Dangers of Delirium Tremens and the Need for Detox Treatment
Months or years of heavy drinking greatly increase a person’s risk of experiencing delirium tremens, also known as DTs. While long-term drinkers often experience the “alcohol shakes,” delirium tremens poses a much more serious threat to a person’s overall health and well-being.
According to the Journal of Family Practice, an estimated five percent of people experiencing DTs die from health complications. Rather than just a symptom of chronic alcohol abuse, delirium tremens is considered a full-blown medical emergency that requires immediate attention.
Someone who tries to stop drinking after a long history of alcohol abuse may well experience DTs shortly after taking his or her last drink. Under these conditions, there’s a critical need for the 24-hour monitoring and medical care that detox treatment programs provide.
What Causes Delirium Tremens?
Alcohol easily integrates within the brain’s chemical system. With each drink, alcohol causes the brain to release unusually high levels of GABA and glutamine, two essential neurotransmitter chemicals. According to the University of California Irvine School of Medicine, these chemicals regulate electrical activity throughout the brain and central nervous system (CNS).
The brain readily adapts to the effects of alcohol over time. This means, as alcohol levels increase the brain reduces its own self-directed neurotransmitter chemical outputs in response to alcohol’s ongoing effects.
After a certain point, the brain and CNS can’t function properly without alcohol. With long-term drinking, this dependence reaches a point where major bodily systems can shut down or become overloaded when alcohol is withheld.
Bodily systems most affected by alcohol’s effects include:
- Respiratory system
- Cardiovascular system
- Body temperature levels
- Cognitive functions
- Movement and coordination
Delirium tremens occurs when one or more of these systems break down in the absence of alcohol.
Delirium Tremens Effects
Delirium tremens is considered the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal. In most cases, symptoms of delirium tremens appear within two to four days after a person’s last drink.
In effect, the absence of alcohol “short-circuits” the brain, throwing off the brain and central nervous system’s delicate electrical/chemical balance. Delirium tremens effects may take the form of:
- Severe tremors
- Visual and auditory hallucinations
- Intense anxiety
- Profuse sweating
Seizure episodes in particular can be especially serious, with as many as 25 percent of heavy drinkers experiencing grand mal seizures during detox withdrawal.
The Need for Detox Treatment
Whenever someone faces a high risk of delirium tremens during detox, medically assisted withdrawal treatment should be considered. Detox treatment programs provide ongoing medical care and monitoring to ensure a person’s safety throughout the withdrawal phase. People who’ve experienced delirium tremens or seizures in the past are especially prone to severe withdrawal phases that can be life threatening.
Prolonged alcohol abuse also creates an overall state of malnourishment that can quickly deplete the body of essential vitamins, one of which is thiamine. People with thiamine deficiencies often develop a condition known as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which places them at an even higher risk of developing DTs. Symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome include:
- Loss of coordination, inability to walk
- Mental confusion
- Paralysis of the eye muscles
Without needed treatment help, people affected by delirium tremens risk developing long-term health consequences as this condition is indeed life-threatening.