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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? 

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 opioid 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. 

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 and 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  

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  

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.  

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 facility and addiction services, contact Banyan Treatment Centers today at 888-280-4763 



  1. Wiley Online Library - Yes, people can die from opiate withdrawal 
  1. Alastair Mowbray - Cases, Materials, and Commentary on the European Convention on Human Rights  


Related Reading:   

Opioid Use Disorder in Veterans 

Opioid Addiction After Surgery 

Alyssa who is the National Director of Digital Marketing, joined the Banyan team in 2016, bringing her five-plus years of experience. She has produced a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. Through strategic marketing campaign concepts, Alyssa has established Banyan as an industry leader and a national household name.