Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium (AWD) is the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal.
Anyone who has been a long-time heavy drinker—meaning 15 drinks a week for men and 8 drinks a week for women, according to the Center for Disease Control—is at risk for experiencing withdrawal delirium.
Detoxing, the process of getting all of the alcohol out of your system, can be one of the scariest parts of starting the rehab process. That’s why it’s so important to begin your recovery with the support of trained medical professionals who can monitor you and keep you as comfortable as possible as you begin to get well.
If you’re a long time heavy drinker, it’s essential that you detox under the watch of professionals, because you might be at risk for AWD.
What is it like?
AWD symptoms begin as early as 6 hours after your last drink and are similar to other withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, increased heart rate, nausea and sweating. Within a day, people experiencing AWD often start to hallucinate, including seeing and hearing things that don’t exist or feeling itching and burning sensations. Other symptoms might include irrationality, confusion, and, as the name suggests: delirium.
Within 1-2 days, people with AWD may experience seizures that can range from mild to severe. These can get worse for up to 5 days before gradually subsiding.
Will it happen to me (or my loved one)?
The bad news is that about half of people who are addicted to alcohol experience some symptoms of withdrawal when they start to detox. The good news is that only about 3-5% of those people will have AWD symptoms, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.
HOWEVER, alcohol withdrawal can be fatal, which is why it’s very important to detox in a safe facility where medical professionals can take care of you.
A number of factors increase your chances of experiencing alcohol withdrawal delirium, such as:
- Not eating enough while you reduce your alcohol use
- Already being sick when you begin detox, especially if you’ve had a head injury
- Having a history of alcohol withdrawal
- Having a history of seizure disorder or other brain damage
I’m a heavy drinker worried about AWD. What should I do now?
The prospect of experiencing alcohol delirium for a short time may be scary, but failing to overcome your addiction will cause long-term pain and unhealthiness. Don’t let your concerns about withdrawal prevent you from taking steps to get control of your life.
Here are some resources for you to learn more about the symptoms of AWD and the treatments that are available: