Delirium is an acute brain syndrome, characterised by confusion and reduced awareness. This symptom also alters a person’s perception and induces abnormal thoughts. An individual can become delirious when drugs like opioids or benzodiazepines accumulate in the bloodstream. Delirium can either manifest immediately after the drugs arrive in the bloodstream or over a period of a couple of days or more. When this occurs, the individual’s personality will change suddenly. Remembering or focusing becomes a problem and thoughts and speech will be jumbled.
Substances that have a great potential for producing this symptom include amphetamines, phencyclidine (PCP), inhalants, opioids, hallucinogens, alcohol, cocaine, cannabis and histamine.
All of them produce almost identical delirium-related symptoms. The major difference lies in the dosage applied and the time when the symptoms begin to show. If delirium is solely caused by the abuse of drugs, it can be treated. However, this condition reaches dangerous levels and becomes life-threatening when left untreated. Medscape reports show that the mortality rate of people who develop pathological delirium ranges from 22 to 76%.
Signs of Delirium
Signs of delirium might not be visible for a couple of hours or even days. There are four major categories under which the symptoms of delirium fall.
The following symptoms characterise cognitive impairment:
- Forgetfulness and inability to remember events (recent ones in particular)
- Speaking, reading or writing becomes difficult, as you might not be able to remember certain words
- Disorientation, when you don’t recognise where you are
Reduced awareness of the environment results in the following:
- Inability to focus on a topic or switching to other topics
- Irrelevant things make you lose concentration
- Withdrawing from your environment and becoming dormant
Symptoms of emotional disturbances include:
- Depression, anxiety, fear or paranoia
- Irritability or anger
- Unpredictable and rapid mood swings
- Prolonged feelings of elation
- Personality changes
Changes in behaviour are characterised by:
- Hallucinations (seeing things that are not there)
- Moaning, screaming or making other such sounds
- Restlessness and combative behaviour
- Lethargy or slowed movement
- Being withdrawn and quiet
- Disturbed sleep habits
When to See a Professional?
Since it’s almost impossible for a delirious person to think clearly, it’s best that a loved one (or someone else close to them) takes them to the hospital once any of the above symptoms manifest.
Most people with substance-induced delirium will recover once every trace of the substance leaves their bodies. However, there could be prolonged effects if the individual abuses multiple substances simultaneously; has already suffered brain damage or is advanced in terms of age.
There are very dangerous situations that could arise from not reporting cases of delirium – scenarios that include both accidental and injury to self and others. The person suffering delirium could physically assault others or even attempt to commit suicide. As a result, it is crucial to report cases of delirium symptoms to a medical professional as soon as possible.
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