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Delirium tremens is an uncommon withdrawal symptom that occurs in people who are addicted to alcohol. It’s a brain disorder that causes a sudden onset of extreme confusion and disorientation. It can also lead to violent behavior. And in some cases, people with delirium tremens die if they don’t receive medical treatment. Recognizing the signs of delirium tremens is the first step in getting treatment to avoid a dangerous outcome.

If you’re trying to quit drinking, reading this article is a good place to start. You might recognize some of these signs in yourself. Or you might know someone else who is struggling with alcohol withdrawal. No matter what, you can take the first step toward getting help. Now, let’s take a closer look at this very dangerous withdrawal symptom.

What Is Delirium Tremens?

Delirium tremens is a withdrawal syndrome that can occur in people who drink heavily. It’s medically known as a “delerium tremens” because it typically involves a state of extreme confusion. It may be triggered by various things, such as fever, surgery, or a traumatic injury. But the main cause is alcohol withdrawal.

When a person stops drinking alcohol, the body has two to three days to get used to the sudden decrease in alcohol intake. If the decrease is too rapid, the person may experience symptoms of delirium tremens. The signs and symptoms of delirium tremens are:

  • Ataxia (incoordination)
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Muscle spasms
  • Sweating
  • Emotional lability (an intense change of mood)
  • Marked increase or decrease in body temperature

Diagnosing delirium tremens can be challenging. It’s usually diagnosed based on a person’s clinical history and a neurological exam. 

Dangers of Alcohol Withdrawal

If you or someone you love is in the midst of a delirium tremens episode, call 911 immediately. This is the most dangerous part of alcohol withdrawal. The longer you go without medical care, the higher the risk of death. And the longer you’ve been drinking, the higher the risk of delirium tremens.

People who develop delirium tremens are often not in good health to start with. They’re already at a higher risk for health problems. This includes heart disease, liver and pancreatic cancer, and tuberculosis. The risk of death is highest in the first 24 hours without treatment.

Why is Delirium Tremens So Dangerous?

Like all addictions, alcohol dependence causes changes in the brain. When this happens, delirium tremens can develop. But what causes it to go from being a sign of alcohol withdrawal to a dangerous brain disorder?

One reason is that the nervous system is extremely sensitive to stress. If a person is emotionally or physically stressed, their nervous system may react to the stress by going into overdrive. This can lead to a delirium tremens episode.

Another cause is that a person’s liver is not able to break down the toxic products (byproducts) of alcohol metabolism. These products include acetone, ethylene glycol, and methanol. When they build up in the body, they can cause delirium tremens.

How to Recognize the Symptoms of Delirium Tremens

If you or someone you love exhibits any of the above symptoms, call 911 immediately. Use the following checklist to help identify the symptoms in yourself or someone else:

  • Sudden and unexpected confusion
  • Unable to express or understand basic thoughts or ideas
  • Making odd noises or gestures
  • Unable to sleep or stay asleep
  • Vomiting or gassiness
  • Marked change in behavior
  • A high fever or other signs of infection
  • A change in personality or mood

Get Help if You Have the Symptoms of Delirium Tremens

Alcohol withdrawal is a tough journey. You might not be able to finish it on your own. If you or someone you love is experiencing the symptoms of delirium tremens, call 911 immediately. You should also call your doctor, because this could be a sign of a medical emergency. In some cases, people need hospitalization. They might need to be placed on a ventilator (inhaler) to assist them with breathing. 

It’s also a good idea to get yourself to the hospital if you are vomiting or unable to wake up. Keep in mind that delirium tremens can be a scary, unpredictable, and dangerous condition. You should seek help immediately if you think you or someone else is experiencing these symptoms.

Knoxville Recovery Is Here For You

Excessive alcohol use can lead to a dangerous condition called delirium tremens. This syndrome can develop if a person goes through alcohol withdrawal. Addiction can affect anyone. If you or a loved one are currently struggling with alcoholism, help is available! We encourage you to reach out to the professionals at Knoxville Recovery Center to learn more about our personalized treatment programs and mental health services. 

Knoxville Recovery Center was founded from firsthand experience of addiction and recovery, with a mission of providing a space where people can heal from addiction and other disorders in a compassionate, creative, open-minded, and heart-centered environment. We believe recovery is always possible. Our experts work with you to design a treatment plan that fits your needs. Common treatment programs include:

  • Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP)
  • On-site Detox
  • Full-time Addiction Treatment on campus
  • Mental Health Treatment
  • Aftercare Services

Contact us today for more information about how our programs and services can help you get your life back on track. You no longer have to struggle with alcoholism on your own. We are here to help. 

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