Saturday, 15 August 2009

Alcoholic DTs


Photo by THEfunkyman

What about the good old alcoholic DTs? Jane has certainly suffered those but I have not seen her have all the symptoms of the DTs (delirium tremens). Alcoholic DTs (they can occur for other reasons than through consumption of alcohol) occur when the person stops after a long bout of drinking. In Jane's case this would happen after a particularly heavy binge. And by that I would mean drinking over a bottle of neat vodka a day (sometimes up to 2 bottles per day) for a period of about 7-10 days. She is asleep nearly all the time and wakes up to eat something and drink more vodka.

When she stops because she is bored (!) she asks me for some booze (has she stopped?) to ease her off the binge. Coming down from a binge can be very heavy indeed and in the past (much less now) she might spend a full month recovering from a single binge.

After stopping for about 12 hours she would sometimes cry out in her sleep; obviously having a terrible nightmare. I would wake her. Other times she would see insects climbing the walls and crawling up her. This last experience is a sign of delirium tremens. It is apparently called "formication" (not fornication please note!). The hallucinations were so real she could feel the insects on her.

These hallucinations might go on for about days or more. If she went to hospital, which is what frequently happened in the past the doctors would just zonk her out with heavy doses of tranquillisers. They would do this for several days. That is the classic treatment for alcoholic DTs apparently but it had negative effects elsewhere.

She would have lost weight during the binge leaving her dangerously underweight. She would lose muscle in her legs. Tranquillising Jane that much would result in her sleeping for three more days, which would leave her very weak. This meant a long time after hospital getting her strength back, which delayed her recovery.

In addition to hallucinations she would hyperventilate for hours. This involved breathing fast and deeply - quite horrible. It was a state of extremely heightened anxiety and the only cure was Valium. Agitation is a symptom of alcoholic DTs. She would always feel very sick for days and would make herself sick for temporary relief. This was horrible to be near too.

Making herself sick or feeling sick was not a sign of alcoholic DTs but it was a bl**dy awful thing to see as it happened every 5 minutes for several hours in one go!

OK what are the symptoms of alcholic DTs?
  • confusion
  • diarrhea
  • agitation
  • intense perceptual disturbance (insects climbing the wall etc.)
  • severe tremors (seizures or fits Jane called them)
  • anxiety
  • panic attacks
  • severe autonomic instability - this refers to the autonomic nervous system that runs the body in the background such as heart rate and blood pressure. During alcoholic DTs it goes wrong.
I should say she is better these days - touch wood. The binges are shorter and she deserves all the praise she can get for that. This means less disruption and no alcoholic DTs. We deal with the come down by self administering Valium and an anti-sickness drug in pill form. The latter must be taken after the binge but before sickness starts so that she keeps the pill down.

Note: the descriptions of Jane's behavior and symptoms is not intended to be a criticism of her. But to instruct others and to let me express myself as a means to help and heal me.

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I'd like to hear the experiences of both alcoholics and the victims of alcoholics, please.