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Delirium Tremens: The Scary Reality of Alcohol Withdrawal

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Delirium Tremens: The Scary Reality of Alcohol Withdrawal

We all know alcoholism can kill you. Most people consider that with binge drinking, alcohol poisoning, blacking out, drunk driving, etc. But does anyone really think about the after effects of alcoholism? I’m talking about alcohol withdrawal. You make the decision to quit drinking, which is great! But now you potentially have to deal with the dangerous symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

delirium tremens

Alcoholism is an addiction that should be monitored during detox. It’s incredibly unsafe to quit cold turkey or detox on your own from home. Common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include shakiness, disorientation, and sweating. However, in some cases people will surpass the normal symptoms and experience delirium tremens.

What is Delirium Tremens?

Delirium tremens (DTs) is severe alcohol withdrawal. It’s incredibly dangerous and needs to be medically monitored because there is a risk of death. Fortunately, most people who go through alcohol withdrawal don’t experience delirium tremens. But those who do are considered a medical emergency. In most cases, symptoms of delirium tremens will appear within 72 hours after the person’s last alcoholic drink. But there have been cases, albeit rare cases, in which symptoms occurred up to 10 days after the last drink.

Symptoms of Delirium Tremens:

  • Seizures – A common symptom of delirium tremens is seizures. And you don’t have to have any prior history of seizures or epilepsy. These seizures are typically tonic-clonic seizures (formally called “grand mal”), in which the body gets very stiff and convulses violently.
  • Delirium (hence the name “delirium tremens”) – Alcohol withdrawal is commonly accompanied by confusion and disorientation. But this confusion tends to be much more severe with delirium tremens.
  • Severe anxiety – People experiencing DTs will commonly experience severe bouts of anxiety. They’ll truly believe that something very bad is about to happen and act out accordingly.
  • Hallucinations – Most people who go through delirium tremens claim to see visual hallucinations of moving/scurrying animals like snakes and rats. Some people also claim to feel insects crawling over their skin (which is also a common side effect of meth-induced psychosis).

delirium tremensOn top of that…

Along with these specific DTs symptoms, victims will also experience the more general symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. These include increased blood pressure and body temperature, nausea, vomiting, sweating, loss of appetite, and insomnia.

What Causes Delirium Tremens?

Long story short: alcohol dependency causes delirium tremens. Short story long: we’ll break it all down for you.

You know how young college students commonly drink too much at their first frat party and end up getting sick? That’s because they haven’t built up any type of tolerance and their bodies can’t handle the effects of alcohol. But if they keep drinking and keep drinking and keep drinking, their bodies will soon build up a tolerance to alcohol. So they can essentially drink more and more each time. But chronic heavy drinking will eventually cause your body to become dependent on alcohol. If a person becomes dependent on alcohol, they’re not just drinking for fun anymore. They’ll literally feel like they NEED to drink just to keep their body at ease. If they don’t drink, they’ll start to experience some of those general alcohol withdrawal symptoms we talked about earlier.

People who have a history of experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms are more likely to go through the severe symptoms of delirium tremens. These are likely people who have been heavy drinkers for many years as well as people who drink heavily everyday for more than a few months.

delirium tremens

The exact cause of DTs is still being debated. But most medical professionals agree so far that one of the most likely causes is the body’s production (or lack thereof) of GABA. It is believed that your body mistakes the chemicals in alcohol for the neurotransmitter GABA when you drink heavily. Because the body mistakes the alcohol for GABA, it decreases natural production of the neurotransmitter. But when that alcohol is taken away (when someone stops drinking), the body won’t have enough GABA, causing it to go through these severe withdrawal symptoms.

GABA (Gamma-Amino Butyric acid)…

…is a chemical messenger in the brain that inhibits activity in the nervous system by binding to neurons. It essentially keeps neurons calm.

Treatment of Delirium Tremens

DTs is incredibly dangerous and should really be monitored by professionals. If managed at home, the risk of death or permanent injury increases significantly. The first thing that should happen is medical professionals will check heart rate and blood pressure. Doctor examinations should also be performed to identify any severe threats that might be co-occurring with the withdrawal symptoms. Once any immediate physical threats are handled, support staff will help to reorient the person and attempt to calm delirium and agitation. Some detox facilities will also use medication to assist in the alcohol detox.

New Start offers a variety of services for alcohol detox. Clients will be assessed by a doctor and given appropriate treatment following that assessment. Our staff is on-site 24/7 to make the process as comfortable and safe as possible. A client’s vitals are checked every half hour for the first 24 hours of detox and they’re observed every hour just to make sure everything is okay. On top of that, New Start’s treatment is all individualized and case-by-case. We treat each person as an individual with personal needs that may very well be different than someone else’s, because we realize that while addicts may all suffer from the same disease, we’re all individuals in that disease.

Alcoholism is a very scary disease. If you or someone you know is suffering, please don’t hesitate to reach out for help. New Start is here to offer treatment and support. You can call us at 855-737-7363 or reach out to us on our website.

Posted in Addiction, Alcoholism