Delirium Tremens

Delirium tremens (DTs) is a severe disturbance of the brain caused by alcohol withdrawal.

  • Causes

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

  • Definition

    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.

  • Diagnosis

    You will be asked 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

    after stopping alcohol use.

    Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with blood tests.

    Your brain activity may be tested. This can be done with an Electroencephalogram

    (EEG).


    Images of your internal body structures can be taken with:

    • CT scan
    • MRI scan

  • Prevention

    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.

  • Risk Factors

    These factors increase your chance of developing DTs:

    • History of heavy alcohol use and abuse
    • History of DTs or other withdrawal symptoms

    • Other medical problems in addition to
      alcohol abuse

  • Symptoms

    Symptoms usually begin 3-7 days after suddenly stopping or decreasing alcohol intake. Symptoms may include:

    • Anxiety
    • Confusion and disorientation

    • 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
    • Rapid breathing
    • Seizures

    In severe cases, DTs can result in death, especially if untreated.

  • Treatment

    Treatment can be difficult. 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.

    Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options may include: