Delirium tremens is a very dangerous condition that is unique to, and caused solely by, withdrawal from alcohol. Commonly abbreviated DTs, this condition is a unique condition that is distinct from the regular symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. DTs introduces additional risks and complications and may last much longer than standard acute withdrawal symptoms. DTs are a catastrophic disruption of normal brain function and perceptions which also affects vital systems such as heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature regulation. This can cause a wide variety of dangerous issues and some of the greatest risks can result in brain damage, seizure, heart attack, stroke, and sometimes death.
DTs manifest symptoms that are distinct from other more minor symptoms of withdrawal. While alcohol withdrawal hallucinations may be experienced before this condition occurs, the hallucinations and confusion during DTs are independent of other minor forms that may present earlier in the withdrawal process.
Being a condition unique to alcohol withdrawal, it is necessary to drink heavily for an extended time to develop DTs. The imbalances caused by prolonged alcohol use are responsible for the occurrence of DTs, although it is currently unclear as to the exact mechanisms which produce it. There is also still some mystery as to why DTs occur in some people, and not in others. Out of all people who will experience withdrawal from alcohol, only about 1-5% of them will experience DTs.
There are contributing factors that seem to be common among those who do experience DTs which increase the likelihood of someone experiencing this dangerous condition. Some of these include:
The typical time of onset for DTs is between 48 to 72 hours after someone has had their last drink, although it is possible to occur sooner or later. They have usually been experiencing withdrawal for many hours before DTs present. It may exhibit symptoms similar to withdrawal itself, although during DTs these symptoms are greatly magnified.
Some of the common symptoms of delirium tremens include:
These symptoms typically last between 2-3 days after they begin but have been known to linger for 2 weeks in some cases. Many of these symptoms pose a serious risk to someone’s health or even their life.Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures
DTs is a very dangerous condition with a mortality rate of between 2-15%. This was much higher (37%) in the ’70s before effective treatment options and medications for alcohol withdrawal were widely available. Some of the greatest risks are due to heart problems, as the wild fluctuations in blood pressure and heart rate wreak havoc in the cardiovascular system. Likewise, due to blood pressure fluctuations, the risk of stroke is greatly increased.
A list of some of the greatest and most common dangers which can result in death include:
Refractory is a medical term that simply means that a condition is not responding to the normal treatments. This can unfortunately occur with DTs as well as less-lethal conditions such as depression. In cases of refractory DTs, the symptoms have been documented to last as long as 28 days. This is not only extremely unpleasant for the patient but this also increases the risk of dangerous complications as the time of greatest risk is prolonged over several weeks.
This is a very dangerous condition and while the exact mechanisms are unknown, it is known that experiencing DTs will increase the risk of another episode during subsequent periods of withdrawal. The reasons for this are not fully known, but it probably involves excitotoxicity and sensitization processes that occur in the brain in the time before and after episodes of DTs. Additionally, suffering withdrawal seizures increases the risk of developing DTs through similarly unknown means, but probably through a similar sensitization mechanism.
DTs is extremely dangerous and in western medicine, it is deemed a “medical emergency” by healthcare workers. The mortality rate of DTs, when left untreated, is a staggering 37% which should illustrate just how lethal a condition it is. With medical supervision, however, this number can be greatly reduced. There have been many effective treatments developed in the last few decades which greatly reduce the dangers. Studies vary, but the current mortality rate is somewhere between 1.8-15%. This most likely tends toward the lower end (1-4%) of the scale, but further definitive studies are needed to hone in on a more precise number.
Entering an alcohol detox center will give someone the best chance of making it through withdrawal in the safest way possible. The most effective way to avoid DTs is to seek medical monitoring and treatment before withdrawal sets in. This way, someone will not only be much more comfortable, but the chances of developing DTs will be greatly reduced through medications, supplements, and supervision.
The first-line treatment for DTs is a combination of medication, medical monitoring, and nutritional supplements, either oral or intravenous. This comprehensive approach aims to correct the chemical imbalances which result from it. This can prevent it from emerging if treatment is provided beforehand, or reduce the severity and risks once the symptoms are already present.
Some of the medications which are most effective for delirium tremens treatments include:
In addition to medications, there are other treatment measures that may be used to help speed up the regenerative processes of the body and mind. This will not only reduce the duration and intensity of the symptoms of DTs, but may also reduce the risk of seizure, brain damage, and stroke.
Some of these common supplemental therapies given either orally or intravenously include:
Delirium tremens treatments are available and will greatly improve someone’s quality of life and chances for survival. Hospitals, medical detox centers, or inpatient care facilities are highly recommended if someone is experiencing alcohol withdrawal. This is of special importance if someone has suffered alcohol withdrawal previously, and even more so if they have experienced DTs or alcohol withdrawal seizures in the past.
If you are seeking drug and alcohol related addiction rehab for yourself or a loved one, the sponsored hotline is a confidential and convenient solution.
Calls to any sponsored hotline (non-facility) will be answered by:
If you wish to contact a specific medical detox center then find a specific detox center using our detox locator tool.
Alternatives to finding addiction treatment or learning about substance abuse:
To learn more about how Detox Local operates, please contact us.