Delirium is a condition that features rapidly changing mental states. It causes confusion and changes in behavior. Besides falling in and out of consciousness, there may be problems with
- Attention and awareness
- Thinking and memory
- Muscle control
- Sleeping and waking
Causes of delirium include medications, poisoning, serious illnesses or infections, and severe pain. It can also be part of some mental illnesses or dementia.
Delirium and dementia have similar symptoms, so it can be hard to tell them apart. They can also occur together. Delirium starts suddenly and can cause hallucinations. The symptoms may get better or worse, and can last for hours or weeks. On the other hand, dementia develops slowly and does not cause hallucinations. The symptoms are stable, and may last for months or years.
Delirium tremens is a serious type of alcohol withdrawal syndrome. It usually happens to people who stop drinking after years of alcohol abuse.
People with delirium often, though not always, make a full recovery after their underlying illness is treated.
Also called: Narcotics, Opiates
Opioids, sometimes called narcotics, are a type of drug. They include strong prescription pain relievers, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, and tramadol. The illegal drug heroin is also an opioid. Some opioids are made from the opium plant, and others are synthetic (man-made).
A doctor may give you a prescription opioid to reduce pain after you have had a major injury or surgery. You may get them if you have severe pain from health conditions like cancer. Some doctors prescribe them for chronic pain.
Opioids can cause side effects such as drowsiness, mental fog, nausea, and constipation. They may also cause slowed breathing, which can lead to overdose deaths. If someone has signs of an overdose, call 9-1-1:
- The person’s face is extremely pale and/or feels clammy to the touch
- Their body goes limp
- Their fingernails or lips have a purple or blue color
- They start vomiting or making gurgling noises
- They cannot be awakened or are unable to speak
- Their breathing or heartbeat slows or stops
Other risks of using prescription opioids include dependence and addiction. Dependence means feeling withdrawal symptoms when not taking the drug. Addiction is a chronic brain disease that causes a person to compulsively seek out drugs, even though they cause harm. The risks of dependence and addiction are higher if you abuse the medicines. Abuse can include taking too much medicine, taking someone else’s medicine, taking it in a different way than you are supposed to, or taking the medicine to get high.
Opioid abuse, addiction, and overdoses are serious public health problems in the United States. Another problem is that more women are abusing opioids during pregnancy. This can lead to babies being addicted and going through withdrawal, known as neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). Opioid abuse may sometimes also lead to heroin use, because some people switch from prescription opioids to heroin.
The main treatment for prescription opioid addiction is medication-assisted treatment (MAT). It includes medicines, counseling, and support from family and friends. MAT can help you stop using the drug, get through withdrawal, and cope with cravings. There is also a medicine called naloxone which can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose and prevent death, if it is given in time.
To prevent problems with prescription opioids, be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions when taking them. Do not share your medicines with anyone else. Contact your doctor if you have any concerns about taking the medicines.
NIH: National Institute on Drug Abuse