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What Is Delirium Tremens?

Frequent drinking and binge drinking can lead to dependence on alcohol and, eventually, addiction. According to the 2019 NSDUH (National Survey on Drug Use and Health), nearly 15 million people aged 12 or older had alcohol use disorder (AUD). So when someone wants help to stop drinking, it is understandable they may wonder what sort of withdrawal symptoms could occur. They may also want to know what is delirium tremens. 

What is Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal is the body’s reaction to suddenly stopping or dramatically reducing alcohol intake after a period of heavy drinking. Symptoms can range from mild, such as anxiety and insomnia, to more severe symptoms, like seizures or delirium tremens.

What is Delirium Tremens or “DTs”?

Delirium tremens (DTs) is a life-threatening form of alcohol withdrawal that can occur after long-term and heavy drinking. Symptoms include confusion, hallucinations, seizures, and more. It is considered to be life-threatening and requires immediate medical treatment.

How Long Does Delirium Tremens Last?

Delirium tremens typically last for three to five days, although in some cases, it can last up to a week. Therefore, it is essential to seek medical detox when someone has been drinking for a long time or binge drinks frequently and wants to start treatment.

At What Stage of Detox is a Person at Risk for DTs?

A person is most at risk for developing delirium tremens during the second and third days of alcohol withdrawal. They are also at risk if they frequently binge drink or have been drinking for a long time. Furthermore, if the person experiences seizures during withdrawal, they are more likely to experience DTs as well. 

Can You Die from DTs?

Yes, delirium tremens can be fatal if left untreated. Complications due to DTs can include seizures, heart attack, stroke, or respiratory failure. 

How Common Are DTs?

DTs are rare and typically occur in only 5-10% of people who experience alcohol withdrawal. However, since knowing who will and will not experience DTs is difficult, this is why withdrawal should be surprising at a medical detox center. 

Common Symptoms of DTs

Common symptoms of delirium tremens include confusion, hallucinations, agitation, and disorientation. Other signs include sweating, fever, seizures, and a rapid heart rate.

Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

  • Day 1: Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal typically start 8-24 hours after the last drink and can include anxiety, tremors, sweating, nausea/vomiting, racing heart rate, and more. 
  • Days 2-3: Symptoms typically peak during this period. The individual may experience seizures or DTs. Medical treatment is often needed to prevent complications. 
  • Days 4-7: Most symptoms should begin to subside by this point, but some individuals may continue to have insomnia or intense cravings for alcohol. 
  • Weeks 2+: For some people, it can take weeks for all symptoms to completely resolve as the body adjusts back to functioning without alcohol in its system.

In addition, some people may experience post-acute withdrawal syndromes (PAWs), a set of symptoms, including cravings, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and other emotional disturbances which can occur after the initial withdrawal period has ended. PAWs can last much longer than the initial alcohol withdrawal timeline and may require further treatment or therapy.

Common Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Tremors or Shakes
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Racing Heart Rate
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Mood Swings
  • Seizures
  • DTs
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion

How Does Medical Detox Help with DTs?

  • Reduced risk of complications, such as delirium tremens.
  • Controlled and safe withdrawal process.
  • Medications to help ease symptoms and reduce cravings.
  • A supportive environment with trained medical staff.

What is Medication-Assisted Treatment for AUD?

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) uses medications, such as naltrexone and disulfiram, to help treat alcohol use disorder. These medications can help reduce cravings and ease withdrawal symptoms. They are often used with counseling or therapy for the best results.

What Medications Can Be Used to Prevent DTs?

Medications that can be used to prevent delirium tremens include benzodiazepines, such as diazepam or lorazepam. These medications also help to reduce anxiety and ease withdrawal symptoms.

Can You Safely Detox from Alcohol at Home?

No, it is not safe to detox from alcohol at home. Detoxing from alcohol on your own can be dangerous and even life-threatening due to the potential for severe withdrawal symptoms such as seizures or DTs. It is safest to seek medical help when undergoing an alcohol detoxification process. Medical professionals can provide medications and supportive care that will reduce the risk of complications during the detox period.

Is Being Scared Normal When You Want Help for AUD?

Yes, it is very common to feel scared when seeking help for an alcohol use disorder (AUD). It can be challenging to take the first step toward recovery due to fear and shame. However, it is important to remember that treatment for AUD is available, and there are people who understand what you are going through. Seeking help is a courageous decision that will ultimately lead to a healthier life.

AUD Medical Detox and Treatment in Columbus, OH

If you or a loved one is struggling with AUD in the Columbus, OH area, now is the time to get help. At Ohio Addiction Recovery Center, we provide comprehensive medical detox and individualized treatment services to meet each person’s needs. Contact us today for more information about our detox programs and how we can help you or your loved one on their road to recovery.

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