A high percentage of those experiencing addiction understand the feelings and symptoms of withdrawal from a substance and want to avoid them. As a result, when considering treatment for a substance use disorder, fears and confusion can cloud the decision to detox.

Users struggle with facing the difficulty of securing a treatment plan because their experience of discomfort and pain continues to haunt a breakable mindset. The fearful question of whether withdrawals are deadly continues to plague the decision-making process of those seeking help in finding sobriety.

What Are Drug Withdrawals?

The brain and the body become dependent on a substance when a substance use disorder is present. Consequently, with continuous usage, the brain makes chemical adjustments to function with the drug.

The body looks to the brain to perform, and withdrawal symptoms occur once the adaptive chemical balance does not receive the standard dosage. With sudden stoppage, drug withdrawals may be deadly when not medically managed by treatment and medical professionals. 

Symptoms of withdrawal from a substance include any of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Trembling and tremors
  • Seizures 
  • Dilated pupils
  • Nausea, vomiting, and sweating
  • Hunger or loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability and agitation
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Confusion and paranoia
  • Insomnia
  • Delirium Tremens

Are Drug Withdrawals Deadly?

With an alcohol use disorder, delirium tremens can occur with alcohol detox and could be deadly without medical management. Unfortunately, with long-term heavy alcohol abuse, withdrawals are deadly should this syndrome take place with no medical professionals on hand to recognize the symptoms early on.

The National Library of Medicine highlights the article Delirium Tremens, stating it can occur as early as 48 hours after an abrupt stoppage of alcohol use. Chronic users can experience this for up to 5 days with an anticipated mortality of up to 37% without necessary medical treatment. 

Polydrug use can complicate the withdrawal process and make medical management more complex. However unfortunate, withdrawal from some substances under certain circumstances can be deadly. Those who try to detox at home or alone face imminent danger once the symptoms become unbearable.

Relapsing during detox or immediately after detox faces the chance of overdose or death from thinking they can jump back into usage at the dosage they always took. 

Types of Withdrawal

The three substances that typically present with the most dangerous withdrawal symptoms are alcohol, benzos, and opioids. In some circumstances, substance withdrawals are deadly, such as cold turkey or detox at home without medical supervision.

Medical professionals suggest professional detox at all times, with 24/7 medical monitoring and the option of medication-assisted treatment to raise comfort levels. Finally, detox is only a starting point for treatment to begin, and relapse prevention education is essential to maintaining sobriety. 


Physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms can occur, ranging from mild to severe and, in some detox processes, life-threatening. In alcohol detox, each faces their own set of withdrawal symptoms depending upon the length of usage, dosage, and if other substances are in use.

General physical condition, age, having a history of previous detox, and condition of mental health are all contributing factors. It’s essential to consider that long-term alcohol dependence can lead to the deterioration of significant body organs, leading to difficult detox. 

More severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms include the following complications:

  • Seizures and body temperature fluctuations
  • Hallucinations
  • Extreme irritability
  • Delirium Tremens


Opioid withdrawal symptoms are challenging to deal with because they are highly uncomfortable. For instance, heroin, morphine, and oxycodone addictions can be complex to manage during detox.

Some drug withdrawals are deadly because of the chance of relapse, and when discomfort occurs without proper medical management, relapse is highly probable. As a result, those seeking help in the treatment of an opioid use disorder need to consider a professional detox program with the best options for medical management. 


Stimulant withdrawal poses another life-threatening possibility during detox. Depression, negative thoughts and feelings, with a profound debilitating dysphoria, can occur and lead to suicidal thoughts or ideations.

In addition, this depressing condition can lead to thoughts of relapse, hoping to relinquish the depression. Similar to other addictive substances, withdrawal intensity is an individual factor based on typical determinants. 

Protracted withdrawal is an identifiable issue with stimulant withdrawals. While typically, withdrawal symptoms end within a week, stimulants can produce this persistent, prolonged withdrawal period of symptoms that can last for weeks. Without proper relapse prevention education on how to handle this, some may relapse. 

Additional protracted withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Anxiety, irritability, and depression
  • Slowed thoughts and movements
  • Poor concentration and fatigue
  • Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
  • Cocaine cravings and paranoia


Similar to other substance withdrawal symptoms, meth withdrawal causes acute and post-acute symptoms. Meth withdrawals are deadly if relapse occurs and the user attempts to use a high dosage to get relief or as a result of suicidal ideation carried out. 

The intensity of symptoms depends on the route of administration, dosage, purity of the drug, and levels of intoxication. Meth withdrawal is uncomfortable and unpleasant, so medical management is beneficial. 

The acute meth withdrawal symptoms and similar post-acute withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Dehydration, low energy, and dysphoria (depressed feelings)
  • Fatigue and difficulty thinking
  • An inability to feel pleasure (anhedonia)
  • Insomnia
  • Self-isolation
  • Weight gain and drug cravings
  • Chills

Prescription Drugs

Situations where benzodiazepine withdrawals are deadly or can cause permanent disability, without typical withdrawal symptoms appearing, is when rhabdomyolysis occurs. Rhabdomyolysis, or rhabdo, appears when damaged muscle tissue releases proteins and electrolytes into the blood.

Thus, the substances can cause damage to the heart and kidneys and possibly lead to kidney failure and death. 

Emotional Support and Reducing Withdrawal Risks

During detox, tolerance lowers significantly, and those who relapse and attempt to find relief in their substance can overdose easily. Using the exact dosage that was normal in the past is too high once tolerance and dependence are reduced. In these situations, the risk that withdrawals are deadly is much higher.

Supportive measures such as hands-on 24/7 medical monitoring during inpatient care can reduce the possibility of relapse. They offer emotional support as patients endure anxiety, depression and other symptoms. 

Multiple relapses are more complicated to manage with each detox attempt. A higher risk of delirium tremens occurs with a history of numerous detox attempts. Medically working detox and using medication-assisted treatment adds essential support to avoid relapse. These factors reinforce the need to detox with a professional program and receive supportive rehab treatment. 

Supportive Care with Medically Monitored Detox in Tennessee

Relapse prevention is a proactive measure to work for during a professional detox program. Detox West Tennessee specializes in detox programs equipped to medically manage the withdrawal process to maintain safety and avoid complications. Offering gender-exclusive options for men and women to achieve sobriety in a same-sex setting can be beneficial for specific individuals with special needs.

Contact Detox West Tennessee admissions department to begin working with a representative to initiate the journey towards sobriety.