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Delirium tremens (DT) represent the most severe end of the spectrum of alcohol withdrawal syndromes, and are widely known as the most dangerous, and potentially fatal, withdrawal symptom that can occur when detoxing from alcohol. Medscape defines delirium tremens as “the most severe form of ethanol withdrawal, manifested by altered mental status (global confusion) and sympathetic overdrive (autonomic hyperactivity), which can progress to cardiovascular collapse.” Delirium associated with excessive alcohol consumption has been known since antiquity. The undeniable connection between alcohol abuse and delirium tremens dates to 1813 when DT was first recognized and universally accepted as a disorder specifically attributed to alcohol abuse.

Risk Factors

Habitually abusing alcohol over an extended period affects how one’s brain functions by interfering with one’s ability to regulate brain chemicals. There are certain risk factors that can increase one’s propensity for developing delirium tremens, which include the following, according to Winchester Hospital:

  • Seizure history
  • Heart disease
  • Liver disease
  • Chronic alcohol abuse
  • History of delirium tremens

It is important to note that not all individuals that recover from alcohol abuse or addiction will inevitably experience delirium tremens.

Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of delirium tremens typically occur within 48 to 96 hours of one’s last drink, but for some can take as long as 7 to 10 days after one’s last drink to appear. Common examples of signs and symptoms can include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Body tremors
  • Changes in mental function
  • Deep sleep that lasts for a day or longer
  • Delirium, which is sudden severe confusion
  • Excitement or fear
  • Hallucinations
  • Bursts of energy
  • Quick mood changes
  • Restlessness
  • Sensitivity to light, sound, touch
  • Stupor, sleepiness, fatigue
  • Chest pain
  • Fever
  • Stomach pain
  • Confusion
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Elevated blood pressure

Every person is unique and will likely experience a distinct combination of signs, with varying severities of symptoms when it comes to delirium tremens. Delirium tremens, when not medically attended to can become fatal. The death rate from delirium tremens is thirty-seven percent (without proper treatment) and fifteen percent (with proper treatment). Do not delay in seeking medical treatment as soon as possible if signs of delirium tremens present. 

For Information and Support 

If you are concerned for yourself or a loved one regarding substance abuse and/ or addiction, we recommend reaching out for help as soon as possible. If left untreated, substance abuse can result in long lasting and potentially life-threatening consequences. Keep in mind: you are not alone! There is an entire network of professionals that are available to help and support you and your loved one throughout the recovery process. The earlier you seek support, the sooner your loved one can return to a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life.

Please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions regarding our specific program at Haven House Addiction Treatment and/ or general substance abuse and/ or addiction treatment related information. Our highly trained staff is readily available to discuss how we might best be able to help you and your loved one. We can be reached by phone at 424-258-6792. You are also welcomed to contact anytime us via email at admissions@hhtxc.com