Delirium tremens

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DELIRIUM TREMENS, med. jur. A species of insanity which has obtained this name, in consequence of the tremor experienced by the delirious person, when under a fit of the disorder.
     2. The disease called delirium tremens or mania a potu, is well described in the learned work on the Medical Jurisprudence of Insanity, by Dr. Ray, Sec. 315, 316, of which the following is an extract: "it may be the immediate effect of an excess, or series of excesses, in those who are not habitually intemperate, as well as in those who are; but it most commonly occurs in habitual drinkers, after a few days of total abstinence from spirituous liquors. It is also very liable to occur in this latter class when laboring under other diseases, or severe external injuries that give rise to any degree of constitutional disturbance. The approach of the disease is generally indicated by a slight tremor and faltering of the hands and lower extremities, a tremulousness of the voice, a certain restlessness and sense of anxiety which the patient knows not how to describe or to account for, disturbed sleep, and impaired appetite. These symptoms having continued two or three days, at the end, of which time they have obviously increased in severity, the patient ceases to sleep altogether, and soon becomes delirious. At first, the delirium is not constant, the mind wandering during the night, but during the day, when its attention is fixed, capable of rational discourse. It is not long, however, before it becomes constant, and constitutes the most prominent feature of the disease. This state, of watchfulness and delirium continues three or four days, when, if the patient recover, it is succeeded by sleep, which, at first appears in uneasy and irregular naps, and lastly in long, sound, and refreshing slumbers. When sleep does not supervene about this period, the, disease is fatal; and whether subjected to medical treatment, or left to itself, neither its symptoms nor duration are materially modified.
     3. "The character of the delirium in this disease is peculiar, bearing a stronger resemblance to dreaming, than any other form of mental derangement. It would seem as if the dreams which disturb and harass the mind during the imperfect sleep that precedes the explosion of the disease, continue to occupy it when awake, being then viewed as realities, instead of dreams. The patient imagines himself, for instance, to be in some particular situation, or engaged in certain occupations according to each individuals habits and profession, and his discourse and conduct will be conformed to this delusion, with this striking peculiarity, however, that he is thwarted at every step, and is constantly meeting with obstacles that defy his utmost efforts to remove. Almost invariably, the patient manifests, more or less, feelings of suspicion and fear, laboring under continual apprehension of being made the victim of sinister designs and practices. He imagines that certain people have conspired to rob or murder him, and insists that he can hear them in an adjoining apartment, arranging their plans and preparing to rush into his room; or that he is in a strange place where he is forcibly detained and prevented from going to his own home. One of the most common hallucinations is, to be constantly seeing devils, snakes, vermin, and all manner of unclean things around him and about him, and peopling every nook and corner of his apartment with these loathsome objects. The extreme terror which these delusions often inspire, produces in the countenance, an unutterable expression of anguish; and, in the hope of escaping from his, fancied tormentors, the wretched patient endeavors to cut his throat, or jump from the window. Under the influence of these terrible apprehensions, he sometimes murders his wife or attendant, whom his disordered imagination identifies with his enemies, though he is generally tractable and not inclined to be mischievous. After perpetrating an act of this kind, he generally gives some illusive reason for his conduct, rejoices in his success, and expresses his regret at not having done it before. So complete and obvious is the mental derangement in this disease, so entirely are, the thoughts and actions governed by the most unfounded and absurd delusions, that if any form of insanity absolves from criminal responsibility, this certainly must have that effect. 3 Am. Jur. 5-20.

A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.
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