• Delirium Tremens



    Delirium tremens (DTs) is a severe disturbance of the brain caused by alcohol withdrawal.
    Adult Brain
    Brain Man Face
    The sudden withdrawal or decrease of alcohol can cause severe disturbances in the brain.
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


    DTs occur when a person who repeatedly drinks large amounts of alcohol suddenly stops or decreases the amount of alcohol consumed.

    Risk Factors

    These factors increase your chance of developing DTs:
    • History of DTs
    • Other medical problems in addition to alcohol abuse
    • Brain damage
    • Age: Older than 30 years


    Symptoms usually begin 2-4 days after suddenly stopping or decreasing alcohol intake. Symptoms may include:
    • Anxiety
    • Confusion / disorientation
    • Delirium —changing levels of alertness
    • Trouble sleeping
    • Bad dreams
    • Severe agitation
    • Fever
    • Hallucinations—the perception of a thing, voice, or person that is not present, both visual and auditory
    • Delusions—a false belief that is strongly held
    • Tremors of the hands, head, or body
    • Severe sweating
    • Rapid heartbeat
    • Nausea
    • Increased rate of breathing
    • Increased blood pressure
    • Increased body temperature
    • Seizures
    In severe cases, DTs can result in death, especially if untreated.


    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The diagnosis of DTs is usually based on the symptoms and signs of the disorder. Tests may include:
    • You may have your bodily fluid tested. This can be done with blood tests to measure liver function, blood clotting ability, or electrolytes.
    • You may need to have your brain function evaluated. This can be done with electroencephalogram (EEG).
    • You may need to have pictures taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:


    Treatment can be difficult. DTs are likely to last for 5-7 days. Clearing of DTs may begin in 12-24 hours, but may take up to 2-10 days. Treatment for alcohol abuse is necessary after DTs are under control.
    Treatment may include:


    Medicines may include:
      Sedatives to:
      • Calm agitation
      • Ease withdrawal symptoms
    • Aspirin or acetaminophen to lower fever
    • Anti-seizure medicine

    Vitamins and Fluids

    Severe, life-threatening vitamin deficiency or dehydration may accompany DTs. Treatment may include:


    Treatment for alcohol abuse may be done in a hospital setting or while living at home. It may involve individual or group therapy . Many people seek support by participating in groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
    If you are diagnosed as experiencing DTs, follow your doctor's instructions .
    If you are diagnosed as experiencing DTs, follow your doctor's instructions .


    To prevent having DTs, do not abuse alcohol. If you do drink large amounts on a regular basis, do not suddenly decrease the amount or stop drinking on your own. Rather, get advice from your doctor on the safest way to lower your intake.


    Alcoholics Anonymous http://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org

    National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism http://www.niaaa.nih.gov


    Alcoholics Anonymous http://www.aacanada.com

    Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse http://www.ccsa.ca


    Alcohol withdrawal. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated August 29, 2012. Accessed February 21, 2013.

    Barrons R, Roberts N. The role of carbamazepine and oxcarbazepine in alcohol withdrawal syndrome. J Clin Pharm Ther . 2010;35(2):153-67.

    Berkow R. The Merck Manual of Medical Information . New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, Inc; 2000.

    Braunwald E. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine . 15th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing; 2001.

    McKeon A, Frye MA, Delanty N. The alcohol withdrawal syndrome. J Neurol Neurosurg Psych. 2008;79:854-862.

    Revision Information

  • Can we help answer your questions?

    Wellmont Nurse Connection is your resource for valuable health information any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Speak to a Nurse any time, day or night, at (423) 723-6877 or toll-free at 1-877-230-NURSE.