Delirium is an acute state that presents itself with severe confusion and quick changes in brain function occurring in those with physical or mental illnesses. The physical or mental illnesses that cause delirium are usually temporary and reversible. Depriving the brain of oxygen or other substances cause delirium disorders. Delirium symptoms involve a quick change between mental states. Other symptoms include changes in alertness, changes in feeling (sensation) and perception, changes in level of consciousness or awareness, changes in movement, changes in sleep patterns, drowsiness, confusion/disorientation about time or place, decrease in short-term memory and recall, disrupted or wandering attention, disorganized thinking, emotional or personality changes, or movements triggered by changes in the nervous system.
Delirium tremens, also referred to as delirium tremors, or DTs, is an acute episode of delirium that is usually caused by withdrawal from alcohol. The main symptoms of delirium tremors are confusion, diarrhea, disorientation and agitation, fever, tachycardia, and hypertension. Delirium hallucinations and depression are other common symptoms that generally relate to the environment.
Delirium tremors are mainly withdrawal symptoms after a long period of drinking. Alcohol delirium occur when alcohol intake is stopped abruptly and tremors begin. A light or moderate drinking would not experience alcohol delirium tremors; they occur upon abrupt cessation of dosage in heavily dependent individuals. Many recovered alcoholics speak of waking up with DT’s. Heavy drinkers experience these withdrawal symptoms simply from not drinking while they sleep. These symptoms appear in those who drink the equivalent of 7-8 US pints of beer or 1 US pint of distilled beverage daily. Delirium tremens also commonly affect those with a history of habitual alcohol use or alcoholism that has existed for more than 10 years. Along with delerium, alcoholic dementia can develop from long term alcohol abuse.
Alcohol delirium tremors can be treated with benzodiazepines. In some cases, withdrawal from alcohol can cause mortality, so high doses are used. Under medical supervision, the patient is kept sedated with benzodiazepines, such as Valium, Ativan, Librium, or Serax, and in low-level cases, with antipsychotics. The environment should be well-lit and relaxing to help those patients experiencing delirium hallucinations. Treatment of delirium can last from 3-10 days once a baseline medication dose is determined.
Delirium and dementia, as mentioned earlier, presents largely in the older population. An article in the journal Psychiatry Clinical Neuroscience states that no dementia was found in the younger alcoholic group, but 62.7% of the aged patients had dementia; the dementia being irreversible in 32.9% of these patients. This study found that the percentage of aged alcoholics having dementia increased with age, far beyond the frequency of senile dementia in the general aged population.