Delirium tremens, also referred to as alcohol DTs, are one of the most severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Although it is a rare withdrawal symptom, it can be life threatening, which is why it is best to undergo alcohol detox under medical supervision. Most rehab centers offer a medical detox treatment program so patients can rid their body of substances safely.
Causes Of Delirium Tremens
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) affects the nervous system by slowing down brain functions, which will cause the person to feel fatigue and a decrease in anxiety. As alcohol tolerance increases, the brain compensates by changing the effects that alcohol has, which causes alcohol dependence as people have to drink more to achieve the same results.
Once people have reached the point of alcohol addiction, they will experience alcohol withdrawal syndrome when they try to stop drinking. There are a variety of risk factors which increase the chance of experiencing delirium tremens during severe alcohol withdrawal.
These include high alcohol consumption in the weeks leading up to withdrawal, the amount of previous detox attempts, and any underlying health issues, such as major injuries, liver or heart disease, or traumatic brain injury. Other risk factors include having a psychiatric disorder, being in poor health, being older in age, or being on other medications.
Symptoms Of Delirium Tremens
Alcohol DTs have a variety of symptoms that are different from regular withdrawal symptoms. These can manifest from earlier symptoms, so even if you have mild symptoms in the beginning, they can progress to much worse. These symptoms include agitation, aggression, or irritability, confusion, and impaired consciousness.
More serious symptoms of alcohol DTs are severe bodily activity such as trembling, sweating, nausea, vomiting, and tachycardia. You may also experience tremors, seizures, and visual or auditory hallucinations. Due to the nature of these symptoms, it’s best to undergo medical detoxification, so any symptoms can be treated immediately.
Treatment For Delirium Tremens
Alcohol DTs must be treated medically, and in serious cases, may involve a stay in an intensive care unit (ICU). Alcohol DTs have the potential to be fatal and symptoms can worsen rapidly. However, this symptom can be managed with medications.
Medications used include benzodiazepines, such as lorazepam (Ativan), diazepam (Valium), or chlordiazepoxide (Librium). These are used to reduce the effects of overall withdrawal symptoms, including delirium tremens, and can greatly lessen the risk of seizures. These are the most commonly used medications, and some people may require large doses.
You may also be given barbiturates, like phenobarbital, if the first round of medication doesn’t effectively manage symptoms. Other medicines such as antipsychotics, like haloperidol (Haldol) may be given to you in small doses to reduce symptoms such as agitation and hallucination, although this medication can have negative side effects.
How To Prevent Delirium Tremens
The easiest way to prevent alcohol DTs is to avoid drinking alcohol. If you plan to continue to drink, do so in moderation. Recommended alcohol consumption for men is no more than 2 drinks a day, and it is 1 drink a day for women. Consuming more than this can lead to alcohol abuse, which can lead to withdrawal symptoms.
People who drink heavily for an extended period of time are more likely to develop delirium tremens. The longer you drink regularly, the higher your risk becomes for experiencing alcohol DTs. If you suffer from alcohol use disorder and have any risk factors of delirium tremens, you should seek addiction treatment at a treatment facility that can help you start recovery safely.
Is Delirium Tremens Permanent?
Delirium tremens is not a permanent condition, but it has the potential to be fatal. Medical detox helps manage withdrawal symptoms before they progress to alcohol DTs. Delirium tremens usually last between 3-4 days, but can occur for as long as 8 days. The severity and length of DTs will vary between each person.
Regular symptoms of alcohol withdrawal begin to appear within 6 to 24 hours after long term heavy drinking has stopped. More serious symptoms may appear around 12 to 48 hours after the last drink and can possibly evolve into delirium tremens. Medical treatment can help manage delirium tremens, but symptoms may still get progressively worse once they first start. If you continue to drink after detoxing, you are more likely to experience alcohol DTs in the future.
Why Is Delirium Tremens Life Threatening?
Delirium tremens is considered a medical emergency due to its potential to be fatal if left untreated. Death from alcohol DTs can occur because of an inability to regulate body temperature, abnormal heart rhythms, seizures brought on from alcohol withdrawal, or the worsening of existing medical conditions.
Since older people and people with preexisting health conditions are at greater risk of DTs, it’s important to seek medical care while attempting to detox from alcohol.
How Common Is Delirium Tremens?
Fortunately, delirium tremens is not a common condition, especially when considering the high number of people suffering from alcohol use disorder. Although 14.5 million Americans aged 12 or older have been diagnosed with AUD, only around half of these people experience symptoms of withdrawal when attempting to quit drinking.
Of those who go through alcohol withdrawal, only 3-5% of people develop severe symptoms such as seizures and delirium tremens. However, without proper treatment, delirium tremens can have a mortality rate of up to 37%. Arista Recovery can help by providing professional medical care that can ease symptoms and help safely rid your body of substances during alcohol and drug detox.