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How Do You Get Delirium Tremens?

If there is one drug that is considered the most dangerous to detox from, it is alcohol. Just about everyone is familiar with the “shakes” and the “DT’s” but what exactly are the differences between them, and what distinguishes Delirium Tremens from “wet brain”? As a matter of fact, just how does one go about getting Delirium Tremens in the first place?

Well obviously, the answer is abusing alcohol, but delirium tremens and wet brain don’t exactly happen to just anyone. They are actually the cause of suddenly stopping drinking after an extended period of heavy drinking.

What are Delirium Tremens?

In its most severe form, delirium tremens are a stage of alcohol withdrawal, where sudden and intense shift in the nervous system occurs due to the absence of alcohol. There can be several factors associated with the occurrence of delirium tremens, such as:

    • Suddenly stopping drinking after frequent and prolonged use
    • Some head injury, infections, or certain illnesses can also cause delirium tremens
    • Withdrawing from alcohol without enough food or proper nutrition

However, more or less, delirium tremens comes from drinkers who average around 2 liters of wine, 4 liters of beer, or ½ liter of liquor per day, for several months. The occurrence of the DT’s is even more prevalent among drinkers who have been drinking daily for several years.

Symptoms of Delirium Tremens

There are usually multiple stages of alcohol withdrawal, and some of them can be more dangerous than others. Primarily, the DT’s can take effect anywhere from 48-96 hours after the last drink, but they have also been noted to occur anywhere from 7-10 days after the last drink.

Some of the most common symptoms of Delirium Tremens are:

  • Severe, sudden confusion (delirium)
  • Body tremors (tremens)
  • Deep sleep lasting for over 12 hours
  • Sensitivity to light, sound, and touch
  • Agitation and Irritability
  • Sudden and intense mood swings
  • Restlessness and Excitement
  • Hallucinations
  • Stupor, sleepiness, and fatigue

Not to mention, each person can be affected differently during alcohol withdrawals, depending on age, genetics, amount and duration of drinking, other medications or drugs that were abused, and any other prevalent mental or mood disorders. This is why it is so encouraged to seek professional medical detox for those who are looking to withdrawal from alcohol.

One of the most common side effects from Delirium Tremens are the presence of seizures, again, why it is so vital to detox in a medical facility. Seizures can often occur without any presence of other DT symptoms and are most common between 12 and 48 hours after the last drink.

alcoholic woman drinking

Treatment of Delirium Tremens

The value of attending a medical detox for alcohol withdrawal is without question. Many people are not aware of just how dangerous it can be to detox from alcohol on their own. However, the process is made much easier in a detox for many reasons.

    • A person can be monitored by professional medical staff, around the clock
    • The person can be given medications and sedatives that can help alleviate many of the side effects and uncomfortable symptoms of detoxing from alcohol
    • Medical professionals can monitor said person for early warning signs of Delirium Tremens
    • Around the clock monitoring of blood chemistry, electrolyte balance, vital signs, and hydration can help ensure that complications can be prevented and the process can be as smooth as possible
    • Any seizures, anxiety attacks, or difficulties sleeping can be treated by trained medical staff
    • The time spent away from access to alcohol gives the person a better chance to not relapse
    • Long-term treatment can often be the next step from here, as most treatment centers require, by law, that people who abuse alcohol attend a medical detox and are cleared for treatment by that detox.

Long-Term Effects of Delirium Tremens

Research has suggested that despite a person detoxing from alcohol in a medical setting, there can be certain long-term side effects from the presence of Delirium Tremens.

Firstly, the possibility of seizures is a real threat and can last up to anywhere from 6 months to 2 years, depending on the individual’s overall health and how severe their drinking career was. On record, these seizures have been the cause of accidents ranging from falls to car accidents to on the job situations.

Next, intense mood swings have been noted to occur for up to one year as well. These mood swings cause many newly sober alcoholics to suffer from depression, anxiety, insomnia, and panic; and have been the reason for countless relapses. There have also been cases of self-harm or violence toward others due to ongoing hallucinations and delirium.

However, if a person seeks out a therapist or psychiatrist, they can often experiment with the proper medication to help alleviate these symptoms, but it is important that they tell their doctor about their previous alcohol addiction and any diagnosis of Delirium Tremens.

Long-Term Recovery

Just because Delirium Tremens can stick around with a person who gets sober, does not mean that this person doesn’t have a chance to STAY sober. There are thousands and thousands of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings around the world, every hour of every day.

Millions of people who were once on their deathbeds from severe alcoholic addiction have found a new way of life through the program of AA, and many of them suffered from alcohol overdose and delirium tremens, and are now living happy, healthy, and functional lives. Sure, they will be the first to tell you that the beginning was far from easy, but with support in the fellowship and a commitment to stay sober, they were able to start again and push through the difficulty of those mood swings, the paranoia, and the cravings.

There are also other programs out there for people of all different varieties of life. For example, there are church-based programs, meditation-based programs such as Refuge Recovery, Cognitive Behavioral based programs such as SMART recovery, and thousands of other groups dedicated to helping people start over.