Can Improperly Detoxing from Alcohol Kill You?

Many people assume that undergoing an alcohol detox is perfectly safe. After all, alcohol is a perfectly legal substance, so how could this legal drug possibly have fatal consequences?

This is an assumption that you hold at your peril. Each year, unassisted alcohol detoxifications claim literally hundreds of thousands of lives worldwide.

Why? Because alcohol disturbs the natural flow of neurotransmitters within your brain (known as GABA receptors). When you are alcohol dependent, your brain chemistry is majorly altered.

When you stop drinking alcohol without a suitable withdrawal medication, your brain chemistry spirals out of control, and this spiral could result in withdrawal symptoms that are potentially lethal.


Alcoholism is a progressive disorder. The more you drink, the greater your tolerance will become. In time, you will substantially increase the amount of alcohol your body is able to consume. Sooner or later, you will become alcohol dependent.

When you become alcohol dependent, ceasing to drink alcohol will become harder and harder, and eventually, you will begin to suffer from physical as well as psychological withdrawal symptoms when alcohol consumption ceases.

Most people addicted to alcohol will at some point attempt to stop drinking alcohol without medical assistance. The onset of withdrawal symptoms and cravings usually result in a relapse.

When you undergo a detox from a residential rehab, you will be given medication that prevents the rise of withdrawal symptoms.

Examples of alcohol-related withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Heart palpitations
  • Insomnia
  • Physical discomfort
  • Mood swings
  • Hypoglycaemia
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Overheating

When alcohol is abruptly removed, the above symptoms will occur over the course of 2-3 days. If you begin to experience heart palpitations or hallucinations, then we recommend you dial 999 without delay.

Even if you do attempt to detox without medical assistance, and we would never recommend you to do so, at least ensure a family member is present throughout the entire process. Doing so will at least mitigate the risk of you not being able to dial 999 if needed.

What happens during a medically assisted detox?

During a medically assisted detox, you will be given special medications that slow down the speed in which chemicals in your brain return to pre-addiction levels. Usually, this is achieved through the use of benzodiazepines.

Benzodiazepines are a class of drug, and they affect the brain akin to how alcohol affects the brain. Your dosage of benzodiazepines will be slowly reduced over the course of your detox. Benzodiazepines do themselves pose a risk of addiction, and for this reason, you will be given a slow-acting benzodiazepine with low abuse potential.

During your detox, you will be closely monitored by a team of health professionals. Before your detox begins, you will be thoroughly examined from both a physical and psychological standpoint. Any pre-existing medical conditions will also influence the manner in which your detox treatment will proceed.

This expert clinical team will increase your dosage of medication if you begin to experience any breakthrough withdrawal symptoms.