For many former alcoholics, getting over addiction and withdrawal is a difficult process. This is not something that is easy to go through alone and without help and support, especially for those who have been drinking a lot for a very long time. One of the risks of quitting alcohol cold turkey is Delirium Tremens.
What Is Delirium Tremens?
This condition is a sign of late stages of severe alcoholism. As long-term users try to free themselves from alcohol dependence, they may feel the effects of ethanol withdrawal, manifesting as delirious tremens (or DT). It can be estimated that half of the people suffering from alcoholism will experience withdrawal upon quitting, and from this number, 3-5% might, in turn, develop DT.
This can greatly make it difficult for them to normally function because of the hyperactivity and confusion that are quite typical for someone suffering from DT. This might be related to the fact that long-term alcohol abuse can eventually lead to damage to important neurotransmitters in the brain. The transmitters that control mood and emotions are specifically affected, including dopamine, endogenous opiates, glutamate, and serotonin receptors.
Patients who do not receive the right treatment at this time will not feel normal or do ordinary daily tasks when they suffer from DT. Individuals who attempt to quit alcohol dependence alone, without medical supervision, are at most risk. Symptoms of DT start to show up on the third day of withdrawal and may last between 3 to 10 days in all. Within a month, DT can be established, and the symptoms that clients go through are the same with those who suffer from benzodiazepine and barbiturate withdrawals.
Luckily, existing treatments are very successful in helping clients overcome DT, reduce symptoms, and save their lives. DT can otherwise be fatal, with rates going up to 40% when clients do not get access to medical help and support. Strangely, the condition is triggered when there is darkness. Therefore, medical units should be kept bright all the time to make sure that clients recover well.
Symptoms of Delirium Tremens
People who want to quit long-term alcohol abuse should watch out for symptoms of delirium tremens, as this can save their lives. It is very important to stay in a medical facility or a treatment center where there are doctors around to help supervise the condition. Only someone with proper medical training will know how to properly support and treat someone with DT, otherwise, this can end in a fatal situation.
Therefore, clients who are experiencing these common symptoms of DT should immediately turn to a medical professional who can help them, such as feelings of being disoriented or confused, and having hallucinations and nightmares. Worse, they may experience acute anxiety and feel that they will die soon. Physically, they might experience fever, chest and stomach pains. Extreme sweating and high blood pressure might also be signs of delirium tremens. Lastly, having difficulty or even being unable to speak is a telling symptom.
Even those who are not trying to quit alcohol might also have the condition, especially after a heavy drinking session on an empty stomach. It might even occur after someone suffers from a terrible head injury or infection.
Diagnosing and Treating Delirium Tremens
Once clients turn to a doctor for suspected DT, the medical staff will try to diagnose the condition by looking for preexisting signs. This can include irregular heartbeat and tremors. Patients might appear very nervous and get startled very easily. They will check magnesium and blood phosphate levels as well, and will do a toxicology screening. Once they determine that the client is suffering from delirium tremens, the medical team will start with the aggressive treatment as soon as possible. They will not waste time and wait for the condition to become worse.
In order to treat delirium tremens, doctors will use sedatives while the client is suffering from the disease. The point is to relax the central nervous system. Moreover, Valium may also be prescribed by the doctors for a short time during the treatment. Treating DT is a vital part of the detoxification process so that the client can continue with rehabilitation without the risk of relapsing.
At the same time, therapy might be suggested as well during this withdrawal period to support the individual going through rehabilitation. Some rehab facilities might wait until later to start with counseling, but there could be an advantage in starting earlier. Especially for long-term alcoholics, it will take time to really help them identify triggers for drinking, and find alternatives for alcohol. Extensive therapy will be needed to deal with the emotions and experiences that underly as reasons for alcohol abuse.
Treating alcoholism, even long-term abuse, is possible with the right guidance and treatment found in a proper rehabilitation center. Over time, clients can learn to survive without alcohol and at the same time, not turn to drinking when they are experiencing stress in life. After a long time of drinking to overcome negative thoughts and emotions, the client might develop an initial mental reaction to stress, which is to turn to alcohol. Therefore, it is important that they are able to fight off non-stop thoughts of drinking again, especially as a way to escape during tough times. Otherwise, they will definitely find themselves relapsing.
It is only through going through proper and effective treatment when trying to overcome alcohol addiction. The way will not be easy, as there are many different steps to go through, starting with detoxification and drug treatment. Because of the risks that come during this stage, like delirium tremens, staying at an in-client treatment or rehabilitation center is best.
It does not end there, though, as out-client treatment to track progress is an important part of the process, as well as living or being in a sober community to prevent relapse. This is the only way to save the client’s life, especially after a very long time being addicted to alcohol. But with the right support and help, a life beyond drinking is possible and attainable.