Treatment Considerations for Substance Induced Delirium

Young man thinking with glowing brain and also Delirium thinking

Although substance abuse may cause a number of devastating effects, dealing with a loved one suffering from substance induced delirium is an enormous challenge. Delirium is characterized by a change in consciousness.Most notable to loved ones is a reduced ability to remain aware of the environment or focused attention. The person may not know where they are, not remember faces or names, have difficulty communicating, or be confused about time. Fortunately, delirium typically alleviates when the affected individual gets professional, evidence based care. This treatment should consider the following factors:

Is the Delirium Induced by Drug Intoxication or Drug Withdrawal?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, the gold standard used to diagnose drug-related problems, delirium may result from intoxication or withdrawal from a drug. Thus, it is important to establish the timeline associated with your loved one’s delirium. Did it occur shortly after taking a drug? Or was the person coming down from the effects of the drug or attempting to quit?

This information will be very helpful for treatment providers, as the course and prognosis of delirium may differ whether it is triggered by drug intoxication or withdrawal. For example, delirium due to drug intoxication often lasts from hours to several days, until the drug is cleared from the body. Delirium triggered by drug withdrawal could last up to 2 to 4 weeks.

What Is the Person’s Current Mental Capacity?

There is only so much one can handle so that is where a Counsellor and client issue comes inDelirium may result in a variety of problematic mental features. Often, the delirium fluctuates throughout the day. There may be periods of total lucidity followed by total confusion. Additionally, someone dealing with delirium may experience concentration problems, restlessness, irritability or behavioral outbursts, increased sensitivity to light or sound, insomnia, and severe nightmares.

Understanding your loved one’s mental capacity may affect treatment options. Someone experiencing strong delirium will benefit from professional substance abuse treatment. General disorientation may make it difficult for the person to understand where they are or why they are in a treatment facility.Recognizing this fluctuating mental capacity will make it easier for you to get help for your loved one and for the treatment professionals to provide high quality care.

What Substance or Substances Precipitated the Delirium?

In many cases, a person experiencing substance induced delirium cannot be considered a reliable reporter of his or her own pattern of drug use. Knowing the substance or substances that may have precipitated the delirium helps treatment professionals decide on medications and an appropriate course of care.

Delirium may result from use of a variety of drugs, including:
  • Cannabis
  • Alcohol
  • Amphetamines
  • Opioids
  • Hallucinogens
  • Sedatives
In particular, high doses of alcohol, narcotics, and benzodiazepines are particularly like to trigger delirium.

The Role of Medications in Managing Delirium

the role of medications can be a huge factor in recovery wheather it will help or destroy youAlthough delirium often alleviates after the substance is washed from the system, certain medications may help to manage difficult behavioral symptoms. For example, antipsychotic medications may be appropriate for patients experiencing agitation and aggression. Finding a treatment facility that uses medications responsibly and appropriately is a good way to ensure that your loved one gets high quality care.

After the episode of delirium alleviates, the person can go through treatment to address other factors that may perpetuate addiction. Medications may or may not be a helpful part of this process. What is important is finding treatment professionals who take an individualized approach to treating both substance induced delirium and ongoing addiction issues after the delirium is treated.

  1. Alagiakrishnan, K. & Wiens, C.A. (2004) An approach to drug induced delirium in the elderly. Postgraduate Medical Journal, 80, 388-393.

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