Delirium Tremens or DTs usually occur three days into alcohol withdrawal and are a common symptom of alcohol withdrawal. This is the most dangerous stage of alcohol withdrawal. Not everyone withdrawing from alcohol will develop the Delirium Tremens but the longer and heavier you have been drinking the more severely and likely you are to experience them.
In extreme cases it could also be fatal, so medical attention is necessary to address the symptoms.
What are Delirium Tremens?
Delirium Tremens manifest themselves as a range of symptoms, including:
Confusion – the person will experience an altered mental state and foggy thinking.
Hallucinations – these are quite common, and many people report in particular, rodents or insects crawling across their skin.
Paranoia & anxiety – individuals experience a heightened state of anxiety and an impending sense of doom.
Palpitations and fever – connected with a high state of anxiety you may also experience a rapid pulse or palpitations and elevated blood pressure. Some people also develop a fever.
Seizures – the most dangerous and potentially life-threatening symptom of delirium tremens are the seizures, where the whole body shakes violently and uncontrollably, similar to an epileptic fit. The danger is that this can lead to stroke or even heart attack.
Why does Delirium Tremens occur?
The presence of alcohol in the brain increases the release of a chemical known as GABA, a neurotransmitter that sends chemical messages through the brain and the nervous system and is involved in regulating communication between brain cells. The increased GABA levels caused by alcohol induces the familiar feeling of slowed reactions commonly associated with drinking.
When alcohol is withdrawn, after a prolonged presence, the brain has stopped producing enough GABA for itself as it has become dependent on the presence of alcohol and so the brain cells become unmanageably over-active causing the delirium tremens.
How long does Delirium Tremens last?
Patterns of withdrawal vary from person to person. For some, the physical symptoms may fade after a few days, for others they can remain intense for several weeks.
The length and severity of symptoms vary depending on the amount of alcohol drunk and over what period of time.
Managing the treatment of Delirium Tremens
Someone who is experiencing DTs should be under medical supervision. This is a dangerous and life threatening condition. The usual treatment for delirium tremens is to keep the individual sedated with prescription drugs such as Librium. This reduces the excited state of the nervous system which causes most of the symptoms.