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Delirium tremens (DTs)

Learn to spot the signs and symptoms of delirium tremens (DTs), along with suitable treatment and advice available at Addiction Advocates. Enquire Now
Further Information
Delirium tremens (DTs)
Updated on 16/09/2021
Medically reviewed by
Dr Alexander Lapa (Psychiatrist)

Immediately quitting excessive alcohol consumption may seem like a good idea to curb the ongoing side effects and demands of alcoholism. However, both the body and brain can experience shock through such an abrupt action, known as delirium tremens (DTs).

Also recognised as alcohol withdrawal syndrome, delirium tremens signs and symptoms occur when a dangerous and rapid withdrawal is encountered. While commonly short-lived, DTs can be fatal if ignored, especially for those who usually consume consistent and excessive quantities of alcohol.

Found to mostly impact heavy drinkers, people who’ve previously experienced alcohol withdrawal syndrome, and those who suffer from seizures, delirium tremens (DTs) should be taken seriously and treated adequately. Through rapid diagnosis and treatment, symptoms of DTs can suppress over several days, soon followed by long-term treatment for alcoholism.

Here’s some insight into delirium tremens, the signs of acute withdrawal and the degree of treatment that’s required to recover and move through rehabilitation. To experience such support, contact our team at Addiction Advocates to visit a suitable alcohol rehab clinic.

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What are delirium tremens?

Alcohol Addiction

Delirium tremens (DTs) is a response to rapid, uncontrolled withdrawal from alcohol exposure.

It resembles a state of shock, which both the body and brain can encounter when usual quantities of alcohol are lowered or cut off abruptly.

It’s heavily associated with alcoholism due to excessive build-up, which can develop through the obstacle of tolerances. Once internal traces drop below personal tolerances, which will be likely through the cold turkey approach, symptoms of delirium tremens can surface as a reaction.

While only 5% of people encounter a degree of delirium tremens, they are a set of challenging and life-limiting symptoms, which should be taken seriously. Medical assistance, treatment and immediate stabilisation will be required to reduce the severity of DTs.

Causes and risk factors

Those at risk of encountering delirium tremens display heavy drinking habits, reflecting an alcohol abuse disorder diagnosis. It’s also a concern for those who have previously encountered alcohol withdrawal syndrome to a degree as a recurring symptom.

Such individuals are at risk due to the nature of delirium tremens caused by a cut off in alcohol exposure. As alcohol consumption slows down activity through the central nervous system, grave adaptations are found within brain structure and chemical production.

Delirium tremens affect the brain

Through excessive alcohol exposure, the brain will become accustomed to such adaptations. Once consumption is cut off, activity and the brain’s functions will remain accustomed yet will overcompensate. This causes withdrawal, displayed through the uncontrollable response of delirium tremens (DTs).

If alcohol consumption is stopped quickly or is lowered significantly from mass consumption rates, the risks of DTs is high.

Signs and symptoms of delirium tremens

Spotting the signs and symptoms of delirium tremens should be acted on with urgency. Without taking action, complications can amount, requiring extensive acute treatment and long-term alcohol rehabilitation.

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome can result from a post-binge of going cold turkey or can be brought on through intentional detoxification. Signs and symptoms commonly begin after a few days, mildly post-consumption, yet can aggravate as withdrawal continues. Like any response, symptoms will vary between individuals yet can become hazardous if ignored or untreated.

Common signs and symptoms of delirium tremens include:

  • Seizures
  • Stomach pains
  • Anxiety
  • Delusions
  • Fatigue
  • Involuntary muscle movements
  • Hallucinations
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Chest pains
  • Tremors

 

A mix of physical and psychological symptoms are common through the display of delirium tremens. They can even display at day 10 of withdrawal in the event of excessive alcohol withdrawal.

Complications of untreated delirium tremens

As delirium tremens (DTs) can develop into additional health worries, there are complications if signs are ignored and symptoms are untreated. Complications are also linked to the ongoing presence of alcohol consumption, which, when heavy, can damage internal organs and cause life-limiting conditions.

Alcohol-related liver disease is a consequence of untreated delirium tremens and alcoholism, ultimately resulting in liver failure. Heart failure is also common through the pressures that excessive alcohol and the withdrawal process can influence. Damage to the brain is a concern of untreated delirium tremens and ongoing alcohol abuse due to the unpredictable and continuous changes in the brain and central nervous system.

Realistically, delirium tremens (DTs) and alcoholism alone are challenging to deal with. Once paired and prolonged, they can significantly reduce the quality of life. Accepting immediate support along with rehabilitation will be encouraged.

Treatment for delirium tremens

Immediate medical care should be sourced through symptoms of delirium tremens. Such a response is life-threatening without acting with urgency. Through medical care, stabilisation will be key while slowing down the withdrawal process. Symptoms of delirium tremens will be managed while considering nutritional treatment to tackle any deficiencies which can disrupt stabilisation.

Once symptoms of delirium tremens (DTs) are under control and health can be stabilised, long-term treatment will be recommended to work through heavy alcohol intake. Alcoholism will be treated through a tailored treatment programme, promoting rehabilitation efforts. Cognitive behavioural therapy, AA anonymous sessions, group therapy, motivational therapy and relapse prevention will be recommended to promote psychological detachment from alcohol. Aims to avoid future consumption will also be worked towards also to minimise the reoccurring display of delirium tremens (DTs).

Addiction Support

Delirium tremens (DTs) is a significant cause for concern if experienced, also a sign that alcohol exposure is chronic. Avoid the risks by minimising, controlling or carefully withdrawing through alcohol rehab.

Contact our team at Addiction Advocates for advice on delirium tremens (DTs) and their treatment. Alcoholism can also be treated through our rehab recommendations, helping to reduce the risks of recurrent symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do I do if I notice someone close to me is suffering from delirium tremens?
Showing cause for concern is very important if you believe that signs of delirium tremens are present. The best thing to do will be to offer support while motivating a diagnosis. Medical support should be reached for, immediately to reduce the impact and severity of symptoms.
Are Delirium tremens a lifelong condition?
Delirium tremens can result in life-long consequences if untreated. If treated and suppressed, symptoms can reduce slowly. Ultimately, alcoholism should also be treated to avoid the resurfacing of delirium tremens (DTs).
Is it easy to diagnose delirium tremens?
Yes, a physical health examination will be completed, along with looking into the severity of symptoms. Alternatively, a toxicology screening or measures of blood magnesium levels will suffice. Sourcing medical support is a must through symptoms, to receive an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.
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Seth is an author, addiction recovery expert and fully accredited member of the national counselling society. He has experience working with a wide range of addictions and mental illnesses using a number of evidence-based therapies and programmes such as the SMART models of addiction recovery.

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