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Delirium Tremens Treatment at Home: Is it Possible?

By Michael Howard
Alcohol withdrawal sometimes leads to delirium tremens, a serious condition characterized by severe mental and physical symptoms. Learn more about why it can be very dangerous to treat this condition at home.

Delirium tremens is an extreme form of alcohol withdrawal. It usually occurs when someone who has been abusing alcohol for an extended period of time suddenly stops drinking. It's an alcohol withdrawal symptom that can become life-threatening if left untreated. If you're a longtime drinker thinking about quitting, you may be wondering if it's possible to undergo detox safely without professional help. So, is it possible to treat delirum tremens at home? Read on to find out more. 

Delirium Tremens Symptoms Require Emergency Medical Care.

Symptoms of delirium tremens tend to develop 48-96 hours after a person with an alcohol dependence takes their last drink, according to the National Library of Medicine. However, in some cases, it can take a week or more for symptoms to appear.

“Like milder alcohol withdrawal, delirium tremens will start with tremors, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, and insomnia,” Peggy Gemperline, a registered nurse and Vice President of Residential Services for Pinnacle Treatment Centers, tells WebMD Connect to Care. “The condition will progress to agitation, global confusion and disorientation (which are cardinal signs of DTs), whole body tremors, seizures, fever, hypertension, excessive sweating, and heart arrhythmia.”

Delirium tremens is a life-threatening condition that cannot be treated at home. Hospital admission is required, and oftentimes patients are treated in the intensive care unit.

“Chronic alcohol consumption affects several neurotransmitter systems in the brain, including GABA-A and NMDA receptors, both of which calm the brain,” Gemperline says. “When those neurotransmitters are no longer activated, the autonomic nervous system can go into overdrive, producing effects such as high blood pressure, increase in body temperature, and increased heart rate. If this becomes severe enough, it can result in cardiovascular collapse.”

Delirium Tremens Treatment: A Multi-Step Process

The goal of delirium tremens treatment is to save the patient’s life, relieve symptoms, and prevent complications. This involves close monitoring of vital signs, fluid levels, and electrolyte levels in the blood. Any co-occuring mental disorders will also be addressed, and medications may be administered to relieve withdrawal symptoms and treat any seizures that may occur.

“Patients are often very dehydrated and may require IV fluids,” Gemperline says. “Thiamine and glucose are often required, as well as electrolyte replacement. Benzodiazepines and phenobarbital are used to manage withdrawal, using the CIWA-AR scale to assess symptoms.”

“Medications to treat seizures, multivitamins and other supportive treatments may be necessary, and patients should be assessed frequently for respiratory depression,” Gemperline adds. “Aspiration precautions should also be implemented.”

Following treatment in the hospital, the focus shifts to rehabilitation and recovery. Methods used to achieve long-term recovery include medication-assisted treatment, counseling, support groups, and life-long abstinence from drinking.

Don’t Wait. Get Help Now.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help.