Delirium Tremens aka “DTs”- Dangerous Downside of Detox

red hair girl hungover wanting coffee and medication to help with her hungover in bed

Delirium tremens (DTs) is the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal. It’s a psychotic condition characterized by hallucinations, tremors, anxiety and disorientation. While they can be brought on by a serious infection, illness or head injury, it is most common in chronic alcoholics who, for one reason or another, have not had any alcohol for a certain period of time.

  • Symptoms can present themselves in as little as 2 hours from the last drink, but typically begin to manifest anywhere from 48 to 72 hours after the last intake of alcohol.

Alcohol abuse is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States.

Experts estimate that 7.2 percent or 17 million adults in the United States have an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). Getting sober can be one of the most difficult challenges for anyone with dependency issues, especially given the relapsing nature of this condition. In fact, heavy drinkers entering treatment or stopping cold turkey face a potentially fatal withdrawal from alcohol known as Delirium Tremens (DTs).

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal occur because alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant.

Withdrawal from alcohol can be physically painful, but anyone experiencing them is in the midst of a medical emergency and should be hospitalized. There is the danger of the cardiovascular system completely collapsing, which can result in death. Medical science has been able to reduce the mortality rate from them over the past 50 years, yet anywhere from 1 to 15 percent of people who develop this condition will die.

  • Death may occur in up to 5 percent of patients with DT’s

Alcohol Detox Can Be Fatal

DTs could stand for “death threat”

Delirium Tremens is a very serious medical condition. Because of the significant impact it has on the cardiovascular system and other vital areas of the body, it can be fatal.

According to the experts, it will cause death somewhere between 1 – 15% of the case even when there is adequate treatment. It will cause death in 15 – 40% of the cases when no treatment is provided.

How many people get the DTs?

According to Wikipedia, 2% of all alcoholics will develop the Delirium Tremens, after they stop an episode of drinking.*


Here are some of the signs to look for if someone who is an alcohol drinker, stops. Symptoms can include some of the following:

  • Changes in mental functions
  • Confusion, agitation, irritability
  • Severe mood swings
  • Sensitivity to light, touch and sound
  • Seizures
  • Excessive sleep and sleepiness
  • Hallucinations
  • Anxiety and depression

They can present themselves in as little as 2 hours from the last drink, but typically begin to manifest anywhere from 48 to 72 hours after the last intake of alcohol. The symptoms seem to spike around the 5th day of detox. With proper medical supervision, patients can begin to recover from the condition.

Those at Highest Risk

Those most at risk for are chronic drinkers with a history of ten years or more of alcoholism. Heavy drinking is considered to be 4 to 5 pints of wine, 7 to 8 pints of beer or one pint of liquor everyday for several weeks.

Others who are risk can include the following:

  • Alcoholics going in for surgery who do not disclose their drinking habits
  • Heavy drinkers who quit alcohol cold-turkey
  • Individuals who have developed the symptoms in the past
  • Drinkers that habitually eat very little and quit drinking for a short period of time
  • Most people who develop it are older, but the condition can affect a person of any age who’s been consistently been drinking heavily.


Responding to someone with the Delirium Tremens first focuses on saving the patient’s life. Once doctors have them stabilized, a person might need to be sedated for up to a week while they’re monitored and their symptoms are managed. Only after a full detoxification can long term treatment for alcohol dependency and alcoholism begin.

Because of the risk of death and serious medical damage that Delirium Tremens can cause, a total and lifelong abstinence from alcohol is suggested. Alcohol rehabilitation, support groups and counseling are recommended in order to help individuals truly recover and establish a foundation for a happy, healthy and sober lifestyle.

* based on the data from Wikipedia, that 50% of all alcoholics develop withdrawal symptoms when they stopping drinking and approximately 4% of them will develop Delirium Tremens.