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What Types of Drug Withdrawals can be Life-Threatening?

Medically Verified: 2/1/24

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor

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

Drug addiction is a complex and progressive disease that can significantly impact your ability to function daily. According to the National Institutes of Health, “10 percent of US adults have drug use disorder at some point in their lives.”[1] This equates to over 23 million people.

When you are addicted to a substance, your brain and body become accustomed to the presence of that drug in your system. Your brain will begin to work in overdrive to stabilize certain chemicals in your body. If you suddenly stop taking the substance, your brain will continue to work in overdrive because it is used to having the drug in your system, causing withdrawal symptoms.

Almost all substances will cause some level of physical, mental, and emotional withdrawal symptoms. However, the symptoms and the severity of those symptoms will depend on which drug you are taking. Certain drugs can cause severe and life-threatening symptoms of withdrawal.

The drugs that can cause life-threatening withdrawal symptoms include:


In some cases, alcohol withdrawal can be mild, only causing some discomfort and slight pain. However, if you struggled with a severe and long-term addiction to alcohol, your withdrawal symptoms could quickly become life-threatening.

The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Tremors
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Excessive sweating
  • Visual, auditory, and tactile hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Status epilepticus
  • Delirium tremens

The most severe form of alcohol withdrawal is known as delirium tremens. With early treatment and prevention, you are less likely to die from developing delirium tremens. However, if you do not attend an alcohol detox program and develop this condition, you could experience coma and death.

The symptoms of delirium tremens include:

  • Feeling disoriented or confused
  • Hallucinations
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Increased breathing rate
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Low-grade fever
  • Profuse sweating
  • Feeling agitated
  • Stupor
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Coma
  • Death

Without proper treatment, the mortality rate for delirium tremens is 37%.[2] Because of this, you must seek professional medical care before attempting to quit using alcohol.


Benzodiazepines are a class of highly-addictive drugs that are known to cause severe, life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. Examples of benzodiazepines include Xanax, Klonopin, and Diazepam. You are more likely to experience the worst symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal if you were frequently taking high doses of the drug.

The symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal may include:

  • Excessive sweating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Insomnia
  • Tremors
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Delirium (confused thinking and reduced awareness of surroundings)

Because benzodiazepine withdrawal can cause grand mal seizures, hallucinations, and delirium, it is considered to be potentially life-threatening. A benzodiazepine detox center can provide you with the medications and treatments necessary to prevent you from experiencing severe symptoms of withdrawal and keep you medically stable throughout the entire process.

You are at a higher risk of experiencing fatal symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal if you:[3]

  • Have a history of seizures
  • Are an older individual
  • Misuse alcohol
  • Take other sedatives or sleep aids
  • Take opioids or are experiencing opioid withdrawal symptoms
  • Have psychiatric disorders or physical health conditions


Most people do not consider opioid withdrawal to be life-threatening. In fact, many people describe opioid withdrawal as “the flu times 100”. At a minimum, opioid withdrawal is extremely uncomfortable and painful, however, some of the symptoms can lead to life-threatening emergencies if they are not promptly treated.

The symptoms of opioid withdrawal include:

  • Muscle aches
  • Restlessness
  • Excessive yawning
  • Teary eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Goosebumps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dilated pupils and blurry vision
  • Rapid heart rate and high blood pressure

While none of these symptoms appear to be life-threatening, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea can lead to fatal consequences if left untreated. According to the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, “Persistent vomiting and diarrhea may result, if untreated, in dehydration, hypernatraemia (elevated blood sodium level) and resultant heart failure.”[4]

Opioid detox centers can prescribe medications like buprenorphine or methadone to reduce withdrawal symptoms and prevent adverse side effects.

How Can a Medical Detox Program Help?

While opioid, alcohol and benzodiazepine withdrawal can be life-threatening, they don’t have to be. Drug and alcohol detox centers can prescribe FDA-approved medications that lessen the symptoms of withdrawal, prevent cravings, and keep you medically stable throughout the detoxification process. In addition to providing you with medications, these programs offer 24/7 medical observation and psychological support to ensure that you are feeling safe, comfortable, and motivated to continue your recovery.

After you complete the detox process, a counselor can help you transition into further addiction treatment. It is important to remember that addiction is more than a physical condition, which means it requires extensive psychological treatment and support to maintain long-term sobriety. Because of this, your detox center will ensure that you transition into a reputable inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment program immediately after the completion of your detoxification.

Safe, Monitored Drug & Alcohol Detox in North Carolina

Certain types of drug withdrawals can be life-threatening, so you should never try to detox alone. If you or a loved one suffer from drug addiction, receiving professional help is the best way to ensure your own safety and recovery.

Charlotte Detox Center is a peaceful and beautiful place for individuals to comfortably and safely eliminate physical dependence on substances; our high-end and state-of-the-art facility prepares clients for the next level of appropriate care.

Our skilled and experienced medical and therapeutic staff are trained to provide care and support for sufferers of substance use disorders as well as their families. This support includes education on the realities of addiction that de-stigmatizes this overwhelmingly common disease.

We capture all the comforts of home in our elegant and amenity-rich campus in Charlotte, North Carolina. Each client has their own beautifully appointed private room in which to rest, relax and rejuvenate. Clients can mingle in the common areas of our facility and enjoy nutritious meals crafted by our chef.

Charlotte Detox Center also provides a medically sophisticated facility that helps ease clients through acute withdrawal, medically managing their comfort and symptoms in a proactive and compassionate manner.

Don’t wait any longer to get the help you need. Contact us today to get started.