What are Delirium Tremens? Alcohol Nightmares, Alcoholic Seizures?

Published by John Gillen | Last updated: 30th January 2023 | All Sources

What are Delirium Tremens? Alcohol Nightmares, Alcoholic Seizures?

Withdrawing from alcohol can result in many symptoms, ranging from moderate to chronic. As alcohol withdrawal symptoms vary at such an uncontrollable rate, it can be difficult to forecast exact detoxification experiences for each client.

Yet, for some clients, unfortunately, alcohol withdrawal can take its toll on the body and brain, resulting in delirium tremens.

Delirium tremens is a reaction of low levels of GABA in the brain, which has been suppressed down to the reduction of alcohol within the system.

Naturally, chemicals such as GABA are produced without fail. However, once high levels of alcohol are found within the system, organic production will reduce, which will be replaced by the traits of alcohol.

Through the withdrawal of alcohol, it’s easy to see the degree of shock that the brain can experience, where delirium tremens is experienced on average by 5% of individuals.

While only a small majority of individuals may suffer from delirium tremens symptoms, it is a serious situation to be positioned within, which requires treatment.

If you’re wondering ‘what are delirium tremens? Alcohol nightmares, alcoholic seizures?’, here’s some insight into possible alcohol withdrawal symptoms, along with how to treat them here at Cassiobury Court.

The Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

You can see the full alcohol withdrawal timeline by clicking the image above

What is delirium tremens?

Delirium tremens (DT) is an illness associated with acute alcohol withdrawal for people who have suffered prolonged periods of alcoholism.

Chronic alcohol consumption, over a prolonged period of time, increases the release of several chemicals inside the brain, such as GABA.

GABA is a naturally produced chemical, yet through slowing down the nervous system, alcohol reduces this organic activity, instead of replacing it with its addictive and depressant-like traits.

When an alcoholic reduces or ceases to drink alcohol, the production of GABA will reduce in the brain, causing shock and overstimulation.

As this is a sudden process, symptoms of delirium tremens can materialise, which ultimately highlights how the brain has struggled with such adaption, without replacement drugs or the restoring effects of hormones.

As a knock-on effect to this, the brain also reduces the amount of chloride that it produces. It is thought that this associated reduction of chloride synthesis within the brain is one of the key causations of unpleasant symptoms assisted with delirium tremens, such as alcohol nightmares and alcoholic seizures.


Symptoms of delirium tremens

Like any degree of withdrawal symptoms, the materialisation of such symptoms can showcase itself in many different ways and degrees.

However, common symptoms of delirium tremens include:

  • Alcohol nightmares
  • Alcoholic seizures
  • Hallucinations (both visual and auditory)
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Fever
  • Perspiration
  • Vomiting
  • Heightened heart rate
  • Tremors

The above symptoms of delirium tremens typically develop within two to three days of post-alcohol withdrawal. The symptoms tend to peak within five to seven days following the last form of consumption.

If symptoms of delirium tremens are treated, mortality rates are low, where a future quality of life can be expected.

However, if symptoms of delirium tremens are overlooked and untreated, mortality rates jump up to 35%, which is highly concerning.

The above symptoms such as heightened heart rate and blood pressure can lead to complete cardiovascular collapse and/or respiratory failure.

Alcohol nightmares and alcoholic seizures can also place significant pressures on the brain, which can result in vulnerabilities, linked to the symptoms of mental health issues.

Down to this, initial alcohol withdrawal should be completed with medical supervision, and if delirium tremens are experienced as a symptom, treatment should be accepted.


Diagnosing delirium tremens

Throughout your alcohol withdrawal process, it is important that the severity of your symptoms is gauged. Through our services at Cassiobury Court, this is a standard procedure to not only understand how we can offer comfort through alcohol withdrawal but also uphold your health, through the likes of delirium tremens, alcohol nightmares and alcoholic seizures.

With this in mind, alongside physical and psychological assessments, we will ask you to score your symptoms, honestly, to provide an overall picture of your alcohol withdrawal experience.

Completing all assessments are very important as if symptoms of delirium tremens can be caught efficiently, reduced suffering and treatment will be experienced.

Further tests which can be completed to gauge the risk of delirium tremens as an alcohol withdrawal symptom include an MRI scan, the test of blood magnesium levels, toxicology reports and an EEG brain test. A study by Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica the revealed that in alcohol dependent men and women, those consuming over 20 beverages or 240 grams of alcohol per day have an increased risk of developing Delirium Tremens, so if you are consuming above this amount you are at a significant risk of developing delirium tremens symptoms

If you’re offered such tests throughout rehab, we encourage you to accept, as your results may provide a warning for symptoms of delirium tremens, offering an efficient process towards treatment.


Delirium tremens treatment

We hope to have answered the question of ‘what are delirium tremens? Alcohol nightmares, alcoholic seizures?’ for you, providing full insight into the causations and symptoms of chronic alcohol withdrawal.

Now you know what delirium tremens are, you can look at possible treatment if you do unfortunately experience symptoms.

As symptoms of delirium tremens can be chronic, it’s likely that through the initial stages of alcohol withdrawal, that clients will be sedated. This allows both the body and brain to rest and work through the likes of alcoholic seizures.

Administration of Benzodiazepines, such as diazepam are usually the sedative of choice for delirium tremens treatment, helping to calm the nervous system and suppress symptoms.

Once initial symptoms of delirium tremens have subsidised, this is the time to not only focus on addiction recovery but also to stabilise the body and brain.

Intravenous fluids, vitamins, electrolytes and minerals will be encouraged to stabilise the internal functionality of your body while restoring your physical and psychological health.

In conjunction with detoxification, if you are struggling with alcohol addiction, further treatments will be recommended to you, such as cognitive behavioural therapy and counselling.

Yet the first initial stage of recovery will be to help you through alcohol withdrawal, and any risk of delirium tremens.

For support throughout your recovery programme, to gauge your risk of delirium tremens or for more information on the alcohol withdrawal process, contact our team today.

Please remember that alcohol withdrawal should always be completed under medical supervision, to protect your health and recovery capabilities.

John Gillen

John Gillen - Author Last updated: 30th January 2023

John Gillen is a leading addiction treatment expert with over 15 years of experience providing evidence-based treatment methods for individuals throughout the UK. John also co-authors the book, The Secret Disease of Addiction, which delves into how the addictive mind works and what treatment techniques work best.