Delirium Tremens: Its Symptoms and Treatments
At Bright Future Recovery, our goal is helping people, and the “product” we are “selling” is merely that of saving lives. As such, we try to stay abreast of the problems and hurdles anyone going to rehabilitation might experience.
One scary and potentially life-threatening issue of detoxing from alcohol is DTs, or delirium tremens. With decades of experience in therapies, both medical and emotional, we can help you or your loved one handle this condition. Delirium tremens symptoms can vary from person to person, as can their severity. Whether you’re looking for help for yourself, your teen, or another loved one, understanding the basics of DTs can offer insight into the first steps of alcohol recovery.
What Is Delirium Tremens?
When people hear the term “DT,” many think it means “detox,” but DTs is actually a part of the body’s detox process from alcohol. DTs is the medical term associated with the most severe form alcohol withdrawal and is also the umbrella term for many later stage alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Alcohol withdrawal happens when a person drinks alcohol for a long period of time and then quits or stops drinking. This act causes a type of shock to the body, causing symptoms that affect the physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing of the person experiencing it.
Because delirium tremens (or DT), is the most severe type of alcohol withdrawal, it requires careful monitoring and symptom control with a licensed and reputable detox program/medical facility. It is not guaranteed that everyone who is experiencing withdrawal will have DTs but if you do, you are experiencing going through alcohol withdrawal.
The Symptoms and Steps to Delirium Tremens
Symptoms of DTs vary based on many factors such as length of alcohol use, amount of alcohol use in that period of overall alcohol consumption, overall general health, age, weight, and genetic markers, and other issues. Each body will react differently to alcohol withdrawal, but there are certain alcohol withdrawal symptoms most people encounter on their road to detoxifying their body of alcohol:
Early Withdrawal from Alcohol
This occurs within the first 8-12 hours after a person’s last drink and can last for 1-3 days in total:
- Clamminess of skin
- Malaise or lack of energy
- Increased perspiration/sweating
- General irritable mood
- Mood swings (emotions shifting from one extreme to another)
- Vomiting and Nausea
Later Withdrawal from Alcohol
These tend to be the most severe symptoms people experience before delirium tremens. Alcohol detoxification from here can be the most dangerous and when people need the most attention. However, each persons’ reaction to alcohol withdrawal is unique, and it’s possible to experience these symptoms during early withdrawal. For those with alcohol dependency, these symptoms will more than likely occur around 12-24 hours after a person’s last drink:
- Sensory hallucinations
- Difficulty breathing or changes in breathing patterns
- Blood pressure fluctuations (either rising BP levels or lowering)
Delirium Tremens (DTs)
This occurs within the latest stages of alcohol withdrawal (around 48 to 96 hours after the person’s last drink) but can occur as late as 7 to 10 days after a person stops drinking. Symptoms of DTs are:
- Long-term sleeping/oversleeping
- Disoriented behavior or confusion
- Seizures or tremors
- Fatigue or sleepiness
- Mood swings/changes
- Light, sound, and/or touch sensitivity
- Heart rate changes (can potentially be fatal)
- Breathing changes (can potentially be fatal)
- Delirious behavior
- Anxiety or anxiety symptoms (panic, feeling of impending disaster, hyperventilation, etc.)
Delirium Tremens Treatment
About 50% of people experiencing alcohol withdrawal will experience DTs. However, those who do experience DTs are in danger. Of that 50%, 3-5% will suffer from the most severe symptoms of DTs, including grand mal seizures. If you, your teen, or a loved one is suffering from DT symptoms, get help immediately. DTs requires experienced care at a reputable rehab facility equipped to handle the symptoms and treat them properly by a licensed medical professional. A home or primary care physician’s office does not have the tools or equipment needed to administer to someone experiencing DT.
Once under medical care, a professional may conduct a series of tests such as electrocardiograms (ECGs), blood magnesium levels, blood phosphate levels, metabolic panels, or toxicology screens. The tests will help the rehab team decide what treatment is the best option to aid in saving the life of the patient.
To reduce the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, benzodiazepines might be used. There are specific pharmaceuticals used to aid in alleviation of alcohol withdrawal such as Ativan (lorazepam) and Librium (chlordiazepoxide). These medications might help in the alleviation of anxiety as they are used for those who suffer from anxiety but are not going through alcohol withdrawal, as well. However, the administration of such drugs would be to help the patient overcome DTs and survive alcohol withdrawal.
Vitamins and minerals might be administered intravenously (if orally is not an option) to combat lack of nutrients, loss of nutrients, or nutritional deficiencies that often accompany heavy alcohol consumption (especially nausea, vomiting, poor diet, or lack of eating).
Even with medical treatment, fatalities can still occur in about 5% of patients. Without any treatment whatsoever, the number of fatalities spike to 15-35% fatality, so it is extremely important that those experiencing DT get to a hospital as soon as possible.
The most common cause of death for patients with DTs is respiratory failure or cardiac arrest/arrhythmias (heart attack).
Intervention Help for Adults and Teens
At Bright Future, we understand that detoxing happens at different levels. We meet people where they are in their recovery journey and work toward rehabilitation no matter the level. Before all that can occur, though, getting the person who is suffering from addiction to agree to alcohol cessation and detox is the first step.
For this, we offer intervention services to help get your loved one into a detox and recovery program. We understand how hard it is for a family member or loved one to witness the trials a person seeking treatment or in treatment might go through, so we pay special attention to the inclusion and education of the family throughout the process.
When you or your loved one is done with their initial rehabilitation, we won’t just leave them without a support system; our unique program offers a first stage monitoring program, which gives our clients post-treatment aftercare, as well as 5-year case management and monitoring for long-term rehabilitation and treatment. We also offer programs tailored specifically for teenagers, so they understand their addictions and work through their dependency in a healthy, safe, and supportive environment.
Find Help for Alcohol Dependency with Bright Future
We at Bright Future believe there is a path to recovery for everyone – from adults to teens. We offer detox services specific to the person who is suffering dependency as a preparation to our recovery program. The goal with these programs is to get and keep clients medically stable through detox and able to enter and complete a rehabilitation program.
Performing detox before the recovery program as opposed to during rehabilitation can hamper a client’s ability to focus on their recovery while they are battling the symptoms of withdrawal. Because of this, we offer therapies to assist with the mental, physical, and emotional aspects as well. These therapies include equine therapy (working with horses), massage therapy, and exercise therapy.
Because adolescents and teens struggling with addiction have different needs and battles than adults, we offer options for each. Our teen home respects the challenges of youths suffering from addiction while focusing on accountability. Our adult residence is geared toward helping the unique needs of adults struggling with addiction, which often means overcoming years of abuse.
Bright Future Recovery is located in Hollister, California, but we also have a campus in San Francisco. Let Bright Future Recovery help you give change a chance and turn a consequence into a life lesson learned!