Alcohol Detox: What Is Delirium Tremens?

July 6, 2021

When individuals who struggle with alcohol addiction go through an alcohol detox, withdrawals are expected. 

Alcohol addiction is all-too common in the United States, with over 15 million adults suffering from alcoholism nationwide. Detoxing from chronic alcohol abuse can lead to tremors, hallucinations, seizures, and delirium tremens. Here’s everything you need to know about alcohol detox and delirium tremens. 

What is Delirium Tremens?

Delirium tremens is a severe form of withdrawal that exhibits itself during an alcohol detox, usually after a long period of heavy drinking. It is known for causing extreme confusion that comes on rapidly, and changing the body’s ability to regulate blood and breathe normally. These changes in the brain are potentially life-threatening when not properly treated by medical professionals. 

Another common name for delirium tremens is withdrawal tremens. It is a very serious condition that typically occurs about 48 hours after the last drink of alcohol. Symptoms typically last 2-3 days, but can sometimes last as long as 8 days.

Delirium Tremens Symptoms

Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol causes imbalances in the brain. The same happens during an alcohol detox when consumption suddenly stops. The brain’s inability to adjust properly is what causes delirium tremens. It can lead to serious shifts in breathing, temperature moderation, and circulation throughout the body.

Blood pressure and heart rate can also go through drastic changes in delirium tremens, impacting blood flow to the brain. Reduced blood flow can lead to a greater risk of stroke, heart attack, and even death. Other symptoms of delirium tremens include:

  • Fever
  • Hallucinations
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • High blood pressure
  • Extreme confusion
  • Nervousness
  • Bouts of anger
  • Losing consciousness
  • Hyperactivity
  • Excessive sweating
  • Dehydration

Death can sometimes occur with delirium tremens, especially when symptoms aren’t immediately treated. Studies show that without treatment, 37% of cases end in death. Immediate treatment significantly reduces the risks, with only 1-4% of patients hospitalized with delirium tremens dying from complications.

Delirium Tremens Treatment

Early recognition and treatment of delirium tremens is absolutely essential. It is a medical emergency, so it’s important to get a person exhibiting symptoms to the emergency room immediately. Patients with delirium tremens are often managed in an intensive care unit or a locked inpatient ward because of the high levels of agitation that they exhibit.

Patient vital signs should be monitored constantly because of the serious risks involved. Full treatment involves continuous sedation through the use of benzodiazepines, a common type of sedatives also known as tranquilizers. Benzodiazepines are widely known as the gold standard when it comes to treating alcohol withdrawals and delirium tremens. Additionally, a constant IV provides fluids to help with dehydration and antipsychotic medications are often used to prevent hallucinations and calm agitated patients.

The alcohol detox should be medically monitored, and after the detox is complete the patient should be admitted to an inpatient recovery center. The support provided by alcohol rehab centers can help through the use of behavior therapy to prevent relapse and teach coping mechanisms to help the patient stay sober.

Steps Recovery Centers Is Here to Help

Dealing with alcohol addiction can be painful, but it’s important for alcohol detox to be done safely to avoid the serious risks associated with delirium tremens and other symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Steps Recovery Centers are here to help! Our premier alcohol and drug treatment centers are located across the state of Utah, from Salt Lake City to St. George, and are here to aid in safe recovery from alcohol or drug addiction. We offer recovery programs tailored to the individual to meet the patient’s needs. Contact us today for more information.

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