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Medically Reviewed

The Potential Complications of Alcohol Withdrawal

- 7 sections

Medically Reviewed: December 10, 2021

Medical Reviewer

Sahil Talwar, PA-C, MBA


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Alcohol addiction is a chronic disease characterized by an inability to stop or control one’s alcohol intake. Individuals suffering from alcoholism continue to drink despite facing consequences in varying areas of their lives. When a person becomes addicted to alcohol, their body becomes accustomed to the presence of the substance. Because of this, when individuals attempt to abruptly stop their alcohol use they will experience symptoms of withdrawal.

Alcohol is the substance that is thought to cause the most dangerous set of withdrawal symptoms, making it extremely vital for individuals to attend a medical detox program. The potential complications of alcohol withdrawal can be extremely concerning. Without medical intervention, individuals are at risk of experiencing seizures, hallucinations, delirium tremens (DTs), abnormal heart rhythms, and even death.

Understanding the different alcohol withdrawal complications and risks can help people understand why it is so important to detox at a licensed medical facility.

alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Can People Die From Alcohol Withdrawal?

While dying from alcohol withdrawal is not common, it is a significant possibility for individuals who attempt to detox at home. When detox is overseen by medical professionals, any complications that may arise are swiftly treated. However, without medical intervention, individuals are at a high risk of experiencing a variety of alcohol withdrawal complications such as seizures, delirium tremens (DTs), and abnormal heart rhythms.


When an individual quits drinking alcohol, the lack of the substance in the brain causes the Central Nervous System (CNS) to become confused. This is what causes the symptoms of withdrawal to arise. One of the most concerning complications of alcohol withdrawal are seizures.

Alcohol withdrawal seizures typically occur within 48 hours of an individual’s last drink.

According to a study from Alcohol Health and Research World, “Clinical data suggest that the likelihood of having withdrawal seizures, as well as the severity of those seizures, increases with the number of past withdrawals. The correlation between the number of alcohol detoxifications and the development of alcohol withdrawal complications, including seizures, has been ascribed to cumulative long-term changes in brain excitability”.[1]

In other words, if an individual has gone through alcohol withdrawal in the past, they face a higher risk of experiencing seizures. As a result, it is important to attend a professional medical detox program because they provide patients with anticonvulsant medications during the alcohol withdrawal process.


Individuals who are detoxing from alcohol may experience tactile, auditory, and visual hallucinations. The Third Edition of Core Psychiatry reports that most of these hallucinations are third-person auditory hallucinations.[2] For example, an individual may hear voices talking about themselves in a negative or commanding manner. Unfortunately, without professional intervention, this could result in self-harming behaviors or suicide.

Delirium Tremens (DTs)

Delirium tremens or “DTs” is one of the most concerning complications of alcohol withdrawal. DTs typically appear within 4 days subsequent to the onset of acute alcohol withdrawal. This condition is characterized by overactivity of the autonomic nervous system and extreme hallucinations. If an individual has co-occurring mental health conditions and develops delirium tremens, their risk of death becomes increased substantially.

According to Alcohol Health and Research World, “Death may occur in up to 5 percent of patients with DT’s. The risk of death is reduced, however, in patients receiving adequate medication and medical support.”[3]

Because of the potential for developing conditions such as delirium tremens, individuals attempting to quit alcohol abuse must attend a professional medical detox program.

Abnormal Heart Rhythms

The frequent and excessive abuse of alcohol may lead to significant organ damage. One of the organs that face the biggest risk of irreparable damage is the heart. Damage to the heart typically manifests in abnormal heart rhythms after someone binges on alcohol. However, alcohol withdrawal is known as another contributing factor to cardiovascular complications of this sort.

There is a concern of alcohol withdrawal being connected to sudden cardiac death, however, researchers have stated that further study is needed to confirm this as a potential complication.[3]


Individuals who attempt to detox from alcohol at home are at risk of all of the previously mentioned complications of alcohol withdrawal. If someone has a mild to moderate alcohol use disorder, they may not experience the severe side effects. However, when they attempt to detox without medical intervention, they face a high risk of relapsing.

When an individual relapses, they tend to dive right back into the depths of their addiction. This is extremely dangerous because it places them at a high risk of overdose. To explain, when an individual is addicted to alcohol they have built a tolerance to the substance. If they take a brief period of abstinence, relapse, and attempt to drink the same amount, their body may not be able to handle the high levels of alcohol.

Due to this, individuals must attend an alcohol detox program to ensure safety and long-term success in sobriety.

How an Alcohol Detox Program in Charlotte, North Carolina Can Help

Alcohol detox programs like Charlotte Detox Center can help individuals manage the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. By utilizing FDA-approved medications we prevent patients from experiencing the lasting effects of alcohol withdrawal complications. Additionally, our experienced medical staff monitors patients 24/7 by checking vitals periodically and providing patients with fluids as needed.

Because alcohol withdrawal can be extremely mentally taxing, our mental health experts are on call all hours of the night to provide patients with the support they need. If you or a loved one are addicted to alcohol and would like to begin a new way of life, contact Charlotte Detox Center today.