Death by Detox: How “Just Stopping” Can Be Fatal, Part Two


By Stephanie O’Brian, Ed. S., LPC

Following the passing of my sister in August 2022, I struggled to wrap my mind around how Pip actually died. How did my sweet, hilarious sister become a statistic? How did she die from alcohol withdrawal? I knew it was possible, but as I mentioned previously, I never fathomed it could happen to me.

One of my main forms of coping was researching. I had to learn more about alcohol withdrawal, detox death, and delirium tremens (DT). I needed to learn more about why you should detox from alcohol in a safe environment.

DT is most common in people who have alcohol dependence, which is a condition that occurs over time. Dependence means you are physically dependent on the alcohol; your brain has slowly compensated for the way alcohol serves as a depressant. If someone stops their daily drinking cold turkey, the brain then panics in its own way. Your central nervous system becomes overexcited, which can be dangerous.

You may be dependent on alcohol if:

  • You drink more than you used to in order to feel the same effects.
  • Despite feeling depressed or anxious, you continue to drink.
  • You know your drinking negatively affects different aspects of your life (relationships, work, finances, health, etc.), yet you still do it.
  • You have tried to stop drinking, or limit your alcohol consumption, but have failed to do so.
  • Those close to you have brought up your alcohol addiction to you and are concerned.
  • The thought of a day without alcohol is overwhelming.

If you have become dependent on alcohol, it is critical to stay under medical supervision as you detox. This is one of the ways how we at The Meadows Texas save lives. One of the most gut-wrenching aspects of what happened to Pip was that she was sent home from the emergency room after being there for only 12 hours. The little pamphlet given to her said to seek medical attention immediately if she experienced seizures, confusion, or hallucinations. It was not enough. An ambulance was called the moment she began to have a seizure. It was too late.

If you have become dependent on alcohol, it is critical to stay under medical supervision as you detox.

Had my sweet sister been under the care of doctors who were well-informed on addiction and how to detox safely, she would not have been forced to leave the hospital. Had she had the professional help and oversight a place like The Meadows Texas can provide, I believe she would still be alive today.

I do want to add that what happened to Pip is rare. According to Insider, half of those with alcohol addiction will not experience withdrawal symptoms. For the other half, the far majority of the symptoms are mild to moderate. These symptoms may last a few days, to a week, and include:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Elevated anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Moodiness
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Fever
  • Trembling
  • Sweating
  • Difficulty sleeping

If you do feel symptoms while detoxing from alcohol, it may be difficult to discern when “mild to moderate” becomes severe. Not having the self-awareness to know if what is happening in an emergency is another reason to detox safely with medical guidance.

It is important to note that one of the factors when discussing alcohol addiction and withdrawal is general health. reports that heavy or prolonged alcohol use can negatively impact your body, especially your heart, liver, and nervous system. This means that for many people struggling with alcohol addiction, their prolonged alcohol addiction itself puts them at risk for worsened withdrawal symptoms because their body, and vital organs, are made vulnerable due to the damage the alcohol has done.

This makes discerning withdrawal symptoms from your “new normal” of alcohol dependence quite difficult. It also makes it difficult to know when your symptoms are becoming more severe. To make matters worse, because alcoholism takes a toll on your body and severe symptoms like DT are more prone to happen when you have other acute illnesses, it does increase your propensity for severe withdrawal.

It becomes a terrible cycle, a cycle of sickness and misery. A person begins to drink, oftentimes due to mental and emotional problems. The drinking is a Band-Aid on a bullet wound, but it persists, then causing physical ailments. The physical ailments cause physical pain and potential financial burdens which serve as an additional catalyst to continue to drink, to numb it out. This vicious cycle is lethal if professionals are not around to catch it. This cycle robbed me of several more decades with Pip.

No cost is too high, no conversation too vulnerable, no encounter too awkward to seek help the right way.

Writing my sister’s story has been both healing and horrible. As you read this, you should know that these words have been written with love, passion, and tear-streaked cheeks. Maybe you have a loved one who needs help. Or maybe it is you who needs help. You need to know you are worth it. Take it from me, no cost is too high, no conversation too vulnerable, no encounter too awkward to seek help the right way. Choosing to get help is hard. But choosing not to is harder. I assure you it is better for you to attend treatment than for your loved ones to attend your funeral.

Detox death is preventable. Learning why you should detox from alcohol in a safe environment was a heartbreaking experience for me. Here at The Meadows Texas, we have well-informed, compassionate providers ready and able to help you end this miserable, life-altering cycle. I write this in hopes that someone will choose to detox safely alongside us here at The Meadows Texas where you will receive quality and life-changing care. Contact us today to learn more and start your path to healing today.