The abrupt cessation of alcohol consumption after long or straight periods of heavy drinking can result in serious alcohol withdrawal including delirium tremens. The severity of both physical and mental disturbances vary from person to person and include factors such as the individuals’ health, duration of consumption, amount consumed and any underlying disorders.
How Alcohol Withdrawal Develops
When a person is engaged in excessive alcohol consumption, the brain begins to alter its natural chemical makeup to compensate the effects. Overtime, the brain starts to expect, and rely upon the substance. When the drinking ceases, certain areas in the brain which have been suppressed for a period of time, “overshoot” as they become active again. This leads to the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal which include agitation, insomnia, confusion, tremors, shaking and muscle pain. In serious cases, delirium tremens (DT’s) can occur and cause delusions, hallucinations and extreme confusion, paranoia and psychosis.
When someone has the DT’s, their thoughts and hallucinations can be so real or convincing that they start to believe them. They may begin to behave in such a way that they actively participate in self harm. Unfortunately, many people are not aware of the potentially deadly effects when withdrawing from alcohol. When it comes to the delirium tremens, there are a large number of people, especially in the younger generations who associate the term with a famous Belgian beer. This is a sad case because the fact of the matter is that delirium tremens is nothing to ignore. Here’s what you should know about the DT’s:
You don’t have to be a long term alcoholic to have delirium tremens. People who have drank alcohol on a regular basis for five or ten years (or more) are at most risk for developing delirium tremens. However, it is possible for a person to be susceptible to the DT’s after a binge period of just a few days of constant drinking.
Severe alcohol withdrawal is most common in heavy abusers. The MedLine Plus states that people who consume 4-5 pints of wine, 7-8 pints of beer or 1 pint of hard liquor every day for several months or more, and stop drinking, are at most risk for developing serious symptoms of alcohol withdrawal which includes delirium tremens.
Alcohol withdrawal and the DT’s are a serious concern for people in custody. Police stations, prisons and mental health centers must keep a close watch over people on remand or in custody, especially when there has been a forced quitting of alcohol. Medical attention should always be sought if alcoholism is a concern otherwise the symptoms of withdrawal can ensue.
Delirium tremens does not always happen immediately. Alcohol withdrawal can develop within hours of the last drink; the DT’s typically occur between 2 or 3 days later. In some cases, the individual won’t feel these specific symptoms for a week or more. In general, day 4 to day 6 will be the most intense and should be monitored by a doctor or rehab.
Hallucination and seizures can occur during the DT’s. When someone is experiencing the DT’s, they may endure seizures between 12 and 72 hours after the initial onset. Sometimes, the individual may see hallucinations or hear voices which they believe to be true. These specific symptoms are more prevalent in people who have already gone through an alcohol withdrawal in the past.
Delirium tremens can lead to extreme anxiety and paranoia. Aside from body tremors and other physical side effects, the DT’s can cause a very intense form of anxiety, paranoia and confusion. They may be incredibly scared that they’re going to die or that these symptoms will never go away. In some cases, a sedative is prescribed by a doctor to allow the person to relax and sleep off the symptoms. This should only be considered when the individual can be monitored.
An alcohol detoxification should always be implored. When a person has engaged in alcohol abuse for an excessive amount of time, the risks of quitting “cold turkey” are simply too high. An alcohol detox will help to lessen the intensity of the withdrawal. At the same time, the individual will be monitored by professionals to ensure their safety. Once the alcohol detox has been completed, the individual will further benefit from undergoing alcohol rehab treatment.
Delirium tremens can be fatal. The DT’s can be fatal if left untreated. Seizures, high body temperature and heart attack can lead to coma and death. In addition, the mental side effects of delirium tremens can be so severe that they cause an individual to engage in self harm.
Get help if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms. If you gave stopped drinking alcohol, either after a binge or several months or years, and believe you are experiencing symptoms of the DT’s, please contact your nearest emergency center immediately.