Can Detox Be Deadly?

Detox is shorthand for detoxification, a process that occurs when you stop using drugs or alcohol and go through withdrawal as the substance(s) you have consumed leave your system. While any form of substance withdrawal can cause serious discomfort, withdrawal from two substances in particular — alcohol and benzodiazepine tranquilizers — can produce life-threatening complications. For this reason, you should medically detox under proper supervision instead of attempting to detox on your own.

Alcohol Detox Dangers

Most people withdrawing from alcohol don’t encounter severe complications. However, if you’re a heavy drinker and/or have gone through alcohol withdrawal on more than one occasion, the detox process can trigger the onset of a dangerous condition called delirium tremens, or the DTs. In addition to producing a delirious mental state, the DTs can produce symptoms that include:

  • Sensory hallucinations
  • Periods of sleep that last for at least 24 hours
  • A disoriented, confused, irritated or agitated mental state
  • Unusual sensitivity to sounds, lights and physical contact
  • Muscle tremors
  • Full-blown seizures (especially a type of major seizure called a grand mal seizure)

When they occur, the symptoms of delirium tremens usually arise approximately two to four days after you stop drinking. Unless you medically detox, these symptoms can snowball quickly, and doctors treat them as an emergency. Without promptly treatment, an individual experiencing the DTs can die.

Benzodiazepine Detox Dangers

Benzodiazepines come in short-, medium- and long-acting forms. If you’ve been taking any of these three forms of medication for extended amounts of time or in large doses, seizures can occur as part of the withdrawal process. You also have a small seizure risk when detoxing after using a benzodiazepine for short periods of time or in relatively small doses. The vast majority of people withdrawing from these medications who go into convulsions experience grand mal seizures. Potential consequences of these seizure episodes include coma and death. You must medically detox in order to bring benzodiazepine abuse/addiction under control. As a rule, doctors gradually wean patients off of these medications to keep seizure risks and other potential complications under control. After detox, patients should seek treatment for benzodiazpine addiction to promote long-term sobriety. Resources National Institute on Drug Abuse: Medical Detoxification National Institute on Drug Abuse: Frequently Asked Questions U.S. National Library of Medicine – MedlinePlus: Alcohol Withdrawal U.S. National Library of Medicine – MedlinePlus: Delirium Tremens Journal of the Oklahoma State Medical Association: Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Seizures and Management

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