Opioid Addiction and Methadone as a Treatment Option

Is It True? Can You Die from Opiate Withdrawal?

opiate withdrawal death

If you type the question,” “Can you die from opiate withdrawal?” into your search bar, you’ll most likely find articles that say no. However, if you dig deeper, you’ll find solid evidence that people have died from opiate withdrawal before. Why is that and which one is correct?

Well, to better understand the answer to this question, one must first understand what the process of opiate withdrawal is like and what steps and measures are usually taken to help the people who are going through them.

Let’s begin.

What Happens to the Human Body During Opiate Withdrawal?

Opiates, in case you don’t know already, are a strong set of drugs that help people gain relief from pain. They come in many different names and shapes but they all do one main thing. They all send molecules into our brains to increase the normal amount of “feel good” chemicals in our bodies.

However, once the body gets used to functioning on a higher level of opiates, it’ll crave it whenever it’s absent and depend on it. This is opiate addiction and roughly 2.1 million people in the United States have it.

Opiate withdrawal, on the other hands, is the process of when someone stops receiving the same amount of opiates they are used to, either voluntarily or involuntarily.

It is known to be an incredibly difficult and painful experience for anyone who goes through it because the body will try to do everything it can to make the person want to take it again.

Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms and Timeline

Anywhere between 12 and 30 hours (depending on the type of opiates the person was on), the body will begin to display a series of withdrawal symptoms. Here is a list of them:

  • Teary eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Pupillary dilation
  • Goosebumps
  • Excessive yawning
  • Muscle aches
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mania disorders
  • Insomnia


When a person goes through opiate withdrawal, they don’t experience all the symptoms above at once. They experience them in different intervals. And it’s crucial for the person taking care of them to understand them so they can provide the proper help at the appropriate time.

Here’s an overview of when these symptoms usually occur:

Stage One

The person will experience fever and flu-like symptoms. They’ll complain about being cold, have sweat chills, teary eyes, and runny noses. And as the symptoms develop, the person will also throw up, have diarrhea, and sweat profusely. This stage typically lasts between 5-7 days.

Stage Two

During stage two, the brain will experience a drastic drop in dopamine. This will cause the person to feel intensely depressed and anxious. They might feel like everything is hopeless and have suicidal thoughts.

Also, this person may also continue to experience chills, goosebumps and start to yawn or have muscle cramps. This stage typically lasts up to two weeks.

Stage Three

The third stage, which is the longest stage (up to 2 months), will bring more emotional and psychological effects. The person will have drastic mood swings, manic episodes, anxiety, and depression. As a result, they might also experience insomnia, which will make them extremely agitated.

And even when all of this is over, the person will continue to have cravings so it’s crucial that they stay in environments that are free of drugs and have someone to monitor them in order to avoid relapse.

Can you die from opiate withdrawal?

Now, the question that we all want to know the answer to today is whether a person can die from opiate withdrawal or not. The short answer? Yes, but it’s not common. And if so, how would it happen?

The answer to that lies in what kind of treatment and support the person is receiving, or in this case, not receiving. You are more likely to die from continued opiate use than from withdrawal.

Throughout history, there have been several documented cases of people dying from opiate withdrawal. But if you look at them, you’ll see that most of them happened to people who were in jail or in other types of settings that were not suitable for people to go through this process.

Take the case of Judith McGlinchey for example. Shortly after being incarcerated in jail in 1998 in the United Kingdom, she went into opiate withdrawal. But due to the environment that she was in, which was inadequate at treating her persistent vomiting, dehydration, and rapid weightless, she passed away due to a sudden cardiac arrest.

Unfortunately, this was just one of the many cases that have happened over the years to people with opiate addictions in jails all around the world. But had McGlinchey been taken out of jail and put in a proper opiate recovery center, her results would’ve been unlikely.

The Importance of Finding Proper Care for Opiate Withdrawal

If you or someone you love is addicted to opiates and you want to receive help, it’s crucial that you find a safe place for them to receive treatment. Quitting opiates is a serious and difficult journey and it’s not as easy as quitting cigarettes where one can just to stop taking them.

In fact, quitting opiates cold turkey for some people can actually be dangerous.

When the body is used to sustaining on a certain level of opiates, quitting it completely will send it into shock. On top of all the symptoms one experiences, it is foolish and dangerous to think you can quit it without help. And needing help is not a sign of weakness at all. It’s a sign of courage.

Opiate Addiction Can Be Defeated

Now that you know the answer to the question, “Can you die from opiate withdrawal?” and understand the symptoms of opiate withdrawal better, you are one step closer to helping the person who needs help on their journey to recovery.

Opiate addiction is not an easy or simple thing to do but it’s also not an impossible thing to do as long as you find the right help. We know because thousands of people have overcome this addiction and built new lives.

If you would like more information on opiate addiction, feel free to head over to our opiate and opioid withdrawal guide to learn more.



Psychemedics Corporation. (n.d.). Opioids. Retrieved from psychemedics.com: https://www.psychemedics.com/opiates/

Mitchell, S. G., Kelly, S. M., Brown, B. S., Reisinger, H. S., Peterson, J. A., Ruhf, A., Agar, M. H., … Schwartz, R. P. (2009). Incarceration and opioid withdrawal: the experiences of methadone patients and out-of-treatment heroin users. Journal of psychoactive drugs41(2), 145-52. Retrieved From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2838492/

SAMHSA. (2019). Find Treatment. Retrieved from samhsa.gov: https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/locator

Yorkshire Evening Post. (2003, May 19). They Let Her Die in Agony. Retrieved from Yorkshire Evening Post: https://www.yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk/news/they-let-her-die-in-agony-1-2209997

About the author

Dr. Michael Carlton, MD.

Leading addictionologist, Michael Carlton, M.D. has over 25 years of experience as a medical practitioner. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and returned for his MD from the College of Medicine at the University of Arizona in 1990. He completed his dual residency in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics and his Fellowship in Toxicology at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center and Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

He has published articles in the fields of toxicology and biomedicine, crafted articles for WebMD, and lectured to his peers on medication-assisted treatment. Dr. Carlton was a medical director of Community Bridges and medically supervised the medical detoxification of over 30,000 chemically dependent patients annually.

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