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Delirium Tremens Symptoms: A Severe Form of Alcohol Withdrawal

Published February 29, 2020 By Addiction Helpline America

Alcohol and Drug Addiction doesn’t happen overnight. It is a process that gradually progresses over time, and so is withdrawal. If you suddenly stop drinking alcohol after a long period of heavy drinking, you are at a risk of having alcohol withdrawal delirium. In case you have experienced the syndrome or at least witnessed someone go through it, you will agree with me that it is an uncomfortable ordeal that can be dangerous to some extent.

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome comes with a variety of symptoms. Some of the symptoms are severe and deadly, while others are mild and barely noticeable. Delirium Tremens- also known as withdrawal delirium is a serious symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome which causes psychological and nervous system changes. It is characterized by anxiety, uncontrollable shaking, heart rate increase, disorientation and hallucinations.

How Does Delirium Tremens Symptoms Happen?

Delirium tremens symptoms can be a life threatening condition, and especially if not properly handled. It was first described as a brain fever attributed to alcohol abuse back in 1813. Previous studies show that approximately 5% of people with alcohol withdrawal syndrome develop delirium tremens.

The condition is intense to those who suddenly withdraw from alcohol after a long time of heavy drinking, more so to those who do not feed properly. Apart from alcohol withdrawal, other risk factors include infection, illness and head injury.

Consistent drinking of large amount of alcohol causes harm to your brain. Alcohol tampers with the ability of your body to regulate brain chemical such as glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid. The two chemical oppositely affect the brain; gamma- aminobutyric acid calms the cells while glutamate excites them.

The brain enhances the effect of gamma- aminobutyric acid to match the amount of alcohol consumed. With chronic drinking, the activities of the brain become depressed and highly sensitive to any production of glutamate.

When you abruptly stop taking alcohol, the brain becomes excessively excited due to over sensitivity to glutamine, and there is inadequate gamma- aminobutyric acid to calm the brain. This is what leads to alcohol withdrawal syndrome, including unpleasant effect of delirium tremens.

Symptoms of Delirium Tremens

This condition sets in 2 days after the last alcohol consumption and intensifies in around 5 days. According to New England Journal of Medicine, delirium tremens can last between 1-8 days, although the typical duration is 2-3 days. People who have experienced it before are more likely to get the symptoms earlier. Furthermore, the amount of time is influenced by the quantity of alcohol you’ve taken before.

Delirium tremens is common to people who consume 4 to 5 pints of wine, 7 to 8 pints of beer and 1 pint of hard alcoholic drinks for a period of time. Between 1%- 4% of patients with delirium tremens die due to complications such as respiratory arrest, sepsis, convulsions, electrolyte disturbance and irregular heartbeat. Other common signs exhibited by patients with this condition are;

  • Severe confusion
  • Extreme agitation
  • High fever
  • Hallucinations
  • Lack of sleep
  • High blood pressure
  • Excess sweating and body shaking
  • Even though a number of people going through alcohol withdraw don’t show symptoms of delirium tremens, the dangers of this condition necessitate quick medical attention. For this reason, there is a need that people who intent to quit alcohol consult an addiction specialist or physician prior to taking any step.

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    The specialist conducts a thorough assessment meant to determine whether going through alcohol detox at home is a safe option or you will need a medically monitored detox at an impatient facility. The basis of the assessment is to analyze the risk factors that increase the chances of having severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndromes such delirium tremens

    Treatment of Delirium Tremens

    Early recognition and timely treatment of delirium tremens is very essential. The condition is considered a medical emergency. If untreated, it has a death rate of 37%. Unfortunately, delirium tremens is still fatal in up to 15% even after the necessary treatment.

    Due to the harmful risks and potential for fatal outcomes, symptoms of delirium tremens are closely monitored during treatment. In cases where the patient gets to a critical condition, treatment is managed in Intensive Care Units (ICU) or locked inpatient wards.

    The treatment procedure is normally focused on reducing the risk of seizure, curbing agitation and promoting sleep for the victim. It involves continuous sedation by administration of benzodiazepines. Intravenous fluids are provided to address issues with dehydration and electrolyte levels.

    In the course of treatment, infusion of thiamine or vitamin B1 is done to the patient two times a day. This prevents a brain disorder caused by deficiency of thiamine (Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome). Antipsychotic medications are also given with the intention of preventing hallucinations and calming the intensity of agitations.

    After a successful medically monitored detox, it is highly recommended that delirium tremens patients should undergo alcohol rehabilitation, and preferably at a good rehab center that offers inpatient services. Learning important coping skills required to live an alcohol free life is a key part of the entire recovery program.

    Such mechanisms are taught through therapies such a cognitive behavioral therapy at the rehabilitation center. Seeking continued guidance via support groups is also crucial in preventing relapse. Physical and psychological support from friends and family of the victim also play an important role in overcoming alcohol addiction.

    Getting help

    The sooner you get help for alcohol addiction, the lower your chances of going through deadly symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Remember that delirium tremens is one of the extreme cases of it. Whenever you suspect that you or your loved one is at risk of having delirium tremens, don’t wait until it is too late. Seeking medical intervention immediately can save a life.

    Reach out to Addiction Helpline America today. You can give us a call any time at (844) 561-0606; your call will be 100% confidential. We are available 24/7 to offer you all the help you need, as we ultimately connect you to your dream of getting over alcohol addiction and living a healthy sober life.

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