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Delirium Tremens: A Deadly Form of Alcohol Withdrawal

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Every single day people die from alcohol withdrawal. A large number of these deaths are brought on by people trying to detox at home. Shortly after singer Amy Winehouse died, her family revealed that her death was caused by going cold turkey at home. So, what makes alcohol withdrawal so incredibly dangerous? Alcohol detox, many experts agree, brings on some of the most dangerous withdrawal side effects of any drug. Unlike prescription painkillers or meth, alcoholics can literally die from not having a drink. And one of the most common factors affecting those deaths is delirium tremens – a severe form of alcohol withdrawal that involves sudden and severe mental or nervous system changes.

Linking Delirium Tremens and Death

Though the term delirium tremens may not ring a bell, you’re likely already familiar with this condition. You might know it as the “DTs.” Though several syndromes occur when a chronic alcoholic stops drinking, DTs are by far the most serious. Even with emergency medical treatment, up to 5 percent of all DT sufferers still die.

Symptoms

Alcoholics tend to experience symptoms of DTs two to four days after their last drink. Medical professionals look for some specific signs that indicate a patient is experiencing DTs:
  • Temperature elevation
  • Tremors
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Severe anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • High blood pressure
  • Sweating
These symptoms occur because a portion of the nervous system responsible for regulating basic bodily processes is sent into overdrive.

Something’s Not Right

DTs are much more than physical discomforts. They can also alter a person’s sense of perception. Lights and sounds seem amplified and grating, a sense of confusion sets in, and some people are unable to coherently put a sentence together. In some cases, the afflicted person becomes so confused that he or she can no longer identify family members or loved ones. Hallucinations can set in and make simple things seem like life-threatening dangers. These include terrifying sights, sounds, or smells that elicit panic.

What Causes DTs?

In people with a history of heavy and prolonged drinking, the brain gets used to alcohol. Eventually, the normal working relationship between brain cells no longer exists. Delirium tremens commonly affects people who have had an alcohol habit or alcoholism for more than 10 years. DTs can occur when a person stops drinking after long stretches of heavy drinking. It can also occur when an alcoholic suffers a head injury, infection, or illness. However, it’s most common in people who have a history of alcohol withdrawal.

The Bottom Line

With delirium tremens, the old adage of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” rings absolutely true. Professional help should always be enlisted in order to make sure the detox from alcohol is done safely. Learn more about how to choose the best detox clinic for your needs. Photo Source: istock