How Alcoholism Can Kill You

Drinking and driving.

Drinking and drugging.

Drinking and dying from just alcohol.

It’s not often you hear about that last scenario, but it is possible.

Can alcoholism kill you? Yes. But how does this happen? And, more importantly, how can you take steps to fight alcoholism?

People with alcohol dependency might find it difficult to stop drinking despite their best efforts. When drinking has gotten to the point where the person is physically and mentally dependent on alcohol, it is considered a disease and must be treated like one. Drinkers who consume alcohol long-term develop a high tolerance for it and are likely to experience progressive withdrawal symptoms that can impair their health and lead to death.

Many chronic drinkers who cut back or end their alcohol consumption experience these symptoms.

“Your body develops a homeostasis with alcohol,” Dr. Robert Schwartz, chairman of family medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, told LiveScience for its report titled, “Can You Die From Alcohol Withdrawal.” “As soon as you take it away, you’re upsetting that balance,” Schwartz said.

Alcohol Withdrawal Can Turn Deadly

When understanding how alcoholism can kill you, we need to first grasp the physical implication of an addiction to alcohol. Symptoms can range from mild to serious and show up as early as six hours after the last drink is taken. These symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Shaky hands
  • Sweating

People with serious alcohol withdrawal may experience hallucinations anywhere from 12 to 24 hours after their last drink, or they may have seizures within the first 48 hours. This condition is not the same as delirium tremens, or DTs, which begin 48 to 72 hours after the last drink.

Severe symptoms include vivid hallucinations and delusions. DTs reportedly affect only five percent of people with alcohol withdrawal. Those who do experience confusion, a racing heart, high blood pressure, fever, and heavy sweating. Because of this, stopping your alcohol consumption in cold turkey is not advised and can be deadly. Make sure that you are detoxing in a medically secure and supervised environment.

Why True Blood Star Nelsan Ellis Died from Alcohol Withdrawal

Improperly withdrawing from alcohol can be fatal.

Just recently, True Blood star Nelsan Ellis died of complications with heart failure after attempting to withdraw from alcohol on his own. His family issued a statement about the star’s death, saying Ellis was “ashamed of his addiction and thus was reluctant to talk about it during his life.” According to his family, Ellis abused drugs and alcohol for years and had “many stints in rehab.”

This time, he had decided to try to get better without treatment, which resulted in him battling a blood infection, a swollen liver, kidneys that shut down, low blood pressure, and a heart that raced out of control.

The statement went on to say, “His family, however, believes that in death he would want his life to serve as a cautionary tale in an attempt to help others.”

How Alcoholism Can Kill You

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc., alcoholism is the third leading lifestyle-related cause of death in the U.S. And, the organization reports that 88,000 deaths annually are attributed to excessive alcohol use. In 2014, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities accounted for 9,967 deaths, or 31 percent of overall driving fatalities, reports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

While drunk-driving crashes are one-way alcohol use can end lives, we offer a few others that illustrate how it can have deadly consequences.

Excessive drinking can lead to alcohol poisoning, and death can result from that. Binge drinkers are especially at risk for alcohol poisoning which can lead to death. According to the Mayo Clinic, a fatal dose of alcohol can be consumed before a person loses consciousness.

“Even when you’re unconscious, or you’ve stopped drinking, alcohol continues to be released from your stomach and intestines into your bloodstream, and the level of alcohol in your body continues to rise,” the Mayo Clinic writes.

Alcohol also takes longer to leave the body as it is processed by the liver, so consuming too much alcohol in a short period could lead to poisoning. Severe complications can arise after alcohol poisoning occurs. One of them is choking. Because alcohol depresses the gag reflex, people who drink too much are at an increased risk of choking on their vomit after they pass out.

Accidentally inhaling vomit into the lungs can fatally interrupt breathing. Other complications that also can lead to death from alcohol poisoning include severe dehydration, seizures, hypothermia, irregular heartbeat, and brain damage.

Heavy alcohol abuse can cause alcohol-related liver disease (ALD), which can happen in three stages.

Fatty liver, which is also known as hepatic steatosis, is the earliest stage of ALD. It is the condition when there is an excessive accumulation of fat inside liver cells, which makes it harder for the liver to function properly. When fat makes up more than five percent to 10 percent of the liver’s weight, it is cause for concern.

Alcoholic hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that occurs after years of heavy drinking. The inflammation destroys liver cells and organs as well. This condition ranges from mild to severe, but it can lead to irreversible scarring of healthy liver tissue. Symptoms include fever, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and tenderness. The acute form of the disease can occur quickly and become fatal. Not all heavy drinkers will have alcoholic hepatitis, but it is one of the dangers of excessive drinking.

People with alcoholic hepatitis must stop drinking, the Mayo Clinic warns. If they continue, serious liver damage and death are possible. Yellowing of the skin and white of the eyes, a condition known as jaundice, is the most common sign of this disease, says the Mayo Clinic. People with alcoholic hepatitis may also have a loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, a low-grade fever, and weight loss, among other signs and symptoms. Alcoholic hepatitis can lead to a more serious condition known as cirrhosis of the liver.

Cirrhosis of the liver is the most serious of the three alcohol-related liver diseases that can kill you. According to the Liver Foundation, between 10 and 20 percent of heavy drinkers develop cirrhosis typically after 10-plus years of drinking alcohol. Cirrhosis occurs when nonliving scar tissue builds up and takes over most of the liver. This condition can be reversed though there’s no guarantee that this happens for all people who have it.

There’s also liver cancer, which is another scenario in which alcoholism leads to death, but the American Cancer Society also warns that heavy drinking can lead to cancers of the mouth, throat, colon and rectum, breast, voice box (larynx), and esophagus. Alcohol can also increase the risk of developing cancers of the pancreas and stomach.

How Much Alcohol Is Fatal?

There is no set limit on how much alcohol you would need to consume to encounter fatal doses. This is due in part to these factors:

  1. Age
  2. Body fat percentage
  3. Sex
  4. Weight

However, there are averages that should be considered when drinking large amounts. Take a look at these blood-alcohol content (BAC) percentages to determine how much alcohol can kill you:

  • 0.02-0.039 percent: Slightly elevated emotions and euphoric effects. No major impairment.
  • 0.04-.059 percent: Lowered inhibitions, warm feelings, and judgment impairment.
  • 0.06-0.099 percent: Slight loss of balance and coordination. Memory impairment. Lack of self-control.
  • 0.1-0.129 percent: Major loss of coordination and judgment. Slurred speech and hearing impairment.
  • 0.13-0.159 percent: Blurred vision; significant loss of balance. Dysphoria begins.
  • 0.16-0.199 percent: Nausea. Possible aggressiveness. Complete absence of self-control.
  • 0.2-0.249 percent: Loss of motor skills and awareness of surroundings. Inability to walk. Vomiting.
  • 0.25-0.399 percent: Unconsciousness and alcohol poisoning.
  • 0.4+ percent: Coma or respiratory failure resulting in death.

There are several “home remedies” thought to lower your blood-alcohol content that is, in fact, useless. Nothing can lower your BAC other than time.

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