Someone asked me once, “Do you know what Delirium tremens is?” Being the Belgian beer expert that I am, I responded, “What is there not to know? Delirium Tremens, the pink elephant, L. Huyghe Brewery, my favorite beer. Delicious beer. I think I’ve got a few leftover in the refrigerator from the weekend. Do you want one?”
My friend shook her head. “Not that Delirium Tremens. The other. Where the beer got its name.” I was so confused. I had no idea the name had come from somewhere other than the brewer’s noggin. She taught me something that day, and now I intend to pass that knowledge on to you, dear reader.
Oh, well, funny you asked.
Delirium tremens is a hallucinatory and delusional state can sometimes occur during recovery from alcoholism, or when people rapidly withdraw from regular use of benzodiazepines (like Xanax® or Valium®) and barbiturates (like Phenobarbital).
Alcoholics in treatment might refer to this particular period of withdrawal as the DTs; you may have heard that term ‘round the block, but hopefully, you’ve never experienced it yourself. Delirium tremens usually kicks in within 24 hours of the last drink or dose of medication, but has been observed to happen several days later. (If you, or someone you know is experiencing Delirium tremens, seek medical help immediately; left untreated, the condition can be fatal — in approximately 30 percent of cases.)
The effects of Delirium tremens are seen immediately in the brain, as it is forced to secrete high amounts of the hormones GABA and serotonin in an attempt to find balance in the new, non-alcohol-induced state. Neurologically speaking, the sufferer will experience confusion, severe anxiety, and sometimes even visual or auditory hallucinations, but it’s the physiological effects that can truly be life threatening. Rapid up- and downshifts in neural chemicals can cause breathing difficulties, increases in heart rate, arrhythmias, and abnormally high blood pressure.
Given the fact that most alcoholics aren’t the picture of health to begin with, and may also suffer from nutritional deficiencies (not to mention liver disease), adjusting to, and through this state of being could be exceptionally difficult, and fatality rates may, in fact, be higher than anyone would like to admit.
Delirium tremens is a medical emergency and should be treated as such. Doctors will administer low-dose sedatives, and on a case by case basis, anti-psychotic medications. With medical intervention, and proper treatment, the fatality rate for Delirium tremens drops to just five percent.
Recovery from alcoholism is not something to be taken lightly, and is best undertaken at a hospital or a specialized alcohol treatment center.