Is Addiction Detox Fatal?

Drug withdrawal and detox might seem frightening to you while you are trying to overcome your substance use disorder. As a result, you might avoid quitting because you are afraid that doing so could prove to be too painful for you.

This is particularly true if you are struggling with an addiction involving substances that cause life-threatening symptoms. In such a situation, the only way you can protect yourself is through a medically managed detox program.

The Development of Drug Withdrawal

If you have only been abusing drugs and drinking alcohol for a short period of time, it is highly likely that you will only be struggling with a relatively mild substance use disorder. In such a situation, you might only experience mild withdrawal symptoms.

On the other hand, there is a high risk that you could struggle with more severe withdrawal symptoms. This is particularly true if your substance abuse has been ongoing for a long duration, you have a severe addiction, or you are also struggling with a co-occurring mental health disorder. When this happens, your withdrawal syndrome might prove to be life-threatening.

To understand how deadly addiction detoxification can be, it is essential that you learn more about the psychological and physical effects of intoxicating and mind altering substances.

In particular, consistent drug and alcohol use can lead to significant alterations in the chemical pathways and activity of your brain. Sometimes, this might happen rather quickly, in which case you will develop a substance use disorder in a few days to several weeks.

Every time you consume these substances, they will trigger various changes. Often, these changes lead to abnormal surges in the level of certain essential chemicals in your brain. This is dangerous especially when you consider that these chemicals are linked with certain desirable and life-sustaining effects, including relaxation, euphoria, pleasure, and pain relief.

If you continue abusing drugs, you might develop tolerance to them. This means that you cannot experience their pleasurable effects unless you increase your usual dosage or the frequency of substance use.

As you keep on increase your doses and the frequency, you will get to a point where going for any given period of time without drugs causes you to feel ill. At this stage, it means that your brain and body would need you to keep taking the substances regularly at particular doses to be able to function normally. This effectively means that you would have developed chemical, physical, and psychological dependence on the substances.

Dependence and Withdrawal

The main reason that you will develop withdrawal symptoms is due to your growing dependence on intoxicating and mind altering substances. This is because you will experience these symptoms every time you do not take these substances.

That said, the withdrawal process is highly variable. Although certain substances of abuse cause symptoms that you can predict, there are individual factors that could make your withdrawal experience different.

Some of these factors include but are not limited to:

  • Any previous experiences you have had with withdrawal
  • The amount of substances you use
  • The duration of your drug use
  • The state of your physical and psychological health

To this end, your withdrawal might be relatively uncomplicated in some situations. Generally speaking, however, there is a high risk that it could prove to be highly complicated and accompanied with some deadly symptoms.

When this happens, it is essential that you seek medical attention. This is because your withdrawal symptoms might prove to be life-threatening. In such a case, you are going to need proper medical management services during your drug detox.

Drugs with Dangerous Withdrawal Syndromes

As we mentioned earlier, withdrawal symptoms vary widely depending on your favorite substances of abuse. To this end, it is important to keep in mind that there are some drugs that could cause your withdrawal syndrome to be complicated. These substances include but are not limited to:

  • Alcohol
  • Opioids, including prescription pain relief medications like oxycodone and illicit drugs such as heroin
  • Sedatives (including benzodiazepines, non-benzodiazepine sedative hypnotics, and barbiturates, non-benzodiazepine sedative hypnotics), which are used to induce sleep and alleviate anxiety
  • Stimulants, such as cocaine, prescription stimulants for ADHD management, and methamphetamine

a) Sedatives and Alcohol

Although sedatives and alcohol are completely different substances of abuse, they often have similar effects on the brain. They can also cause similar withdrawal symptoms, such as:

  • Agitated movements
  • Anxiety
  • Hallucinations
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting

Sometimes, alcohol withdrawal can also give rise to delirium tremens - one of the most dangerous and deadly of all withdrawal syndromes. Combined with seizures, delirium tremens present the greatest risk to your health and wellness. Unless you receive medically managed detox services, these symptoms might lead to death.

b) Opioids

While withdrawing from opioids, you may experience:

  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Although these symptoms are more distressing than they are deadly, they can lead to situations where your withdrawal becomes severe. This means that you may experience some life-threatening complications, including but not limited to:

  • Aggravation of any cardiac issues that you might be struggling with as a result of sweating, and changes in pulse rate and blood pressure
  • Aspiration and choking due to vomit, which you could inhale into your lungs or cause blockages in your airway
  • Electrolyte imbalance and dehydration, which result from diarrhea, sweating, and vomiting

c) Stimulants

While withdrawing from stimulants, you could experience:

  • Excessive fatigue
  • Increased appetite
  • Insomnia

These withdrawal symptoms do not present any physical dangers. Even so, most stimulants can affect your cardiovascular system. For instance, if you recently took cocaine, it could cause you to suffer a heart attack or heart arrhythmia while struggling with acute withdrawal.

Getting Help

The best way to deal with any deadly or fatal withdrawal symptoms is to receive the medical care that can manage these symptoms safely and effectively. This is why you are advised only go through withdrawal while enrolled in a professional medically supervised detox program. As long as you are able to find the right detox center, you should be able to get the right type of care to help you overcome your withdrawal symptoms in a safe and secure environment.


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