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What Are Delirium Tremens Symptoms?

7 minute read

Many people avoid getting help for alcohol use disorders because they fear uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Delirium tremens (DTs) is a condition that can arise when you have been drinking heavily and stop. It can pose a serious risk to your health, but not everyone experiences DTs, and the risk of continuing to abuse alcohol is even greater.

If you’re looking for help with alcoholism or any kind of substance abuse, turn to Footprints to Recovery. Our alcohol addiction and mental health treatment programs use the latest evidence-based therapies coupled with holistic treatments for a comprehensive and integrated approach. Don’t let an alcohol use disorder disrupt your life any longer. Substance abuse treatment can help. 

What Is Delirium Tremens?

Delirium tremens, often abbreviated as DTs, is a severe and life-threatening condition. It occurs in some people who are experiencing alcohol withdrawal, and it often occurs after a period of heavy and prolonged alcohol use. It is a medical emergency and needs immediate medical attention. Delirium tremens often appears within 48 to 72 hours after the last alcoholic drink. It is more common in individuals who have a history of heavy, long-term alcohol use. Only about 2% of those with alcohol dependence will experience DTs. 

Not everyone who goes through alcohol withdrawal syndrome develops delirium tremens. When it does occur, it can be life-threatening. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, it is important to seek immediate medical attention to prevent DTs and ensure your safety and well-being.

What Are Delirium Tremens Symptoms?

Delirium tremens is often simple for a medical or addiction treatment professional to diagnose, thanks to the symptoms. The condition comes with a wide variety of symptoms, ranging from physical to mental and behavioral. Some of the most common symptoms of delirium tremens include: 

  • Severe confusion: You may become disoriented and have difficulty understanding your surroundings or the situation you’re in.
  • Agitation and restlessness: You may exhibit extreme restlessness, irritability, and agitation.
  • Hallucinations: Visual hallucinations, auditory hallucinations, and tactile hallucinations are common during DTs. These hallucinations can be distressing and terrifying for the affected individual.
  • Tremors: Delirium tremens often involves severe tremors or shaking, which can affect your hands and other parts of your body.
  • Nervous system hyperactivity: You may experience rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, excessive sweating, and fever.
  • Seizures: Seizures can occur in some cases of delirium tremens.
  • Fatigue: You may experience extreme fatigue and weakness.

How Long Does DTs Last?

After you stop prolonged, heavy alcohol intake, you may experience symptoms of alcohol withdrawal between 6 and 24 hours later. More severe symptoms, which can turn into DTs, start around 12 to 48 hours after the last drink. Delirium tremens symptoms continue for 3 to 4 days and typically end after 5 days, although they can last up to 10 days.

Who Is at Risk for Delirium Tremens?

You don’t develop delirium tremens after a short period of alcohol use. The most significant risk factors for the condition are a history of alcohol addiction and a period of heavy alcohol intake. That could mean drinking daily for months or even years. Some other risk factors for developing delirium tremens include: 

  • Previous withdrawal episodes: If you have experienced alcohol withdrawal symptoms before, you’re at a higher risk for DTs during future withdrawal episodes.
  • Older age: Older people are at a higher risk for DTs. Alcohol withdrawal tends to be more severe in older adults, and they may be more vulnerable to the complications associated with DTs.
  • Medical conditions: People with pre-existing medical conditions may be at increased risk for DTs. Liver damage or dysfunction can impair the body’s ability to metabolize alcohol and toxins.
  • High alcohol tolerance: If you have a high tolerance for alcohol, you may be at an increased risk for DTs. You may need larger amounts of alcohol to achieve the desired effect, and when you stop drinking, withdrawal symptoms can be severe.
  • Previous DTs: If you’ve experienced DTs during a previous episode of alcohol withdrawal, you are at a higher risk of developing DTs again. 

The development of DTs can be unpredictable. Not everyone with these risk factors will experience the condition. If you do have these risk factors and begin to experience symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, seek immediate medical attention and supervision to prevent or manage DTs. Delirium tremens can be life-threatening, and early intervention is essential for a better outcome.

Can You Die from Delirium Tremens? 

Delirium tremens can be life-threatening. In some cases, it can lead to death if not treated right away. Some of the complications that arise when you experience DTs include: 

  • Dehydration and electrolyte imbalances: People experiencing DTs are often agitated. They may refuse to eat or drink and can become dehydrated. This dehydration, along with electrolyte imbalances, can strain the body’s organs and lead to serious health problems.
  • Cardiovascular issues: Rapid heart rate and high blood pressure during DTs can put a significant strain on the cardiovascular system. This can lead to an irregular heartbeat, heart attack, or other cardiovascular complications.
  • Respiratory distress: DTs can cause breathing difficulties. This can result in inadequate oxygen intake and can lead to respiratory failure.
  • Seizures: Some people with DTs experience seizures, which can be life-threatening if not treated.
  • Injuries: People with DTs can be more agitated than normal. That can lead to accidental injuries, falls, or self-harm.

How Is Delirium Tremens Treated? 

Managing delirium tremens often involves hospitalization. Treatment includes medications to manage symptoms of DTs and prevent complications. Benzodiazepines are often used to slow down the nervous system. This helps reduce agitation, control tremors, and prevent seizures. The drugs that help DTs do carry a risk for abuse, so all medication must come from a medical professional. Intravenous fluids and electrolyte replacement may also be necessary to address dehydration and imbalances caused by alcohol withdrawal.

How Is Alcoholism Treated? 

DTs is the result of heavy drinking and alcohol abuse over some time. The most important aspect of treating it is making sure you avoid alcohol in the future. Alcohol abuse is a complex disorder. People drink for many reasons, and ending a problem can be a challenge. Treating an alcohol use disorder is a multi-step process that not only rids your body of all alcohol but also teaches valuable coping mechanisms and life skills to aid future sobriety. 

Psychotherapy and counseling are essential components of alcoholism treatment. Some common approaches include:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a common method used in individual therapy. It helps you identify and change problematic thought patterns and behaviors. You’ll learn to recognize triggers for drinking, develop coping strategies, and set goals for reducing or quitting alcohol use.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

DBT is another common method used in individual therapy. It focuses on enhancing emotional regulation, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and mindfulness skills. 

Family Therapy

Alcohol misuse probably doesn’t just affect you but also your family and loved ones. Family therapy involves the participation of family members in therapy. This helps with issues related to communication, boundaries, and support. 

Trauma-Informed Therapy

Addressing underlying trauma is essential in treating alcohol abuse. Trauma victims can turn to alcohol because it helps numb painful memories. They don’t spend as much time reliving the trauma when drinking. Trauma-informed therapy can help you process and heal from traumatic experiences. That way, you can cope without drinking. 

Alcoholism Treatment at Footprints to Recovery

Delirium tremens and other detox symptoms, like alcohol withdrawal seizures, are dangerous. They can also keep you from getting the help you need. But your health and your future are worth it. Footprints to Recovery is here for you, with the programs you need to end alcohol abuse once and for all. Our levels of care for alcohol addiction are safe and effective. They include: 

  • Medical detox: Medical detox is the first step in allowing your brain and body to heal. You’ll be supervised by medical professionals as you stop drinking. These healthcare providers will give you medical support and care throughout withdrawal. 
  • Inpatient treatment: In a residential drug rehab program, you live in a treatment center with round-the-clock care from specialists. Individual, group, and family therapy will help you learn how to stay sober and maintain your recovery. 
  • Partial hospitalization program (PHP): A PHP is a form of outpatient addiction treatment. That means you don’t live at a treatment facility. You’ll learn to balance your programming with your independence. It’s another step towards leaving our facility after achieving sobriety. 
  • Intensive outpatient program (IOP): An IOP provides therapy and support at a treatment facility. You live at home or in a sober living home. IOPs are shorter than inpatient programs. They focus on re-integrating you into society and building relapse prevention skills. 
  • Outpatient rehab: Outpatient addiction treatment is a safe but less intensive recovery option. It allows you to receive alcohol treatment while you maintain regular commitments to family, work, or school. 

Footprints to Recovery offers a full continuum of care for alcohol abuse at our recovery center. Working with our licensed treatment staff is always a better option than trying to stop drinking on your own. Our addiction professionals can assist with co-occurring disorders so you can get your quality of life back. 

There is hope for recovery. Contact our admissions team today for insurance verification or to ask questions about alcohol rehab. An inability to pay for treatment shouldn’t deter you from getting help. Our team can verify your insurance or outline the other payment options. Call today and get started!


Delirium Tremens: Assessment and Management – PMC (

Delirium Tremens – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf (

Delirium Tremens: What It Is, Causes, Symptoms & Treatment (

Evan Gove
Jenna Richer
Author Evan Gove
Medically Reviewed by Jenna Richer, MSW, LCSW
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