Delirium tremens (DTs)

Delirium tremens (also called DTs) is the name for the uncomfortable physical and mental changes that happen when a person who has a physical dependence on alcohol suddenly stops using alcohol (withdrawal). DTs happen only if a person has had long-term heavy use of alcohol.

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal usually begin 4 to 12 hours after the person cuts down or stops drinking and can last for several days. Symptoms of DTs include:

  • Shaking (tremors).
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Irritability or anxiety.
  • Fast heartbeat.
  • Sweating.
  • Confusion or hallucinations (delirium).
  • Seizures.

Doctors treat delirium tremens with prescription medicines. In some cases, hospitalization is needed. If left untreated, delirium tremens can lead to death.

Last Updated: January 26, 2010

Author: Jeannette Curtis

Medical Review: Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Peter Monti, PhD - Alcohol and Addiction

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