On July 8th, 2017, the world lost a beautiful spirit and phenomenal actor when Nelsan Ellis passed away due to heart failure at only 39 years old. The actor is best remembered by his role as Lafayette Reynolds on the hit show “True Blood” which ran from 2008 to 2014. While Nelsan Ellis’ co-stars and fans alike mourn his passing, his family has made the brave and selfless decision to be open and honest about what truly caused his passing: alcohol withdrawal.
In a statement made through Ellis’ manager, his father revealed that his son had struggled with drug and alcohol abuse for years. Tragically, it was his attempt at home detox that caused his death- Nelsan Ellis was attempting to overcome alcohol dependence on his own and succumb to the lethal consequences of alcohol withdrawal. The tragedy which cut his young life short is being shared by his family in hopes of shining light on the dangers of alcohol withdrawal and to encourage others to get the help they need to live a life beyond addiction.
Alcohol is the most widely abused addictive substances in the U.S., yet so many still believe false notions about this dangerous substance. Our social attitudes regarding drinking both promote excessiveness in the name of partying, and shun it once alcoholism takes hold. We glorify it in movies, either through raging party scenes or as a vehicle for showing a character’s depressing downward spiral. We advertise it on television, in magazines, and online. We even go so far as to excuse underage drinking as a ‘teenaged right of passage’ or ‘just a phase’- yet this flippant attitude toward alcohol abuse costs thousands of lives annually due to motor vehicle accidents, alcohol-induced violence, alcohol poisoning, and yes- alcohol withdrawal.
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So if alcohol withdrawal is so dangerous, why do so many promote the idea of ‘quitting cold turkey?’ We see it dramatized on film and hear about it in passing whenever a friend has had a few too many, yet so many don’t realize the danger they put themselves in by choosing to attempt an at-home detox. The risks involved are serious and should not be ignored, yet they often do because of social stigmas and miseducation. Nelsan Ellis died because society taught him to be ashamed and hide his suffering. Our attitudes toward substance abuse both enabled him to live in denial and prevented him from seeking help. We teach people in his position that it is better to try to go it alone than to stand in the light and say, “yes, I have a substance abuse problem and I need help.”
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The reality is that alcohol withdrawal is actually one of the few forms of withdrawal that can kill you. It’s so important to detox from alcohol under the careful guidance and supervision of a medical staff to prevent tragedies like this. Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can start as early as two hours after your last drink and last for weeks. They include:
- Headache and muscle aches
- Disorientation and Hallucinations
- Worsening of existing conditions in the lungs, liver, and heart
- High blood pressure
- Irregular heartbeat
The potential for these symptoms may increase depending your history of alcohol abuse. Only a doctor at a certified medical detox treatment center can guarantee your safety and comfort throughout the detox process. After a full exam including your history, a doctor will be able to design a personalized detox regimen for you and prescribe non-addictive medications to treat and prevent symptoms of withdrawal. Medical detox centers also provide 24 hour care and monitoring to give you peace of mind as you begin your journey to sobriety. Recovery from drug and alcohol abuse is possible- don’t make it harder than it has to be. Nelsan Ellis may have passed because he didn’t know the risks of at-home alcohol detox, but you don’t have to.