Is Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium?
Alcohol withdrawal delirium (AWD) is the most serious form of
alcohol withdrawal. It causes sudden and severe problems in your brain and
An estimated 50 percent of
people who have an alcohol addiction will experience withdrawal symptoms if
they stop drinking. Of those people, 3 to 5
percent will experience AWD symptoms like grand mal seizures and severe
Causes Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium?
AWD only affects people with a history of heavy alcohol use.
Heavy drinkers may develop this condition if they:
- suddenly stop drinking
- reduce their alcohol use too quickly
- don’t eat enough when reducing alcohol use
- have a head injury
- are sick or have an infection
Is at Risk of Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium?
You’re at risk of AWD if you have:
- been drinking heavily for a long time
- a history of alcohol withdrawal
- a history of AWD
- other health problems in addition to alcoholism
- a history of seizure disorder or other brain
All heavy, long-term drinkers are at risk of AWD. The Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention defines heavy drinking as 15 drinks a week for men and 8 drinks
a week for women.
Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about your drinking
habits. They can recommend programs that will help you stop drinking. They can
also help you manage any symptoms of alcohol withdrawal you experience when you
Are the Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium?
Symptoms of AWD usually occur within three days of changing
alcohol use. However, sometimes they may take a week or more to appear.
Symptoms of AWD may include:
- agitation or irritability
- sudden mood changes
- delirium (an extremely disturbed state of mind)
- sensitivity to light, sound, or touch
- delusions (irrationally believing things that
- hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that
are not there)
- chest pain
- stomach pain
- increased heart rate or breathing rate
- excessive sweating
- increased startle reflex (an exaggerated
reaction to unexpected stimuli)
- involuntary muscle contractions
- eye and muscle movement problems
Is Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium Diagnosed?
Contact your doctor right away if you’re concerned about the
symptoms you’re experiencing during alcohol withdrawal.
During your appointment, your health care provider will perform a
physical exam to see if you have AWD symptoms. Some tests that may be needed
for a diagnosis include:
- a toxicology screen to look for alcohol in your
- blood tests to measure magnesium and phosphate
- a comprehensive metabolic panel
- an electrocardiogram (ECG) to check your heart
- an electroencephalogram (EEG) to record the
electrical activity in your brain
You may also be tested for other medical conditions related to
alcohol use, such as:
- alcoholic liver disease
- alcoholic neuropathy (nerve damage caused by
- alcoholic cardiomyopathy (weak heart muscle due
to alcohol use)
- Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (brain damage from a
lack of thiamine, or vitamin B1)
Is Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium Treated?
Treatments for AWD may include:
- intravenous fluids
- anticonvulsants to prevent or stop seizures
- sedatives to calm agitation and treat anxiety
- antipsychotic medications to prevent
- medication to reduce fever and body aches (if
- treatment for other alcohol-related conditions
- rehabilitation to help you stop drinking
AWD can be fatal. Therefore, your doctor may suggest that you
receive treatment in a hospital. It may take up to a week for you to feel
of Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium
People with AWD are at increased risk of:
- injuries from falling during a seizure
- injuring themselves or someone else while
- developing an irregular heartbeat
of Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium
Early treatment for AWD is important. Treatment significantly
lowers your risks of complications and death.
With timely medical treatment, AWD has very low death rate.
However, some symptoms of alcohol withdrawal may last for more than a year.
- mood swings
Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium
The best way to prevent AWD is to drink moderately or not at all.
Talk to your doctor if you think you drink heavily. They can help you quit
drinking in a safe environment and prevent serious symptoms of alcohol
Get emergency medical help if you think you’re experiencing
symptoms of AWD. You have a better chance of making a full recovery if you
receive prompt medical attention.