Also referred to as ‘The DT’s’, or ‘The Shakes’, delirium tremens occur when a person is experiencing withdrawals from alcohol from stopping drinking after prolonged periods of alcohol consumption.
Alcohol delirium tremens is the most severe type of alcohol withdrawal. It can cause sudden and severe issues in your brain and your nervous system.
An estimated half of the people who have an alcohol addiction problem will have withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop drinking, and 3 to 5 per cent of those people, will experience AWD (alcohol withdrawal delirium) symptoms like grand mal seizures and severe confusion.
When someone drinks heavily, it is believed that the body mistakes alcohol for GABA and, in turn, decreases the production of the neurotransmitter. Therefore, when a chronic alcoholic stops drinking, and alcohol levels drop, the body believes there is not enough GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid) to function properly, leading to DTs.
Who is at risk of Delirium Tremens?
- Delirium Tremens is common in people who drink approximately three bottles of wine a day or 8 pints of beer a day (around 500 ml of spirits a day) over several months.
- They normally occur in people who have had an alcohol dependency for over ten years
- They can also be caused by head injuries, infection, or illness in people who are alcohol dependent.
What are the symptoms of Delirium Tremens?
Delirium Tremens are known to start in the first 7 hours of the person’s last drink and can even start up to 10 days after the person’s last drink. Below are some of the symptoms that can occur:
- Agitation and irritability
- Confusion and disorientation
- Lack of concentration and attention span
- A long period of sleeping that can last for a day or longer
- Delirious states of mind
- Overly excitable
- Hallucinations such as having visions, seeing, hearing or feeling things that aren’t there
- Constant mood changes
- Sensitivity to light, sound and touch
- Tiredness yet the inability to rest
When a heavy drinker has not had an alcoholic drink for more than 6 – 12 hours, the different stages of delirium Tremens occur:
Stage 1 (After 6 -12 hours after last alcoholic drink)
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Uncontrollable shaking
- Fevers which give the person chills or sweats
- Insomnia despite extreme tiredness
- Chest pains or heart palpitations
- Stomach pains
Stage 2 (After 24 hours after last alcoholic drink)
- Restlessness and extreme fidgeting, agitation
- Rapid eye movements
Stage 3 (72 – 96 hours after last alcoholic drink)
- Disorientation and delirious thoughts
- Heart palpitations
Why do Delirium Tremens Occur?
If a person is heavily dependent on alcohol, their brain is used to this and therefore adjusts. If this person wants to stop drinking, they have to be aware that the brain must adjust back to normality (pre-problem drinking). The massive activation of the neurovegetative system is responsible for the symptoms of fever, high heart rate and sweating etc. The confusion and lack of concentration described by some people are due to the reduced blood flow to the brain.
What is the treatment for Delirium Tremens?
The person is usually treated with sedation for a week or more until withdrawal is complete. Benzodiazepine medications like diazepam or lorazepam also help treat seizures, anxiety, and tremors.
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