All You Need To Know About Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium and How To Prevent It


It’s no secret that alcohol addiction and having a heavy reliance on alcohol is bad for you. Not only does the addiction affect your overall health and well-being, but it’s also difficult to get out of even if you decide to do so.

In fact, research shows that about half of all alcohol addicts experience some sort of withdrawal effects when they go cold turkey. This includes experiencing mood swings, fatigue, and for the most serious cases, a condition known as Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium (AWD).

Here’s all you need to know about this condition and how to prevent it:

1. What causes Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium?

Ever find yourself feeling light-headed or relaxed after a couple of drinks? Well, that’s because alcohol causes a chemical reaction in your body that inhibits neurotransmitters. Your brain is full of highways that create connections, but with alcohol, these transmissions slow down.

While a couple of drinks in moderation is fine, heavy alcohol drinkers typically consume 15 or more drinks a week. As a result, their body spends a lot more time than it should in this relaxed state. The body gets used to working under suppression and putting in more work to overcome the dulled neurotransmitters.

As such, when heavy drinkers suddenly stop drinking, they may find that their body is unable to cope, going into overexcitement and causing a slew of other symptoms associated with AWD.

2. What are the symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium?

As the name suggests, AWD is most known for causing delirium and delusions. You might find yourself feeling disoriented and confused, even with short-term memory loss. It’s no fun — sufferers find themselves unaware of their surroundings and environment, which can lead to serious, even fatal accidents. Some examples are major burns from touching lit stoves or getting into traffic accidents when walking or driving.

High anxiety, fear, and hallucinations are also common symptoms. Patients with AWD are likely to experience sensations that they believe are real but are actually created in the mind. From hearing voices to feeling tingling on the skin for no reason, these hallucinations can be quite distressing.

Apart from these ill effects on the mental state, AWD also causes several other physical reactions that come hand-in-hand. For starters, the anxiety and overexcitement tend to cause increased heart rate and chest pain. More often than not, patients also experience slight tremors and have difficulty breathing.

Lack of muscle control is also a big concern with AWD. Uncontrollable twitching of the eyes, hands, and large muscle groups can result in the inability to work or go out in public. Patients also face excessive sweating, fatigue, and fever in the process.

All You Need To Know About Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium And How To Prevent It 4

To sum up, AWD causes severe symptoms that span over both mental and physical faculties. As such, caretakers and family members often find it hard to care for patients with AWD. Not only do they have to monitor the patient’s health and prevent physical deterioration, but they also have to deal with irrational aggression and mood swings. The drastic inhibition of the patients’ mental state also means that caregivers have to keep an eye on them round-the-clock to ensure their safety.

4. Could I get Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium?

While there are instances of light drinkers experiencing AWD, those are the exception and not the rule. It is far more likely for heavy drinkers with a sustained habit to feel the effects when they stop drinking. The risk is even greater if these heavy drinkers have other ailments that affect their physical form such as hypertension or seizure disorders.

Another factor that increases the risk of AWD is a recurring history of alcoholism and withdrawal. This means that getting it once doesn’t mean you’ll be free of it forever — in fact, it increases the chances of it happening again. Many also mistakenly believe that they will only experience AWD if they abruptly stop drinking. In reality, they may also experience it under other conditions, such as having a head injury or falling ill from unrelated illnesses.

5. How long does it take to feel the effects of Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium?

While the actual timeline differs from individual to individual, there is an established pattern consisting of several stages, namely the minor, hallucination, seizure, and delirium stages.

Firstly, the minor stage of AWD happens between 6 to 12 hours after the last drink. While it’s deemed the “minor” stage, the symptoms that start showing up can be quite severe. This includes feelings of nausea, a sudden loss of appetite, headaches, and anxiety. Your heart rate might start to feel accelerated or irregular.

After the first 12 hours, the second stage usually sets in within the day. This is the hallucination stage, where you might start seeing, hearing, or smelling things that aren’t actually there. Tactile hallucinations, such as feeling a burning or itching sensation, are also common at this stage.

The next two days, also known as the seizure stage, are critical. There’s a high risk of the patient suffering from withdrawal-induced seizures, making the role of caregivers and a functioning alert system massively important.

Finally comes the delirium stage, where the aforementioned symptoms of AWD tend to set in. For most heavy drinkers, the symptom will take about four to five days to peak, and then another week or so to dissipate.

6. How can I prevent Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium?

Prevention is better than cure, especially for conditions like this. It’s important to keep watch on your dependency on alcohol, especially if you find yourself in binge drinking situations often.

If you’re a heavy drinker thinking of reducing your intake, it’s recommended that you consult your doctor for advice to prevent the sudden onset of AWD. You can expect a urine or blood sample to be taken for toxicology screening to find out and monitor blood alcohol levels. After the test results come through, your doctor will prescribe a treatment plan if need be.

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Commonly, inpatient treatment includes taking medications for fever, body aches, and hallucinations. Intravenous fluids may also be given to speed up the process, together with sedatives to calm the body’s response. A rehabilitation plan may also be drawn up to prevent further complications.


To conclude, AWD can affect heavy drinkers from all backgrounds. It is a serious condition that can result in fatalities — so do seek medical help before you even attempt to quit heavy drinking on your own. Professional treatment can help greatly in making sure you recover and tide through the withdrawal symptoms from alcohol safely once and for all.

Published by
Barry Lachey

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