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Alcohol Treatment

Alcohol Delirium Tremens: Symptoms, Timeline & Treatment

Written By:

Alex Kudisch

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Alcohol use disorder is a widespread problem in the US, with over six percent of the population suffering from alcohol dependence.

When a person stops consuming alcohol regularly, they experience severe withdrawal symptoms, some of which can be dangerous.

The extreme form of alcohol withdrawal known as delirium tremens (DT), which causes abrupt changes in the nerve and brain systems, is a life-threatening health concern that could have devastating consequences.

Fortunately, delirium tremens can be controlled with medication, and there are certain steps you can take to prevent severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal before they become dangerous.

At Crestone Detox Austin – Alcohol & Drug Rehab, we can help you take back your life and stop the vicious cycle of alcohol abuse with a holistic range of treatments.

How Does Alcohol Affect the Body?

The central nervous system (CNS), which regulates your temperature, respiration, heart rate, and other processes, also functions as the pleasure and reward center.

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When you consume alcohol, the CNS is slowed down by alcohol’s depressant effects, which also impact your speech, reaction time, mood, motor skills, and perceptions.

Moreover, dopamine, a natural stimulant that heightens pleasure, is also released in response to alcohol.

Alcohol encourages the behavior of drinking because it raises dopamine levels beyond what they would naturally be. The brain is permanently overstimulated as a result of regular, substantial alcohol consumption.

What’s more, withdrawal symptoms are brought on by the brain’s continued overstimulation even after drinking has stopped. Consuming large amounts of alcohol regularly can cause lasting brain damage, memory loss, and blackouts.

Alcohol Withdrawal: Delirium Tremens

People who drink extensively may experience an acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome known as delirium tremens. It’s referred to in medicine as a “delirium tremens” since it frequently leads to the sufferer being confused and disoriented.

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Surgery, a fever, or a severe injury are just a few potential triggers. However, alcohol withdrawal is the main cause.

Irrespective of the initiating factors, acute episodes are typically preceded by a number of phases that change the chemistry of the brain. If left untreated, it could result in confusion, anxiety, and disorientation.

The National Library of Medicine states that while discontinuing or cutting back on alcohol intake, a number of people (including 50 percent of those with a history of alcohol abuse) can suffer certain symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal.

Only a small percentage of people (three to five percent) have serious withdrawal symptoms, such as memory loss, uncontrollable muscular movements, and cardiac arrest. Alcohol withdrawal delirium, often known as delirium tremens, is the most frequent name for this disorder.

Why Is Delirium Tremens Dangerous?

Alcohol addiction alters the brain in the same way that all dependencies do. Delirium tremens may develop as a result, but why does it go from being a symptom of withdrawal to a risky and potentially life-threatening brain condition?

The neural system’s extraordinary sensitivity to stress is one factor. Your CNS may go into overdrive when it is under physical or emotional strain. This could cause an episode of delirium tremens.

Moreover, the liver’s inability to degrade the harmful byproducts of alcohol metabolism is another contributing factor. Among these substances are methanol, acetone, and ethylene glycol. The accumulation of such toxic substances can also result in delirium tremens episodes.

The Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment uses the number of withdrawal symptoms you experience to determine whether you are in danger of delirium tremens. The rating can be used to detect risk factors and the severity of your symptoms.

Risk Factors for Delirium Tremens

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Alcohol is perhaps one of the deadliest substances to stop, even though it is both legal and easily accessible.

The truth is that not everyone who goes through alcohol withdrawal will have DT. Chronic alcohol abusers are thought to have a lifetime risk of between 5 and 10 percent of developing this syndrome.

While alcohol consumption is the same for both sexes, there is no discernible difference in the risk for DT. In contrast, white patients are twice as likely to experience severe alcohol withdrawal as non-white sufferers. This is believed to be caused by variances in how the body absorbs alcohol caused by genetics.

If you have one or more of these symptoms, you could be at risk for delirium tremens:

  • Heavy drinking, which can be defined as consuming four to five pints of wine, one pint of hard liquor, or seven to eight pints of beer each day
  • Long-term pattern of heavy drinking, generally lasting 10 years or longer
  • Concurrent diseases or low general health
  • Older age
  • Structural lesions in the brain
  • Having intense cravings for alcoholic beverages
  • A previous DT-induced withdrawal episode

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Associated with Delirium Tremens

The symptoms of delirium tremens range from mild to severe. In the section below, we’ll take a closer look at these symptoms.

Mild Withdrawal Symptoms

The minor symptoms of delirium tremens include:

  • Fatigue
  • Sleepiness
  • Fear or excitement
  • Sensitivity to sound, light, and touch
  • Bursts of energy

Severe Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

The following symptoms are serious and indicate a medical emergency:

  • Fever
  • Chest pain
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Hallucinations
  • Changes in mental function
  • Delirium tremens
  • Alcohol withdrawal seizures

We will discuss which symptoms of delirium tremens are typically associated with which stage of withdrawal later in this article.

Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome and Seizures

Seizures are another major symptom affecting those experiencing DT and withdrawal syndrome. Generalized tonic-clonic seizures are the most frequent type of seizures.

The effects of this kind of seizure, which can include hallucinations and disorientation, spread throughout the body.

Violent muscular contractions and a loss of consciousness are two additional issues that are frequently linked to this type of seizure.

It should be noted that seizures are not always the result of delirium tremens and can potentially be a sign of alcohol poisoning (typically after a binge drinking event). Nevertheless, medical attention must be sought immediately if someone is having a seizure.

Timeline and Stages

DT sufferers typically experience symptoms two to four days after their last drink, though they can also appear 7 to 10 days afterward. Delirium tremens occurs in the third stage of Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS), and not everyone will experience it.

Stage One: Mild Symptoms

The first withdrawal stage typically starts 8 to 24 hours following the last drink and is distinguished by symptoms like headaches, increased anxiety, and sleeplessness.

Stage Two: Moderate Symptoms

Nausea, sweating, and elevated blood pressure are the features of the second stage of AWS, which starts two to three days after the sufferer’s last drink. Following the onset of the initial, mild symptoms, the individual will likely experience visual and auditory hallucinations 12 to 24 hours following their last drink.

Stage Three: Seizures

Two to four days following the last drink, extreme symptoms of withdrawal might result in the third stage, which includes delirium tremens and alcoholic seizures. These symptoms, which include coma, strong muscular contractions, and loss of consciousness, can persist for up to five days.

Medical Treatment for Delirium Tremens

As you may have seen, alcohol delirium tremens is a serious condition, but are there any ways to treat alcohol withdrawal?

Because delirium tremens causes autonomic hyperactivity, it is important to control agitation and reduce the risks of seizures and mortality.

Patients are frequently provided access to various drugs that can effectively treat severe symptoms associated with withdrawal and delirium tremens. Benzodiazepines, particularly lorazepam and diazepam, for example, are typically used to aid in the treatment of some symptoms.

Preventing Delirium Tremens

If you are suffering from an alcohol use problem, you must seek assistance as soon as you decide to quit drinking to prevent DT. Visiting a recognized medical detox center can help you safely manage the effects of withdrawal.

You will have the assurance that a team of professionals will help you avoid DT or manage any symptoms of withdrawal.

Prevent Life-threatening Symptoms by Getting the Help You Need

Alcohol use can have serious consequences. While there is no cure for DT, there are steps you can take to prevent it from happening. This is why getting medically guided help when you choose to stop drinking is important.

At Crestone, we are committed to helping sufferers quit alcohol abuse safely. Contact us today to find out more about our programs!

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Alex Kudisch
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