Delirium tremens is a condition that results from alcohol withdrawal. It can become extremely dangerous if not treated by medical professionals. Alcohol withdrawal with delirium tremens symptoms sometimes occur together, but delirium tremens will not necessarily be experienced by everyone who withdraws from alcohol.

Besides its physical effects, delirium tremens can negatively impact a person’s mental health. Delirium tremens can lead to severe disruptions in the normal functioning of the central nervous system.

Since the early 1800s, medical professionals of the time began observing delirium tremens in patients. Shortly thereafter, it was classified as a clinical disorder mainly affecting individuals who misused or abused alcohol. Generally, delirium tremens happens about two days after a person who chronically consumes alcohol stops abruptly.  The mortality rate associated with delirium tremens alcohol withdrawal is nearly 37% for individuals who do not receive treatment.

Signs of Delirium Tremens

What are the symptoms of delirium tremens in individuals withdrawing from alcohol? Along with the potential for alcohol withdrawal seizures, there are many more unpleasant side effects associated with this condition. Other delirium tremens symptoms may include:

Psychological symptoms:

  • Rapid onset confusion or deliriousness
  • Inability to think clearly
  • Exhibiting increased aggression or irritability
  • Change in mood or behaviors
  • Potential hallucinations
  • Changing moods from high to low, low to high quickly
  • Anxiety or depression

Physical Symptoms:

  • Trembling or shaking
  • Requiring excessive amount of sleep
  • Changes in energy level
  • Restlessness
  • Enhanced sensory sensitivities
  • Headaches
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Appetite changes
  • Sleep changes
  • Pale or clammy skin appearance from sweating
  • Feverish
  • Aching or body pains

Preventing Delirium Tremens During Alcohol Withdrawal

How can one prevent alcohol abuse? While it may be difficult to prevent alcohol abuse in some individuals, it is possible to prevent delirium tremens in individuals that chronically consume alcohol. Delirium tremens typically lasts a few days after a person consumes their last drink. Symptoms may worsen and last from four to ten days in some cases.

The best way to prevent delirium tremens is to drink only a small to moderate amount of alcohol. For individuals who are already chronic alcohol users, they should consult the advice of a medical professional. It is advisable that chronic alcohol users slowly taper the amount of alcohol they consume rather than stopping abruptly.

Treating Delirium Tremens and Alcohol Withdrawal

Delirium tremens treatment will depend on the specific nature of a person’s withdrawal symptoms. The overall goal of treatment is to keep patients safe and as healthy as possible during this difficult time. Usually, it is recommended that patients experiencing delirium tremens stay at a medical facility. A hospital stay involves testing to see a person’s vital signs, electrolyte levels and to determine if all organ systems are functioning properly. Sometimes, medical professionals will recommend medication to ease withdrawal symptoms (e.g. benzodiazepines) or medication for those individuals with co-occurring health conditions.

Medical Detox

After an initial hospital stay for delirium tremens treatment, it is advisable that a person also undergo an alcohol detox at an outpatient or inpatient rehabilitation facility. If a person experiences delirium tremens, this may be one of the first steps in a long and arduous alcohol withdrawal process. Thus, going through detoxification at a medical facility is encouraged where the patient can be continuously monitored. Staying at a facility may also allow for a person to go through medically-assisted detoxification, which is usually not available at home.

Do you or a loved one struggle with alcohol addiction? Are you worried about delirium tremens or have you experienced it at some point in the past? Contact the The Recovery Village® Columbus  to discuss treatment options for alcohol addiction and any other co-occurring mental health conditions. Contact a representative today to begin your journey to recovery.

Sources “Delirium tremens.” January 10, 2019. September 4, 2019.

Rahman, Abdul; Paul, Manju. “Delirium Tremens (DT).” NCBI Bookshelf, StatPearls, November 18, 2018. Accessed September 4, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.