What is Delirium Tremens?

The Diagnosis

Delirium Tremens is a medical condition that most commonly occurs in chronic alcoholics. It is not always permanent and can be largely reversed through the aid of medical intervention, but the symptoms can be pretty alarming and if not taken care of professionally, can actually cause serious long term damage.

Delirium Tremens, also known as, “the DT’s” or “the shakes” are more common in people who drink large amounts over a long period of time. So relax Jessica, your weekend binging, while most likely problematic, will only result in a hangover and most likely some guilt.

However, for the folks who have been drinking daily for months or years, Delirium Tremens should be on your radar.

Signs to Look For

Whether you are concerned about yourself or a loved one’s drinking problem, the fact that withdrawing from alcohol should, at this point, be very clear to your now. Just about everyone has experienced a hangover, but for alcoholics, suddenly putting the bottle down can actually be extremely dangerous outside of a medical detox facility.

When the time comes to stop drinking, for a person who has been doing so for an extended period of time at a rapid pace, there are some warning signs of Delirium Tremens to be aware of, such as:

Symptoms showing up within the first 48 hours after the last drink
Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there)
Delusions (believing things that aren’t true or in reality)
Insomnia OR Sleeping more than 18-24 hours
Erratic mood swings
Memory Loss

alcoholic man

The Dangers of DT’s

It can be pretty scary to watch a loved one go through a withdrawal process at all, and when done at home, most other drugs just require lots of fluids, rest, and healthy foods. On the other hand, alcohol withdrawal actually has the potential to be fatal.

The brain and other vital organs, which have been functioning for so long with excessive amounts of alcohol in them, can go into shock after the last drink. Everyone knows that alcohol damages the liver, which is where the main portion of alcohol is broken down after consumption. For an alcoholic who has destroyed their liver, their body is no longer able to break the alcohol down into its most basic form, acetate.

The form between the alcohol and the acetate is known as acetaldehyde, which is actually an extremely toxic carcinogen. In a healthy functioning adult, this process usually happens pretty quickly, so the effects aren’t too serious. On the other hand, in a person who drinks excessively over years, the liver is unable to break down the carcinogen, which is what leads to cirrhosis and many other forms of cancer.

In terms of Delirium Tremens, when an alcoholic takes the last drink, the organs, the liver (the major “cleaner” of the body) the vascular system, and the brain can go into shock. These organs have been living for so long with the presence of alcohol, that when it is no longer there, they are missing a nutrient that has been deemed as vital at this point in the life of the drinker.

The lack of oxygen, blood supply, and healthy filtration of blood and fluids are what leads to the seizures, the confusion, and the hallucinations that typically constitute a diagnosis of Delirium Tremens.

Seek Medical Detox when You Stop Drinking

Again, some other drugs, such as cocaine, heroin or meth, CAN be detoxed from at home, although it is not wise. However, alcohol detox should ALWAYS be done at a professional medical rehabilitation center. It is crucial to have medical personnel on hand around the clock to ensure that the recovering alcoholic does not go into seizures and is given the proper fluids and medications to help keep the worst detox symptoms at bay.

How to Stop Drinking

A lot of people want to discuss “why they became an alcoholic” or think about it in circles until they find a good excuse that they feel enables them to continue on drinking like they do. These examples will often hold a person back from getting the help they need to survive without alcohol.

If you are concerned about your loved ones drinking, figuring out the “why” and “what happened” is far less important than getting them healthy. The important thing to remember is that it doesn’t matter WHY someone is an alcoholic, it simply matters that they ARE going to die a slow and painful death from alcohol if they don’t get better. When it comes to your loved one, don’t listen to any of the excuses they will give to stop drinking, but help them come to terms with the fact that there is a problem and it CAN be solved.

If you are the alcoholic, reach out for help. Stop listening to your own excuses and fears and call someone who loves you. If you no longer have anyone to call, call your local AA helpline. There will always be someone out there who wants to help you when you are ready to help yourself. Delirium Tremens, for many alcoholics, if we are being honest about it, most likely isn’t the lowest spot in their lives. The strange obsession that forces someone who experiences these symptoms and then goes back out to drink again after leaving the hospital is something that has been occurring since the dawn of smashing grapes. But help is available when you are ready.