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Delirium tremens (DTs) is a severe problem with how the brain works.
|The sudden withdrawal or decrease of alcohol can cause severe disturbances in the brain.|
|Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.|
People who drink large amounts of alcohol get DTs when they stop drinking. This can also happen when the intake is lowered. These changes are done suddenly.
Your chances of DTs are higher if:
- You're a heavy drinker or have a past problem with alcohol use disorder (AUD)
- You've had DTs or other withdrawal problems in the past
- You have other health problems outside of AUD
Symptoms start within 3-7 days once drinking stops or the amount is lowered. You may have:
- Tremors of the hands, head, or body
- Fast heartbeat— tachycardia
- Nausea or vomiting
- Sleeping problems
- Bad dreams
- Hallucinations—seeing or hearing things that aren't there
If left untreated, DTs can result in death.
You will be asked about your symptoms and health history. Your answers and a physical exam may point to withdrawal. You may have:
The goals are to:
- Ease symptoms
- Avoid complications
- Get treated for AUD
Clearing of DTs depends on how severe your problems are. It may start in 12-24 hours, but it can take up to 7 days.
DTs may be treated with medicines used to control:
- Anxiety, withdrawal, and problems with thinking
- Hallucinations or other mental problems
- Blood pressure and heart rate
Vitamins and Fluids
Lack of vitamins and dehydration are common in more severe forms. They can be treated with IV:
AUD may be treated in a hospital or at home. It may involve single or group therapy . Many people seek support by joining groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
To prevent having DTs, drink in moderation. If you do drink large amounts on a regular basis, don't suddenly stop or reduce the amount on your own. Call your doctor. They will help you lower your intake safely.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Alcoholics Anonymous—Halifax Regional Municipality
Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114807/Alcohol-withdrawal-syndrome . Updated January 17, 2017. Accessed August 21, 2018.
Alcohol withdrawal treatment, symptoms, and timeline. American Addiction Centers website. Available at: https://americanaddictioncenters.org/withdrawal-timelines-treatments/alcohol. Accessed August 21, 2018.
Barrons R, Roberts N. The role of carbamazepine and oxcarbazepine in alcohol withdrawal syndrome. J Clin Pharm Ther. 2010;35(2):153-67.
Bayard M, McIntyre J, Hill KR, Woodside J. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Am Fam Physician. 2004;69(6):1443-1450.
McKeon A, Frye MA, Delanty N. The alcohol withdrawal syndrome. J Neurol Neurosurg Psych. 2008;79(8):854-862.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD
- Review Date: 05/2018
- Update Date: 08/21/2018