Delirium tremens, also known as the DTs, is the most serious of several syndromes that can occur when someone who is physically dependent on alcohol stops drinking.
The condition can be fatal. (Even with hospital treatment the death rate can be 1-5%, but without treatment it can be as high as 20%)
What are the symptoms of the DTs?
Symptoms of DTs typically start 2-4 days after the last drink in someone with prior heavy and prolonged consumption of alcohol. Earliest signs of DTs can be the three T’s—temperature elevation, tremor and tachycardia (rapid heartbeat). The affected individual can experience anxiety, restlessness, nausea, and impaired sleep.
This can followed by visual and auditory hallucinations. Which can be exceptionally frightening and disturbing.
The DTs cause the parts of the brain responsible for perception and thought to go haywire.
Ordinary lights and sounds seem excessively harsh. The person becomes confused, agitated, and even psychotic. He or she might even fail to identify family members. There is constant and sometimes incoherent talk. Ordinary components of the environment, like patterns on wallpaper, can be perceived as frightful threats, like spiders or snakes.In addition, there can be distressing sensations as if the skin is being touched by insects or other unseen intruders.
At first, the person in DTs might have lucid intervals in which he or she makes appropriate conversation, but then becomes more continuously inaccessible to questions.
How long do the DTs last?
The symptoms subside usually in a matter of days and recovery can even be sudden.
How do you cure the DTs?
DTs are a medical emergency requiring hospitalization, generally in an intensive care unit.
The patient needs: intravenous fluids, vitamins, nutrition, and correction of salt-and-water imbalances in the bloodstream.
Drugs known as benzodiazepines are usually administered to relieve the over-excitation of brain cells. The medical team searches for complications, like infections or irregular heartbeats, that require other treatments. Medical personnel monitor the patient frequently. Family and friends provide valuable assistance by keeping the patient calm.
Why do the DTs occur?
Doctors believe that suggests that in people with heavy and prolonged drinking, the brain gets used to alcohol’s constant presence, and the normal chatter among brain cells no longer gets toned down by alcohol like it does in the brains of occasional drinkers. The brains of heavy drinkers probably accomplish this by reducing the number of locations on brain cells where the natural inhibitory chemical, GABA (gamma-amino-butyric acid), can act to slow things down.
If alcohol is suddenly removed from the picture the brain’s GABA has fewer locations on which it can act to put on the brakes. As a consequence, the brain’s cells become unmanageably over-active, and the symptoms of delirium tremens ensue.