Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are uncomfortable in the least, being one of the leading causes of relapse simply because most people going through them will do anything to make them stop, including drinking again when quitting alcohol is the thing they want most in the world.
However, alcohol withdrawal delirium is arguably worse.
What is Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium?
Alcohol withdrawal delirium, also known as AWD, is an even more serious form of alcohol withdrawal often brought on by extreme long term alcohol addiction and regular binge drinking.
Whereas it is estimated that around 50% of alcoholics will experience withdrawal symptoms after stopping drinking alcohol, around 5% of those people are likely to experience alcohol withdrawal delirium. This includes much more serious side effects than regular withdrawal including confusion, loss of memory, grand mal seizures, and potentially death.
This is also of course, highly related to acute delirium and delirium tremens, both of which are conditions with similar symptoms that can be caused by extreme alcohol abuse.
Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium Causes
Similarly to alcohol withdrawal, alcohol withdrawal delirium occurs when somebody with an alcohol addiction stops drinking.
However, similarly to the acute delirium causes, it can also be brought on by head injuries, infections, or even simply drinking on an empty stomach. In extreme long term alcoholics who drink large volumes of alcohol regularly, even slightly reducing your alcohol intake can cause alcohol withdrawal delirium.
This is caused in a similar way to standard withdrawal – alcohol depresses the nervous system, which then stimulates itself to keep working properly. When you drink regularly for a long period of time, your central nervous system will get accustomed to this and constantly work hard to remain stimulated and active.
When you then stop drinking, this causes overstimulation of the central nervous system and activation of the natural fight or flight response, leading to anxiety, shakes, sweating, muscle tension, irritation and more.
Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium Symptoms
Signs of alcohol withdrawal delirium start as more acute versions of alcohol withdrawal symptoms, but the extreme nature of the condition brings it’s own symptoms too.
Sufferers from AWD can expect to experience:
- Mood swings, irritability, and potentially aggression
- Stomach pain, nausea and loss of appetite
- Sensitivity to light and noise
- Insomnia and restlessness
- Muscle spasms
- High blood pressure and increased heart rate
- Visual and auditory hallucinations
- Constant fatigue and lethargy
- Acute delirium
- Confusion or loss of memory
- Chest pains and loss of breath
- Anxiety and panic attacks
Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium Treatment
Treatment for alcohol withdrawal delirium is similar to that of regular alcohol withdrawal but with extra steps due to the increased risk of seizures and the fact that it can be fatal
The most common medications are benzodiazepines which help to calm the central nervous system and reduce most of the symptoms, but treatment can also include:
- Intravenous fluids, vitamins and minerals to replenish stores damaged by alcohol abuse and improve hydration
- Benzos and other sedatives to calm the CNS and reduce anxiety, stress, irritation, the shakes etc
- Antipsychotics to help control auditory and visual hallucinations and to help manage delirium
- Therapy sessions, support groups and appointments to help prevent relapse
A careful combination of the above, combined with a determined mindset to overcome alcoholism, can result in complete recovery in many cases.
However, this isn’t guaranteed, and alcohol withdrawal delirium has such an impact on the body that it can extreme cases can be fatal, even when all of the above treatments are used.
If you or a loved one suffer from alcohol addiction, the most important part of preventing alcohol withdrawal delirium is to get professional help as early as possible.
How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium Last?
The alcohol withdrawal delirium timeline is slightly different from the regular alcohol withdrawal timeline due to the increased stress on the mind and body, although the individual stages are similar.
Here are the four main stages somebody suffering from AWD can expect to go through:
First Stage: Initial Withdrawal
The initial withdrawal symptoms typically kick in around 6 to 12 hours after your last drink, although in milder cases of alcohol dependency this can take up to 24 hours.
It can be difficult to tell the difference between AWD and normal withdrawal at this stage because the symptoms start off mild in both cases. They typically include:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Feeling of stress, excitement or anxiety
- Loss of appetite and nausea
- Insomnia and irritation
- Headache and dehydration (although the loss of appetite can make it difficult to drink enough)
Second Stage: Alcoholic Hallucinosis
Around 24 hours after the last drink is when the difference between withdrawal and AWD first become obvious, as auditory hallucinations (hearing things), visual hallucinations (seeing things) and even tactile hallucinations (feeling pain, discomfort, itching or burning that isn’t there) start to occur.
These symptoms are typically short-lived and rarely last beyond 48 hours since the last drink, but this isn’t a given and they may go on longer in extreme cases.
Third Stage: Seizures
Around 48 hours after the last drink, seizures can occur. Depending on the regularity and volume of the previous drinking habit, and the abruptness of the stopping of drinking, these seizures can vary wildly in acuteness, from mild seizures that pass quickly, to grand mal seizures and even death.
Fourth Stage: Delirium
Between 48 and 72 hours after the last drink, complete delirium, mental confusion, emotional disruption and loss of memory can set in.
This can be a terrifying experience for family and friends as the sufferer appears to completely lose their mind. Antipsychotics and sedatives are typically used to help manage the symptoms, reduce stress and keep the sufferer from hurting themselves or others.
This stage can go on for days but will typically peak at around 5 days after the last drink and start to decrease at around 7 days after the last drink.
A few days after this, if the person has managed to remain sober for the entire time, the symptoms of AWD will typically pass and remaining sober will become much easier.
Other Risks of Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium
The type of heavy drinking over long periods of time that can lead to alcohol withdrawal delirium can also lead to issues such as liver disease, heart disease, heart failure, nerve damage, and even wet brain.
Outside of these potential risks caused by excessive alcohol abuse, the confusion, delirium and mood swings caused by AWD can also lead to injuring others when being aggressive, falling due to confusion, falling due to a seizure, or self-injury due to emotional dysregulation and confusion.
Getting Help for Alcohol Withdrawal
If you or a loved one are struggling to quit alcohol use and need help, or are simply worried about the withdrawal side effects, we offer a home alcohol detox programme that will allow you to detox yourself from the comfort of your own home with 24/7 support from our team of doctors, nurses and therapists.
This includes full access to alcohol detox medication to help you control the withdrawal symptoms and to make your experience of quitting alcohol go as smoothly as possible.
For those who are unable to spend the money or the time away from home to attend an inpatient rehab facility, this is quite literally a lifesaver and will allow you to regain control of your life and mind with minimal interruption to your daily life and family relationships.
If you believe this may help you, give us a call now on 0333 444 0315 to discuss your drinking experiences and difficulties with our friendly, non-judgemental staff!
You may struggle to overcome withdrawal alone, but we can make it a lot easier!
The first step to recovery and regaining control of your life is admitting you have a problem and want to resolve it.
The second is calling us for an honest, friendly conversion.
It’s time to get back to the real you!