Delirium Tremens: Definition, Symptoms and Cures - AspenRidge

Delirium Tremens: Definition, Symptoms and Cures

what is delirium tremensDelirium tremens is a condition that often occurs during alcohol withdrawal. It can occur suddenly, and without warning. For someone with delirium tremens, they have a medical condition that requires immediate intervention. This is certainly not a condition that should be ignored.

Anyone who is an alcoholic and who wishes to recover is susceptible to experiencing delirium tremens. If you are an alcoholic, you are at risk. It is important to understand the definition of delirium tremens. You should also be aware of the symptoms of this type of alcohol withdrawal. Finally, it will help you to know if there is a cure once delirium tremens has begun.

The more you know about alcoholism recovery, the better. Because of the serious nature of DTs, you should be educated so you know what to expect.

What is Delirium Tremens (DTs)?

The definition of delirium tremens (or DTs) is a rapid onset of confusion that is caused by alcohol withdrawal symptoms. It can begin as soon as three days into the alcohol withdrawal process. However, it is possible for the condition to begin as long as two weeks after stopping alcohol.

Once the DTs have begun, they can persist for as long as three days, or even longer in some cases. About 4% of everyone who experiences symptoms of withdrawal from alcohol will go through DTs. Of that percentage, as many as 5% of people will die because of delirium tremens. Because of this, alcohol withdrawal can be fatal in some instances.

This is why it is so important to obtain medical help during the alcohol withdrawal process. Fortunately, the right alcohol withdrawal treatments are available to assist. Many of them can even prevent someone from experiencing the DTs at all.

What Causes Delirium Tremens to Occur?

Delirium tremens is often referred to as alcohol withdrawal delirium. The good news is that not everyone who withdraws from alcohol will experience it. Those who do are likely to:

  • Have been drinking alcohol for a long period of time in excess
  • Have suddenly stopped drinking alcohol
  • Have reduced how much alcohol they drink too fast
  • Have a history of a head injury
  • Not be eating enough food when stopping alcohol use
  • Have been sick, or suffering with some type of infection

When you drink excessive amounts of alcohol, the central nervous system adapts to this. When that alcohol is no longer available, re-adapting to the change is not easy on your body. As a result, the neurotransmitters in your brain become overexcited. It takes time for them to become accustomed to no longer being suppressed. This can easily lead to alcohol withdrawal, which can lead to DTs.

What are the Various Symptoms of the DTs?

If you’re concerned about developing DTs, there are certain symptoms you can look for. These include:

  • The development of seizures
  • An increased heart rate
  • The onset of hallucinations
  • The onset of delusions
  • Having involuntary muscle contractions
  • Excessively sweating
  • Having chest pain
  • Bouts of confusion coupled with bouts of complete lucidity

Sometimes DTs can develop within three days. However, in some people, it can take longer. Everyone is very different as far as how they respond during alcohol withdrawal. It’s not uncommon for delirium tremens to begin two weeks after the last drink.

How do Doctors Diagnose DTs?

Doctors conduct certain tests as a way to diagnose someone with delirium tremens. If you go to the hospital, you’ll be carefully assessed if you’re trying to recover from alcoholism.

A physical exam will be done upon your arrival. You’ll be checked for an irregular heartbeat and muscle tremors. You’ll also be assessed for sweating and any issues with the muscles in your eyes. Your reflexes will be checked as well. Your doctor will perform various tests that include extensive blood tests to check your magnesium and phosphate levels. You may also receive an ECG and an EEG.

Once these and any other tests are completed, the doctor will decide on the right treatment for you. This will probably include a stay in the hospital. It’s dangerous for you to go home if you have DTs. At any point, your condition could turn critical. You need to be constantly assessed by medical personnel. They will check your vital signs, give you medication and keep you well hydrated.

Is There a Cure for Delirium Tremens?

With the right treatment delirium tremens can be treated, and symptoms will go away. This doesn’t always happen all at once. It can take several days before you start to feel better. However, if you’re in the hospital, you’ll be in good hands.

When you’re in the hospital, their goals will be to:

  • Make sure that you remain calm
  • Keep you relaxed and possibly sedated
  • Treat any seizures that you have
  • Treat you for anxiety
  • Treat you for tremors
  • Offer you help for mental disorders if you suffer from one

Once you go through DTs, you’ll be asked to abstain from alcohol of any kind. You will also be recommended for counseling, and possibly alcohol rehab.

Medical Complications that Can Occur Alongside Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium

For those who have severe alcohol withdrawal, they may have certain medical complications. These often go along with delirium tremens.

These individuals may experience:

  • Liver Disease: This can occur after years of heavy drinking. It can be treated, but it can also lead to liver cancer or kidney failure.
  • Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy: Long-term alcohol use can eventually lead to heart failure. In some cases, a heart transplant is needed if treatment doesn’t work.
  • Alcoholic Neuropathy: The nerves in the body can become damaged due to excessive drinking. It can cause permanent nerve damage, but it can be treated with physical therapy and other methods.
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome: This is a brain disorder that is caused by alcoholism. Brain damage can result in various parts of the brain, and it can be permanent. Memory loss is often a permanent result.
  • Irregular Heartbeat: Sometimes heart rate can be treated. However, there are cases when it requires long-term medication to keep the heartbeat regulated.

What Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Occur Prior to DTs?

There are various alcohol withdrawal symptoms that occur leading up to delirium tremens. Most people who drink heavily will experience some, or even all of these when they quit.

According to the alcohol withdrawal timeline, symptoms can begin in as little as six hours. These symptoms of withdrawal from alcohol are usually mild. They can include cravings for alcohol, insomnia and anxiety. Usually this initial stage lasts for about 24 hours.

Within the first 12 to 24 hours, hallucinations may begin. These can be tactile, auditory or visual hallucinations. They can last for as long as 48 hours. At that point, seizures may begin, but this is not the case for everyone.

When to Seek Medical Treatment for Possible DTs

If you’re trying to quit drinking on your own, seeking immediate medical treatment is important. If you begin to have hallucinations, it’s best to be seen by a doctor. You should not wait until you begin to have seizures. Doing so could be putting your health in jeopardy. The full onset of DTs could happen for you very quickly. If it does, you need to be in a safe place where you can get help.

Of course, it’s best to seek medical treatment as soon as you make the decision to stop drinking. Professional alcohol treatment staff will be able to assist you with what you need.

Are Some People More at Risk for Delirium Tremens than Others?

There are some people who are considered to be more at risk for DTs than others. You may be trying to assess your own risk to determine if you need alcohol withdrawal treatment.

You are at a high risk for delirium tremens if you:

  • Consider yourself to be a heavy, long-term drinker. This is defined as consuming 8 drinks a week if you’re a woman, and fifteen drinks a week if you’re a man.
  • Have been heavily drinking for a long time (a month or longer).
  • Have a history of alcohol withdrawal syndrome or DTs in your past.
  • Have additional health problems; even those that aren’t necessarily related to your alcoholism.
  • Have a history of a seizure disorder.
  • Have a history of brain injury or brain damage.

Remember, even if you’ve never had DTs before, you could still be at risk for them. It’s not uncommon for them to occur seemingly out of nowhere. Anyone who is an alcoholic is at risk. The safest thing for you to do is to get the appropriate alcohol treatment.

Is it Possible to Avoid Experiencing DTs?

The best way to avoid going through delirium tremens is to never start drinking. If you’re an alcoholic, professional treatment can protect you from going through DTs.

Detoxification is a process that can help with withdrawal symptoms from all types of drugs. Of all the drugs that need detox, alcohol is often the first one on the list. Professionals in this field know the best ways to treat alcohol withdrawal. They are careful to tailor treatment according to each patient’s personal needs. After all, addiction is very unique for each patient, and recovery is just as unique.

Stopping the use of alcohol on your own is never recommended. Alcohol is often viewed as one of the “safer” drugs on the market. In actuality, it is one of the most dangerous.

Treatment for Alcohol Withdrawal Through Alcohol Detoxification

Delirium tremens can be scary. It is a condition that is scary for the person experiencing it, but also for loved ones. Many people have hurt themselves or other people because they were experiencing DTs. This is quite common, unfortunately. However, it can be avoided with the right treatment.

If you are stopping the use of alcohol, and you’re an alcoholic, treatment is recommended for you. Alcohol detox can provide your body with the help and support it needs during this time. There is no way to tell if you might develop DTs when you stop drinking. Even if you have stopped drinking in the past without problems, you could still be at risk.

Once you finish with alcohol detox, alcohol rehab is also recommended. This allows you to get further support for your recovery and sobriety. Both types of alcoholism treatment are needed for you to experience the benefits of alcohol treatment.

At AspenRidge Recovery, we want you to be successful in your recovery from alcoholism. We also want you to stop drinking safely. With our help, we’re confident we can help you reach your sobriety goals.

Do you have additional questions about delirium tremens? Are you interested in learning more about alcohol recovery? Please contact us.


Sources: (2017). Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium (14, January 2017). Delirium Tremens
Delirium Tremens (1, January 2013). Delirium Tremens (7, February 2017). Alcohol Withdrawal

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