Alcohol Withdrawal – What Is Delirium Tremens and Is It Dangerous?

/Alcohol Withdrawal – What Is Delirium Tremens and Is It Dangerous?

“When you are young, your body cannot handle alcohol, and when you get old, your mind cannot handle it. Either way, alcohol has its way.”

~Robert Black

Alcohol is the most widely-used intoxicating substance throughout the world and here in America. Four out of five people in this country over the age of 12 have tried alcohol.  

In 2014, an estimated 16.3 million U.S. adults had an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) – equating to 9.2% of men and 4.6% of women.

Alcohol abuse kills almost 88,000 Americans every year – the #4 preventable cause of death. Almost 10,000 of those deaths are due to driving fatalities involving alcohol impairment –31% of all vehicular deaths.

Alcohol abuse is a life-or-death matter, but for some alcoholics, so is quitting.

Alcohol Withdrawal is Serious Business

When a person has been abusing it for a long enough period of time, they can develop a tolerance of and a physical dependence on alcohol.

When a person has developed a physical dependence upon alcohol, it is because their brain has adapted to the presence of alcohol. When the alcohol-dependent person STOPS drinking, there is a hyper-excitable “rebound” response from the person’s autonomic and central nervous systems.

Because of the systems affected, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can vary widely – from mildly uncomfortable to severely disturbing –

  •         Tremors
  •         Agitation
  •         Anxiety
  •         Irritability
  •         Insomnia
  •         Nausea/Vomiting
  •         Severe alcohol craving

But as unpleasant as these symptoms are, there are severe symptoms that can progress so far as to be life-threatening –

  •         Hallucinations – visual, auditory, and tactile
  •         Autonomic instability
  •         Tonic-clonic seizures

But the most serious form of alcohol withdrawal is delirium tremens, also known as “the DTs”.

What Need to Know about the Dangers of Delirium Tremens

Delirium tremens has been known as a condition that can occur to long-term heavy drinkers since the 1700s, when it was colloquially called the “drunken horrors”.

Delirium tremens is characterized by:

  •         Rapid onset of symptoms, usually developing 2 to 3 days after the cessation of heavy drinking, with the worst manifestations occurring on the fourth or fifth day
  •         Shivering
  •         Shaking
  •         Irregular heartbeat
  •         Autonomic hyperactivity – tachycardia and hypertension
  •         Profuse sweating
  •         Extremely high body temperature
  •         Seizures
  •         Panic attacks
  •         Paranoia
  •         Horrific nightmares
  •         Global confusion
  •         Acute disorientation
  •         Hallucinations with no recognition of the real world
  •         Perceptual disturbances
  •         Formication – a sensation that small insects are crawling on or under the skin
  •         An intense feeling of impending doom or death

Who Is Most at Risk for Delirium Tremens?

Delirium tremens occurs in up to 20% of patients undergoing alcohol detoxification and up to 33% of those patients already experiencing withdrawal seizures.

Delirium tremens is most common in those individuals who:

  •         Have a history of alcohol withdrawal
  •         Drank heavily every day for several months – 4-5 pints of wine, 7-8 pints of beer, or one kind of hard alcohol
  •         Have a personal history of alcoholism or chronic alcohol abuse of more than 10 years

What Can Minimize the Danger of Delirium Tremens?

Alcohol is one of the most dangerous drugs from with to withdraw, and delirium tremens is the most serious withdrawal symptoms. Without treatment, up to 40% of sufferers will die. Even with treatment, there is still a mortality rate of 4%.

The danger associated with alcohol withdrawal syndrome means that a person who has been abusing alcohol should NEVER quit abruptly unless they are under the care of qualified medical professionals. NEVER try to self-detox from alcohol.

Symptoms of severe alcohol withdrawal or delirium tremens should ALWAYS be treated as a medical emergency to avoid possibly fatal complications.

NorthPoint Recovery is a professionally-staff alcohol detox and residential rehab center that specializes in evidence-based and wellness-focused treatment strategies that attack the disease of addiction on multiple levels.

If you or someone you care about needs help for an alcohol or drug addiction, contact NorthPoint Recovery today to have a free and confidential addiction assessment performed.

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By | 2017-03-23T17:09:48+00:00 October 3rd, 2016|

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