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Delirium tremens (DT) is a severe form of alcohol withdrawal. Ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “is an intoxicating ingredient found in beer, wine, and liquor. Alcohol is produced by the fermentation of yeast, sugars, and starches.” As a central nervous system depressant, alcohol works by slowing down vital functions in one’s body. After an individual consumes alcohol, it is absorbed from the small intestine and stomach into his or her bloodstream and is then metabolized in the liver. The liver, however, is only able to metabolize a small amount of alcohol at a time, which leaves excess alcohol to circulate throughout one’s body via the bloodstream. With habitual alcohol abuse, one’s body becomes more accustomed to functioning with alcohol in its system than without, and when the body lacks alcohol, it will react, and physiological withdrawal symptoms will ensue. Delirium tremens is scientifically defined 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 tremens is a medical emergency, and 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). 

Signs and Symptoms

To properly assist a patient that has delirium tremens, it is imperative to be able to recognize its signs and symptoms. They typically occur within 48 to 96 hours of one’s last drink, but for some, the signs and symptoms can take as long as 7 to 10 days after one’s last drink 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. If a patient presents with delirium tremens it is essential to pursue emergent medical assistance as soon as possible. In most cases, an individual with DT will require inpatient care to ensure twenty-four-hour medical supervision.

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 welcome to contact anytime us via email at admissions@hhtxc.com.