May 9, 2019 Felicia Durling

What Is Delirium Tremens and How Do You Deal with It?

Approximately five percent of individuals who are recovering from alcohol use disorder (or AUD) will experience delirium tremens when they stop consuming alcohol.

This might not seem like a lot of people, but when you consider the fact that more than 15 million people in the U.S. suffer from AUD, five percent still works out to be quite a large number.

Are you struggling with AUD? Are you worried about delirium tremens? Do you have questions like, “What is delirium tremens?” and “What are the symptoms?”

If you’re concerned about suffering from delirium tremens when you give up alcohol, keep reading. All the information you need to know about this condition is explained below.

What Is Delirium Tremens?

Delirium tremens is a severe symptom associated with alcohol withdrawal. It is sometimes referred to as “The Shakes.”

Not everyone who suffers from AUD and gives up alcohol will experience delirium tremens afterward. This condition most often affects those who have been drinking in excess for at least ten years and then suddenly stop.

Most of the time, when someone is suffering from delirium tremens, they will start to experience symptoms within 48-96 hours after their last drink. Sometimes, though, symptoms don’t show up until 7-10 days after the last drink.

What Causes Delirium Tremens?

Researchers aren’t totally sure what causes delirium tremens. Many of them believe, though, that it has to do with the way alcohol interferes with the body’s regulation of the neurotransmitter GABA.

GABA (short for Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid) is responsible for blocking impulses between the nerve cells in the brain.

When an individual consumes alcohol on a regular basis, researchers believe that the body begins to mistake alcohol for GABA. As a result, it decreases its own natural GABA production.

When an individual stops drinking alcohol and alcohol levels decrease, the body interprets this as a deficiency in GABA.

Low levels of GABA have been linked to disorders like epilepsy, anxiety, mood disorders, and chronic pain.

Because the body believes it’s experiencing a deficiency in GABA, it may compensate by up-regulating its excitatory neurons and sends itself into an excitatory state.

While in this excitatory state, people may begin to experience symptoms of delirium tremens until the body is able to regulate itself and reach a point of homeostasis.

Delirium Tremens Symptoms

Delirium tremens is characterized by some very specific symptoms. If you are suffering from this condition, you’ll experience some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Full-body tremors
  • Changes in mental function and cognitive abilities
  • Feelings of confusion
  • Decreased attention span
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Deep sleep that lasts longer than a day
  • Delirium
  • Fever
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Feelings of restlessness
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Hallucinations

In severe cases, some people suffering from delirium tremens may also experience seizures.

Is Delirium Tremens Fatal?

Delirium tremens is considered to be a medical emergency. It’s not always fatal, but it can be if it’s not treated in time.

Anywhere from five to 15 percent of individuals who develop delirium tremens die from issues related to the disorder.

Often, death from delirium tremens is the result of issues like extremely elevated body temperatures, abnormal heart rhythm, or complications related to seizures.

Delirium Tremens Management

You can decrease your risk of experiencing severe effects from delirium tremens by managing it properly.

The first step to proper alcohol withdrawal management is to make sure you’re not trying to detox alone. You cannot know for sure whether or not you’ll experience delirium tremens or other severe withdrawal symptoms until you’ve stopped drinking alcohol.

If you do this alone and without any medical supervision, you may not be able to get the help you need if you do start experiencing symptoms of delirium tremens.

In order to stay safe, it’s important to consider staying in a detox or rehabilitation facility when you decide to give up alcohol.

Typical Delirium Tremens Treatment

When you stay in a rehab or medical detox facility, medical professionals usually take the following steps to help you manage symptoms of delirium tremens:

  • Promoting sleep, sometimes with the use of prescription sedative drugs
  • Preventing hallucinations and agitations with antipsychotic drugs
  • Monitoring hydration status and checking electrolyte levels on a regular basis
  • Monitoring the temperature, blood pressure, and other vital signs
  • Delivering infusions of thiamine to prevent Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a brain disorder associated with delirium tremens

Nurses and other medical professionals also take steps to prevent other complications, such as aspiration pneumonia. They’ll often administer medications to reduce aches and pains associated with alcohol withdrawal, too.

Finding the Right Rehab Facility

Clearly, it’s best to stay in a medical detox facility or another treatment center. This is especially true if you are at risk for developing delirium tremens.

If you’re having a hard time finding a rehab facility, these tips can help you make sure you’re choosing the right one for your needs:

  • Make sure they offer services that are relevant to your condition
  • Ensure that they have trained and licensed staff members available at all times
  • Make sure they use medications to help minimize delirium tremens symptoms
  • Find out if they offer additional services like group and one-on-one counseling
  • Look for a facility that emphasizes proper nutrition and healthy eating while in recovery

Look into the facility’s reviews, too, and see what other people are saying about their experience there.

Get Help with Alcohol Detox Today

You now have a clear answer to the question, what is delirium tremens?

Do you still have questions about this condition, though? Do you think you may be at risk of developing it?

If so, it’s important that you have help and support while going through the alcohol withdrawal process. In order to get that support, you’ll need to stay in an accredited rehabilitation center.

If you live in or around the Temecula, California area and need help with alcohol detox and addiction recovery, we can help at The Center for Life Change.

Contact us today to learn more about our services.


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