by Rick Alan
Delirium tremens (DTs) is a severe disturbance of the brain caused by alcohol withdrawal.
DTs occur when a person who repeatedly drinks large amounts of alcohol suddenly stops or decreases the amount of alcohol consumed.
Risk Factors TOP
These factors increase your chance of developing DTs:
Symptoms usually begin 3-7 days after suddenly stopping or decreasing alcohol intake. Symptoms may include:
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 after stopping alcohol use. Tests may include:
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:
Medications may include:
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.
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.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse
Alcohol withdrawal. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
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Updated April 4, 2013. Accessed July 11, 2013.
Barrons R, Roberts N. The role of carbamazepine and oxcarbazepine in alcohol withdrawal syndrome. J Clin Pharm Ther. 2010;35(2):153-167.
Bayard M, McIntyre J, et al. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Am Fam Physician. 2004;69(6):1443-1450.
McKeon A, Frye MA, et al. The alcohol withdrawal syndrome. J Neurol Neurosurg Psych. 2008;79:854-862.
Last reviewed July 2013 by Rimas Lukas, MD; Brian Randall, MD
Last Updated: 5/11/2013