head injuries.
- Poor health and nutrition.
DT does not happen suddenly but is a progression of earlier alcohol withdrawal stages.4 That is, if you have withdrawal seizures, you are more likely to have DT, but you are not more likely to have withdrawal seizures if you develop DT.4
Without the right treatment, alcohol withdrawal can also lead to other life-threatening health issues such as:3
- Rhabdomyolysis (dangerous muscle damage that can lead to kidney failure).
- Irregular heartbeat and other heart problems.
- Respiratory failure (when your lungs can’t get enough air).
Alcohol withdrawal deaths can be prevented or reduced with proper medical attention and care. In fact, research suggests 24-hour medical care for alcohol detox to help ensure your health and safety.4
How to Safely Manage Alcohol Withdrawal
If you or someone you know is thinking about quitting drinking, you are not alone, and help is available. To find support, schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor or a mental health therapist. They can give you referrals to detox and substance abuse treatment programs they think will be most helpful for you.
Professional medical detox programs can help reduce the risks of severe alcohol withdrawal. Trained staff members can give prescription medicines as needed to help ease withdrawal symptoms. These medicines can help prevent or manage seizures, tremors, and symptoms of delirium or hallucinations.4
If you or your loved one needs help with alcohol withdrawal and detox, American Addiction Centers (AAC) offers caring and compassionate alcohol detox at our locations nationwide. Call us today at to talk about your treatment options and take back control of your life.
- Wood, E., Albarqouni, L., Tkachuk, S., Green, C. J., Ahamad, K., Nolan, … Klimas, J. (2018). Will this hospitalized patient develop severe alcohol withdrawal syndrome?: The rational clinical examination systematic review. JAMA, 320(8), 825–833.
- Monte, R., Rabunal, R., Casariego, E., López-Agreda, H., Mateos, A., & Pértega, S. (2010). Analysis of the factors determining survival of alcoholic withdrawal syndrome patients in a general hospital. Alcohol & Alcoholism, 45(2), 151–158.
- Rahman A, Paul M. Delirium Tremens. (2020, August 29). In: StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Tip 45: Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment.