Is it true that people can die from alcohol withdrawal?
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Yes, coming off alcohol cold turkey can kill you. Don’t do it. Go to a hospital for detox instead.
A little background will help flesh out the question. After a while of taking many different types of drugs (including alcohol), people find that they start needing more of the drugs in order to get the same “high” they used to have. The reason for this is that these people have developed Tolerance for the drugs they are taking; their bodies have gotten used to these drugs and have begun to compensate for the effects of the drugs, making larger doses of the drugs necessary to produce the same high. The body’s compensatory reactions to drugs usually attempt to balance out the presence of the drugs by producing opposite effects. So – if the drug you take makes you feel relaxed, the opposite effect the body will produce is to get anxious. If the drug you take makes you feel free from pain, the opposite effect the body produces will be painful. Now – when someone who has developed serious tolerance to a drug suddenly stops taking that drug, the effects of the drug will no longer be there to balance out the body’s opposite reaction, and the person will start feeling symptoms that are roughly the opposite of the drug’s effects; a state known as withdrawal. They will feel pain if their drug is known to be a pain-killer, and they will feel anxious if their drug generally has a relaxing effect. Most of the time, these painful withdrawal symptoms are motivation enough to get more drugs or drink to make them go away, thus perpetuating the cycle of drug abuse.
The important thing to know about withdrawal symptoms is that they are sometimes dangerous as well as uncomfortable. It is safe (but often quite uncomfortable or even painful) to go cold turkey from some drugs, but alcohol is not one of them. Brain seizures and other life threatening complications can and do occur if your body is used to a certain level of alcohol being present and you suddenly stop providing that alcohol. You can die. Do not detox yourself from alcohol at home!
A proper and safe detoxification from alcohol requires a short hospital stay. While in the hospital, doctors will give you drugs that work like alcohol to stop you from seizing or experiencing other unsafe withdrawal symptoms. Each dose of the drugs they’ll give you will be short acting, however, and every new dose will be just a little bit smaller than the previous one. In this manner, your body is let down slowly and carefully from its dependence on alcohol. By the end of the process, known as a “taper”, your body is no longer dependent on alcohol being present and no obvious withdrawal symptoms should be present. This doesn’t mean you won’t crave alcohol, or think about drinking, however, (you very likely will), but at least your body won’t be needing alcohol at that point to stay alive or avoid feeling pain.