Delirium tremens is a condition that is characterized by an acute episode of delirium that is caused by alcohol withdrawal. Withdrawal from other substances, particularly barbiturates and other sedative-hypnotics aside from alcohol, can also trigger this kind of condition from occurring and may possibly lead to death, if left untreated. However, withdrawal from other drugs like marijuana, cocaine and opioids do not fall under this category, so withdrawal from these types of drugs does not necessarily cause major medical complications. Statistics show that less than 50% of alcoholics would likely develop significant withdrawal symptoms that may be associated with this kind of condition, although several have been reported to experience the symptoms of Delirium Tremens.
The major symptoms of Delirium tremens include confusion, disorientation, agitation, and diarrhea. Some may also experience signs of severe autonomic instability such as hypertension, fever and tachycardia. Some may also experience getting visions of snakes, insects and rats, and some have reportedly experienced visions of fictional creatures like tiny people and pink elephants. In severe cases, people suffering from this kind of condition may experience visual hallucinations. Secondary symptoms such as anxiety attacks and paranoia may also be experienced. This condition is different from alcoholic hallucinosis; Delirium Tremens is experienced by about 5% to 10% of alcoholics, whereas alcoholic hallucinosis is experienced by nearly 20% of alcoholics.
The primary cause of this condition is associated with alcohol withdrawal and is mostly experienced by people who have been drinking for a long period of time and whose alcohol intake is abruptly stopped due to varying reasons. An alcoholic who is forced to abruptly stop his alcohol intake would most likely experience withdrawal due to the body’s dependency to alcohol. Some people suffer from Delirium tremens as a result of a head injury, infection or a serious illness for people who have a history of heavy alcohol use. The abrupt cessation of tranquilizers may also cause hallucinations in people that may fall under this category. The risk of developing Delirium Tremens is higher in men than in women because alcoholism is also much more prevalent in men. This condition is rarely experienced by pediatric patients, albeit heavy alcohol use is prevalent in young adults, because severe alcohol dependency takes time to develop.
Delirium tremens that is caused by alcohol withdrawal may be treated with benzodiazepines. It may be necessary to take larger doses for the medication to take effect. Those who are suffering from severe cases of Delirium tremens typically have to be sedated with benzodiazepines such as Diazepam, Lorazepam, Oxazepam, or Temazepam. Those who fail to show any significant reactions to benzodiazepines may have to be given mild antipsychotics such as haloperidol. In most cases, medication has to be continued until the symptoms have subsided and those with recurring symptoms may have to undergo therapy and take medication indefinitely or until a physician advises to stop intake.
Delirium tremens can be a serious condition if left untreated; there have been several cases of death due to the failure to seek proper treatment. It may be difficult to cure the symptoms, especially in severe cases; but with continued medication, therapy and support from close friends and family, it may make the whole process faster and easier.