What Is Delirium Tremens?

Many people who have an alcohol use disorder experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking or reduce their consumption. These symptoms include hallucinations, tremors, and seizures. Some people who drink heavily for extended periods experience a severe form of withdrawal known as delirium tremens, DTs or withdrawal delirium.

About one in 20 individuals going through withdrawal display symptoms of this condition. Delirium tremens is most common in people who drink large amounts of alcohol every day or those who have used alcohol for more than ten years. It is characterized by the sudden onset of severe confusion as well as changes in breathing patterns and blood circulation. Withdrawal delirium is a serious condition that can be life-threatening, and it needs to be treated as a medical emergency.

Symptoms usually set in around 48 hours after the last drink and they are most intense about four to five days after the individual last consumed alcohol. Typically, the symptoms last for two to three days but they can run for anywhere from one to eight days. Given the severity of delirium tremens, individuals planning to detox from alcohol should do so under medical supervision of an addiction and rehabilitation professional.

Symptoms of Delirium Tremens

The brain gets accustomed to regular, heavy alcohol use. When you stop drinking suddenly, it struggles to adjust, and this can lead to dramatic changes in heart rate and blood pressure. There’s reduced blood flow to the brain and a heightened chance of stroke, heart attack, and even death.

Symptoms of delirium tremens include:

  • Seizures
  • Extreme hyperactivity
  • Displays of nervousness or anger
  • Severe confusion
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Fever
  • Dehydration
  • Excessive sweating
  • Rapid heartbeat

People experiencing delirium tremens are also in danger of falling during a seizure or hurting themselves or others amid their confusion.

Between one and four percent of patients who are hospitalized with withdrawal delirium die as a result of their symptoms. This may be due to complications such as sepsis, respiratory arrest, severe electrolyte imbalances, irregular heartbeat or trauma caused by prolonged seizures.

Treating Delirium Tremens

If DTs goes untreated, it has a mortality rate of 37 percent. That’s why it’s so important that the symptoms are recognized early and treatment is administered promptly. Treatment is aimed at saving the patient’s life, relieving their symptoms, and keeping complications at bay.

Delirium tremens should be treated on an inpatient basis or even in an intensive care unit since individuals can become extremely agitated. The patient’s vital signs, blood chemistry and fluid levels need to be monitored regularly throughout the treatment process.

Treatment often involves the use of benzodiazepines for sedation, antipsychotic drugs to prevent hallucinations and reduce agitation, and intravenous fluids to address dehydration or electrolyte imbalances. Any co-occurring mental and physical disorders will also be treated.

Other Complications Resulting from Frequent Heavy Drinking

There are a number of conditions that may need to be treated along with delirium tremens. Heavy drinkers often develop:

  • Alcoholic neuropathy. This is damage to the nerves that is usually permanent. Symptoms include tingling, numbness, and pain. Treatment is often limited to physical therapy and managing symptoms.
  • Liver disease. Years of heavy alcohol use can result in cirrhosis and scarring of the liver. If it isn’t treated, alcoholic liver disease can lead to liver cancer and kidney failure. Treatment can include antibiotics and removal of fluid from the abdomen.
  • Alcoholic cardiomyopathy. Long-term alcohol use can also lead to heart failure. Treatment can include medication, dietary changes, and heart transplant.
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. This is a brain disorder characterized by damage to the thalamus, hypothalamus, and the areas of the brain that are responsible for memory. The memory loss tends to be permanent but vitamin B1 may improve muscle-related symptoms.

What Comes After Detox

For individuals looking to start their recovery journey, detox is necessary and delirium tremens may be unavoidable. After completing detox, you need to undergo inpatient rehab so you can receive therapy and develop new coping mechanisms. If you’ve been relying on alcohol for years, you will need to learn how to live without it. This will involve identifying your triggers and finding healthy, positive ways to handle problems. Detox alone won’t do any of this. You need to work with addiction treatment professionals to come up with a personalized treatment plan. Sobriety is a lifelong journey so you should be patient.

Contact Asheville Recovery Center Today to Get the Help You Need

After you’ve been through the pain and discomfort of detox, let Asheville Recovery Center guide you towards long-term sobriety. We offer a range of treatment programs that can be customized to your needs. Call us today to set up a consultation.

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