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What Is It Like to Go Through Alcohol Withdrawals?

Kevin Recalls Going Through DTs

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Updated May 21, 2014

a paramedic rushing a patient to the ambulance
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People who stop drinking cold turkey can experience a variety of withdrawal symptoms, ranging from mild to severe. The most severe alcohol withdrawals are called "delirium tremens" otherwise known as DTs.

What is going through delirium tremens like? Most people who have endured them usually do not remember the experience. Kevin, a longtime heavy drinker from the UK, though, posted his experience with the DTs in our Alcoholism/Substance Abuse Fourm.

Take the Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Quiz.

After a series of life setbacks hit Kevin all at the same time, he went on a two-liter a day vodka binge. After four days, he could no longer keep the vodka down. He was vomiting and retching. He decided to quit drinking, because he had no choice.

Following is an edited version of Kevin's account of going through alcohol withdrawals and detoxification at a medical facility:

Kevin's DTs Story

The first day, I started on water and soft drinks, because I was so dehydrated, but it was only an hour or so before up it came. What a mess! I needed a bucket or something. I couldn't even keep water down, and by now, my stomach was in constant retching mode. This time it was blood.

The second day, my heart was pounding against my chest and the panic started. Sweat was pouring off me and the trembling started.

That same night, I could see black worms crawling up the walls and what seemed like flashes of light in my eyeballs; it felt like ants were crawling all over my skin and I was delirious.

Sense of Impending Doom

When I tried to stand up, I felt like I was going to collapse. The sense of impending doom was now imminent. But it was 2:00 in the morning and I was on my own. I realized now I needed help; I was going to die and soon!

Getting down the stairs to reach the phone was a nightmare. I was wobbling like jelly and [had] the shakes. It was like I was being shaken around violently in a drum. I finally got to the phone. Delirious, I couldn't even remember the number for the emergency services.

Trying to hang on to the phone and keep my hand steady to press the buttons was an effort beyond belief. I don't know how, but finally, I got through. I told the operator, Ambulance please quick, I'm having a heart attack! She did the rest. I just put the phone down.

Nose Was Bleeding

I waited outside and sat on the doorstep, forcefully retching and shaking. By now my nose was bleeding. I guess I must have burst a capillary. I felt a sudden thud against my chest wall during one retch at which point I really did think for that second my heart was going to stop, but it carried on, palpitating.

The overwhelming panic continued, and I was now on my hands and knees. I don't know when it was, but I saw headlights appear and the sound of an engine. Thank God the paramedics had arrived at last.

They both came rushing up toward me. They lifted me up and asked me my name. That much I could tell them. "So what's the problem, Kevin?" one of them asked.

"Let's get him in quick," said the other, It's DTs and it's bad."

Thirsty Beyond Belief

They gave me a sick bowl in the ambulance. I kept asking for water, but they said, "Wait until we get you to hospital. We can't give you anything; we aren't allowed."

I remember unclipping my seat buckle to get out of the chair as another wave of panic came over me. "No, no," said one of the paramedics. "Don't do that." The ambulance ride seemed to take forever, but finally, we got there.

They wheeled me out and straight in to emergency. I just kept asking for water. I was thirsty beyond belief. My mouth felt like the inside of a dry crusty old cement mixer.

An Injection of Librium

I remember one of the paramedics telling a nurse, "This is a bad one, here. I've checked his stats and it doesn't look good. I reckon he's going to have a seizure."

I was wheeled in to some cubicle [with] a curtain drawn round me. They couldn't get me on to a bed, I was shaking that much. I remember a nurse giving me an injection in my left arm of Librium.

I can only say that the injection of Librium felt like the curtain of death had suddenly been lifted, but the shakes and nausea continued. I have to admit the nurses were quick shoving the drip feed in to my right arm and put it on fast flow.

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