Delirium Tremens and Alcohol Withdrawal

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Delirium tremens was first observed by medical professionals in the early 1800s. Shortly thereafter, it was classified as a clinical disorder mainly affecting individuals who misused alcohol. Generally, delirium tremens happens about two days after a person who chronically consumes alcohol stops abruptly. For those who do not receive treatment, the mortality rate of delirium tremens alcohol withdrawal is around 37%. 

What Is Delirium Tremens? 

Delirium tremens is a condition that results1 from alcohol withdrawal. It can become extremely dangerous if not treated by medical professionals. Delirium tremens is a possibility for anyone withdrawing from alcohol but may not be experienced by everyone.

Besides its physical effects, delirium tremens can negatively impact a person’s mental health. Delirium tremens can ultimately lead to severe disruptions in the functioning of the central nervous system.

How Much Do You Have To Drink To Get Delirium Tremens?

Delirium tremens typically affects individuals who have been using alcohol for over 10 years or have a history of alcohol withdrawal. It is impossible, however, to always predict who will and will not get delirium tremens during withdrawal.

Symptoms of Delirium Tremens

What are the symptoms of delirium tremens in individuals withdrawing from alcohol? Along with the potential for alcohol withdrawal seizures, there are many more unpleasant side effects associated with this condition. Other delirium tremens symptoms may include:

Psychological Delirium Tremens Symptoms:

  • Rapid onset confusion or deliriousness
  • Inability to think clearly
  • Exhibiting increased aggression or irritability
  • Change in mood or behaviors
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Potential hallucinations

Physical Delirium Tremens Symptoms:

  • Trembling or shaking
  • Requiring excessive amount of sleep
  • Changes in energy level
  • Restlessness
  • Enhanced sensory sensitivities
  • Headaches
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Appetite changes
  • Sleep changes
  • Pale or clammy skin appearance from sweating
  • Feverishness
  • Aching or body pains

How Long Does Delirium Tremens Last?

The symptoms of delirium tremens typically appear within two to three days after the last drink and can last for several days or even up to a week or more.

The duration of delirium tremens can vary depending on several factors, including the severity of the symptoms, the individual’s overall health and whether they receive appropriate medical treatment. In general, the most severe symptoms, such as seizures, hallucinations and delusions, tend to peak within  two to three days and gradually improve over the following days.

However, some people may experience lingering symptoms, such as confusion, anxiety and difficulty sleeping, for several weeks after the initial onset of delirium tremens. It is essential to seek medical attention if you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of delirium tremens, as the condition can be life-threatening if left untreated.

Delirium tremens is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment to prevent potentially life-threatening complications. Treatment typically involves a combination of medications and supportive care, such as:

  • Benzodiazepines: Benzos, such as diazepam, can help control the symptoms of delirium tremens, including agitation, tremors and seizures.
  • Antipsychotics: These medications may be used to manage hallucinations and delusions.
  • Fluids, Electrolytes and Vitamins: IV fluids and electrolytes may be given to help maintain the body’s fluid and electrolyte balance.
  • 24/7 Monitoring: Patients with delirium tremens should be closely monitored for complications such as seizures, pneumonia and cardiovascular events.

Hospitalization or acute medical care is always necessary to manage delirium tremens symptoms and ensure the patient’s safety. Following treatment for delirium tremens, it is recommended that individuals seek ongoing support and treatment. The Recovery Village Columbus can provide the necessary resources, including therapy, group support and medication-assisted treatment, to help individuals achieve long-term sobriety and avoid future episodes of delirium tremens. It is essential to address the underlying causes of alcohol addiction to prevent relapse and maintain overall health and well-being.

How to Prevent Delirium Tremens

The best way to prevent delirium tremens is to either avoid drinking alcohol or limit alcohol consumption to small or moderate amounts, according to the CDC guidelines, which is two drinks or less per day for men, and one drink or less per day for women. It’s important to understand that binge drinking poses short and long-term risks, even for men and women who consume an average amount of alcohol. 

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