It seemed like a good idea.
Rather than remain addicted to alcohol and drink in large quantities, actor Nelsan Ellis, who starred in the HBO series “True Blood,” decided to quit.
And it killed him.
According to a statement issued by Ellis’ family, the 39-year-old actor “attempted to withdraw from alcohol on his own.” Ellis then suffered from a blood infection, kidney failure, a swollen liver, low blood pressure and heart failure.
“While you’re withdrawing from other drugs, you may want to die, but alcohol detox is the only actual drug detox you can die from,” Cyndie Dunkerson, clinical supervisor for Hope By the Sea, a California drug detox and rehabilitation center, told NBC News.
Ellis’ journey included several stints in rehab centers, all of which failed, his family said in the statement. He died Saturday in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“I would definitely not advise for anyone to [get off alcohol] on their own,” William Stanley, medical director at Serenity at Summit Behavioral Health, which has rehabilitation facilities in New Jersey and Massachusetts, told USA TODAY.
Suddenly disturbing the chemical balance the body has achieved with chronic alcohol intake can have dire consequences, Stanley said. That’s why doctors recommend seeking medical help to monitor and, if necessary, try to control withdrawal symptoms.
Some people can suffer an alcohol withdrawal seizure, which occurs after the brain has become accustomed and comfortable with the large amount of alcohol being consumed, Stanley said. “That alcohol then stops and all of a sudden the brain goes into a seizure as the result,” he added.
In addition, he said, damage caused to the liver by drinking can severely weaken other body organs, leading to a series of catastrophic failures, such as neurological changes, kidney failure and heart problems.
“It may be in the midst of this alcohol withdrawal episode that … it became too much for his body to recover from,” he added.
Stanley said facilities like his use sedative medications, such as from the benzodiazepine family of drugs and Librium, to help relieve the physical symptoms of withdrawal. Those symptoms include delirium tremens, in which the body can shake and the person may suffer from hallucinations. About 15 percent of people who get delirium tremens die, according to a study published in Alcohol Health & Research World.
“The thing I love about my job is getting people to walk out from the dead,” Dunkerson told NBC. “The thing I hate about my job is I get to bury the people that don’t make it.”
Matthew Diebel, USA TODAY