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Can You Die From Opiate Withdrawal?

Can You Die From Opiate Withdrawal?

When people dependent on opioids go to the hospital for detox, they are often turned away because opioid withdrawal is seen as less severe and potentially fatal than benzodiazepine and alcohol withdrawal. When people suddenly decrease or stop consuming their use of benzos or alcohol, life-threatening symptoms such as seizures and delirium tremens, but less seems to occur to those withdrawing from opioids. So, can you die from opiate withdrawal? If so, what options for treatment are available? Our Milford Rehab Center is here to explain.

What Is Opiate Withdrawal?

Also known as opioid withdrawal or opioid withdrawal syndrome, opiate withdrawal is a severe condition resulting from opioid dependence. Anyone who takes opioids is at risk of developing dependence and addiction. 

Whether they’re used with a prescription or illegally, all opioids can lead to physical dependence, which is marked by withdrawal symptoms. Opioids, like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and heroin, trigger the release of endorphins and dopamine, the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters.   

Endorphins and dopamine work together to muffle the body’s perception of pain while increasing mood and producing sensations of pleasure and well-being. When an opioid dose wears off, the person may find themselves wanting to return to that state of well-being and might even take higher doses the next time they use these drugs to intensify these side effects. 

When you take opioids repeatedly or excessively over time, your body’s production of endorphins and dopamine slows. The same dose of opioids stops working the same way, which is known as tolerance. 

A major contributing factor to opioid abuse and addiction is tolerance, as people who develop tolerance may feel the need to increase their doses so they can keep feeling good or high. Dependence goes hand-in-hand with tolerance.   

Opioid dependence is characterized by severe withdrawal symptoms that occur when the person suddenly stops using drugs after long periods of use. When the body is suddenly deprived of opioids, the brain struggles to regulate itself chemically, which can lead to symptoms like: 

  • Muscle aches
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Teary eyes (lacrimation)
  • Runny nose
  • Excessive sweating
  • Inability to sleep
  • Frequent yawning 
  • Insomnia
  • Stomach pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • High blood pressure
  • Dilated pupils
  • Blurred vision
  • Goosebumps

The severity and longevity of opioid withdrawal symptoms vary depending on the type of drug used, the frequency of use, the person’s usual doses, and how long they’ve been using. Those with more severe opioid abuse habits are more likely to experience severe withdrawals.   

If you’ve struggled to find help for your withdrawals, our Delaware drug rehab offers medically monitored detox for both illicit and prescription opioids that can help. Our services are administered in a safe and comfortable environment to ensure that clients experience a speedy recovery. We encourage you to contact us today if you have any questions.

Can You Die From Opioid Withdrawal?

The opioid withdrawal mortality rate is unclear, but there are several cases of fatal opiate withdrawal, particularly within jails. There were 10 reported cases of fatal opioid withdrawals in United States jails between 2013 and 2016.   

The cases included six women and four men, ranging from ages 18 to 49.1 Despite these cases, however, for many, the question remains: can opioid withdrawal be fatal? We say yes

You can die from opiate withdrawal, specifically from dehydration caused by diarrhea and vomiting. Persistent vomiting and diarrhea may lead to extreme dehydration and hypernatraemia (elevated blood sodium level), which can result in heart failure.1 

Fortunately, death from opioid withdrawal is preventable with the right kind of help. Considering that opiate users comprise more than a substantial portion of prison populations and jails are the entry point to the correctional system, treatments such as medical heroin detox need to be elevated. Withdrawal, in general, must be better recognized within the correctional system.

Can You Die From Heroin Withdrawals?

Although not a particularly common occurrence, a person can die from complications due to heroin withdrawal. While our examples of cases were from 2013 to 2016, instances of fatal opioid withdrawals date back to the late 1990s. In 1998, Judith McGlinchey was incarcerated in the United Kingdom and went into heroin withdrawal. Judith exhibited symptoms like persistent vomiting, sudden weight loss, and dehydration. The cause of death was attributed to hypoxic brain damage caused by a heart attack.2 

Ultimately, the cause of Judith's death was attributed to hypoxic brain damage stemming from a heart attack triggered during the withdrawal process. This tragic incident highlights the potential dangers associated with heroin withdrawal, underscoring the importance of proper medical supervision and support during such challenging circumstances to mitigate the risk of severe complications and ensure the well-being of individuals navigating addiction recovery.

Can You Die From Methadone Withdrawal?

Even though methadone withdrawal is usually not as dangerous as that of other opioids, there are still risks involved, especially if the drug is not properly managed. In contrast to other drugs, methadone withdrawal symptoms can be mild at first, but they can last a long time. Some of the symptoms include nausea, vomiting, anxiety, and insomnia. Severe electrolyte imbalances or dehydration may happen in extreme circumstances. People going through methadone withdrawal must do so under the guidance of medical professionals who can keep an eye out for any problems and provide the necessary care. Even though methadone withdrawal-related deaths are uncommon, the necessity of a carefully monitored withdrawal process emphasizes the need for all-encompassing medical care to guarantee the security and well-being of people attempting to overcome opioid dependence.

Can You Die From Oxy Withdrawal?

The withdrawal symptoms from oxycodone, also referred to as Oxy, are usually not fatal, but they can cause a variety of difficult symptoms that need to be carefully managed. People going through Oxy withdrawal might feel anxious, nauseous, or experience muscle aches. The risks associated with severe dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, or underlying medical conditions that worsen during the withdrawal process outweigh the generally non-fatal withdrawal symptoms. Those attempting to kick an Oxy addiction must do so under the guidance of medical professionals who are qualified to handle possible complications, manage symptoms, and offer appropriate support. Getting the right medical attention during withdrawal greatly lowers the possibility of negative consequences, making the move toward recovery safer and more comfortable.

Opioid Withdrawal Treatment 

If you or someone you care about is addicted to illicit or prescription opioids, don’t wait to get help. Our Delaware rehab center offers opioid detox conducted in a residential treatment setting where clients are separated from outside distractions so they can focus on their recovery. 

Following detox and therapy, we also offer aftercare services to clients through our alumni program. In this program, alumni can work with counselors and sponsors to stay on track as they navigate their newly sober lives.   

For more information about our Delaware rehabs and addiction services, contact Banyan Treatment Centers today at 888-280-4763 and verify your insurance coverage.


  1. Wiley Online Library - Yes, people can die from opiate withdrawal
  2. Alastair Mowbray - Cases, Materials, and Commentary on the European Convention on Human Rights 
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.