During the reawaking of a volcano, magmas migrating through the shallow crust have to pass through hydrothermal fluids and rocks. The resulting magma–hydrothermal interactions are still poorly understood, which impairs the ability to interpret volcano monitoring signals and perform hazard assessments. Here we use the results of physical and volatile saturation models to demonstrate that magmatic volatiles released by decompressing magmas at a critical degassing pressure (CDP) can drive volcanic unrest towards a critical state. We show that, at the CDP, the abrupt and voluminous release of H2O-rich magmatic gases can heat hydrothermal fluids and rocks, triggering an accelerating deformation that can ultimately culminate in rock failure and eruption. We propose that magma could be approaching the CDP at Campi Flegrei, a volcano in the metropolitan area of Naples, one of the most densely inhabited areas in the world, and where accelerating deformation and heating are currently being observed.