eli5: How come alchoal withdraw has a chance to kill you?

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eli5: How come alchoal withdraw has a chance to kill you?

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The fancy word for it is Delirium Tremens (DT). Usually happens around the third day of alcohol withdrawal and can be life-threatening because it causes massive seizures. To put it simply when someone uses alcohol excessively it depresses a lot of neurons in the brain, and when the alcohol consumption stops suddenly, these neurons can become super excitable (put out too many electrical signals) which trigger large seizures, which cause death. However, this is usually pretty preventable with the use of Ativan.

Your body has receptors that alcohol inhibits. So your body makes more of these receptors to try and have enough functioning properly while some are being inhibited by the alcohol that’s usually around. Suddenly you stop drinking and you have tons of these receptors around and none of them are being inhibited anymore. So your body is in a super excited state and your blood pressure, heart rate, and brain activity sky rockets. This can cause fatal events like a heart attack or brain damage from seizure activity.

Imagine you are about to run in a race, but before you start, one of the judges hands you a big heavy bag and says you have to run holding this. You start the race and you can still run, but you need to give 110% just to keep up. Now imagine that whilst giving 110%, suddenly someone takes the bag off you. You’re not used to trying to run this fast without the weight, and you end up tripping over.

This is what excessive alcohol can do to the brain. Too much of it can weigh down your brain like the bag did in the example above, and your brain has to give 110% to keep up. If you suddenly remove the alcohol, the brain still tries to run at 110% and this can cause issues like seizures.

Alcohol is a “depressant” that makes things in your body/nervous system run sluggishly. Your heartbeat slows down, reaction time gets slower, etc. To counter the effects of constant alcohol, your body produces stimulants and decreases the number of available receptors for alcohols downward effects, all to try and cancel the effect of the alcohol and bring you back up to a normal/functional level of nervous system activity.

The problem is that when you stop the alcohol, your body can’t react to the change instantly. It’s still producing extra stimulants to counter the expected alcohol. It still has all its damper switches turned off. So now with *no* alcohol to slow anything down, it’s all gas no brakes – your nervous system revs up out of control causing random muscle movements you didn’t ask for (the shakes), seizures, brain damage, heart attacks from extreme high heart rate, etc.