March 6, 2024

What Is Delirium Tremens?

an image of a stethoscope representing delirium tremens

DTs (delirium tremens) is a severe and potentially fatal manifestation of alcohol withdrawal, requiring urgent medical intervention. Although this condition is manageable with prompt treatment, it requires professional medical intervention and targeted treatments. Read on to learn more about severe alcohol withdrawal and discover how to detox safely and comfortably, mitigating complications like DTs.

Delirium Tremens Symptoms

What is delirium tremens? Delirium tremens is a severe stage of alcohol withdrawal, which in some cases can lead to life-threatening situations. This condition is especially risky for individuals with moderate to severe alcohol use disorders who abruptly discontinue their alcohol intake.

Symptoms of delirium tremens may include:

  • Tremors: Often the most visible and characteristic symptom, particularly noticeable in the hands.
  • Confusion: A specific type of delirium associated with alcohol withdrawal, sometimes referred to by healthcare professionals as altered mental status. This symptom, alongside tremors, contributes to the name delirium tremens.
  • Agitation or anxiety: This state can escalate into combative or aggressive behavior.
  • Psychosis symptoms: Individuals may experience hallucinations, perceiving things that do not exist. Other signs of psychosis like paranoia can also occur.
  • Sensory disturbances and disorientation: People undergoing DTs often experience diminished perception of surroundings due to impaired sensory function.
  • Diaphoresis: Episodes of intense sweating that come and go.
  • Seizures: These may occur in the early stages of withdrawal and before DTs fully develop. Seizures represent a significant risk and can be fatal, especially if they progress to status epilepticus.
  • Hyperthermia: An elevated body temperature.
  • GI disturbances: Nausea and vomiting, sometimes accompanied by headaches.
  • Tachycardia: An abnormally rapid heart rate.

Understanding and recognizing these symptoms can help people get immediate medical attention, as early intervention can mitigate the risks associated with DTs.

How Long Does Delirium Tremens Last?

Delirium tremens (DTs) normally lasts for five to seven days. That said, some people might continue to encounter some symptoms for as long as two weeks.

Delirium Tremens Timeline

While delirium tremens (DTs) tends to follow a predictable course, the intensity and duration of symptoms can vary, with some lingering longer than others. This is a typical delirium tremens timeline:

  • Initial withdrawal symptoms: These symptoms emerge between 6 to 24 hours following cessation of heavy and prolonged alcohol consumption.
  • Onset of severe symptoms: Hallucinations or seizures typically begin to manifest around 12 to 48 hours after the last alcoholic beverage has been consumed. It’s during this period that symptoms may progress into delirium tremens.
  • Duration of delirium tremens: Symptoms of DTs usually persist for 3 to 4 days but generally resolve by the fifth day. In some cases, these symptoms can extend for 8 to 10 days.

Treatment for Delirium Tremens

While delirium tremens cannot be cured, it is highly manageable with appropriate treatment. Due to confusion being a prominent symptom, individuals experiencing DTs may be incapable of making informed healthcare decisions, meaning that intervention from family or caregivers on their behalf might be necessary

A core focus of treatment of delirium tremens is the reduction of activity in the CNS (central nervous system) activity. Healthcare professionals accomplish this through the administration of medications aimed at decreasing CNS excitability.

Treatment typically begins with the use of sedatives to diminish CNS activity, which addresses the most critical complications associated with DTs. Benzodiazepines are the most frequently used sedatives, although other medications may also be indicated. In extreme cases, where CNS activity is excessively high, general anesthesia may be necessary to achieve full sedation and mitigate the risk of severe DTs symptoms.

Additionally, many individuals with DTs suffer from dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, or mineral deficiencies. Healthcare providers address these issues by administering intravenous infusions of essential vitamins and minerals. One commonly used IV solution includes:

  • Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
  • Vitamin B9 (folate)
  • Multivitamins
  • Electrolyte solution

The root cause of DTs is alcohol use disorder, and the overarching objective following DTs management is to address this disorder. There are various strategies for treating alcohol use disorder, and engaging in treatment can significantly lower the likelihood of experiencing DTs in the future. Here’s how we can help you with this. 

Get Treatment for Delirium Tremens at Gratitude Lodge

If you or a loved one need effective alcohol addiction treatment in California, reach out to Gratitude Lodge. Prevention is the best delirium tremens treatment, so by choosing medical detox at our Newport Beach or Long Beach rehabs, you can mitigate complications and relapse during withdrawal.

If you experience severe alcohol withdrawal, you will benefit from treatment of delirium tremens before you move into ongoing inpatient treatment.

Since all alcohol addictions are unique and everyone has different needs, you can expect to access personalized treatments that may include

  • Holistic therapies
  • Talk therapies
  • Motivational therapies
  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment)
  • Group therapy
  • Individual counseling
  • Family therapy
  • Aftercare planning

Avoid the potentially life-threatening dangers of severe alcohol withdrawal by calling 800-994-2184 for help from detox to discharge and beyond.

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Joe Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
Jenni Bussi

Jenni Busse MS, LPCC

Jenni Busse MS, LPSS is the Clinical Director at Gratitude Lodge. Jenni oversees the clinical program and the clinical team at Gratitude Lodge as a whole. Jenni has worked in treatment for almost 14 years. Her background as a licensed therapist and her passion for helping others intersected with addiction recovery when she started working primarily in detox residential treatment.

Drug detox can vary according to the patient’s addiction factors, including the substance abused, how long the addiction has lasted, the patient’s medical condition, if any other disorders are present, and more. Our skilled and credentialed team at Gratitude Lodge work closely with every patient going through drug detox, facilitating the beginnings of a successful recovery at our rehab addiction centers in Orange County, CA.

Drug detox can vary according to the patient’s addiction factors, including the substance abused, how long the addiction has lasted, the patient’s medical condition, if any other disorders are present, and more. Our skilled and credentialed team at Gratitude Lodge work closely with every patient going through drug detox.

Many patients don’t realize the toxicity of prolonged alcohol abuse and how it affects the body. Alcohol detox at the luxurious rehab addiction centers at Gratitude Lodge leeches your body of these toxins in preparation for successful treatment for drugs and alcohol abuse. Alcohol detox may not take as long or produce severe withdrawal symptoms, but it is still an essential beginning to your recovery.

Many patients don’t realize the toxicity of prolonged alcohol abuse and how it affects the body. Alcohol detox at the luxurious rehab addiction centers at Gratitude Lodge leeches your body of these toxins in preparation for successful treatment for drugs and alcohol abuse.

Holistic Therapy

Our holistic therapy treatments offer a full-scope approach to recovery, addressing your mind, body, and emotions as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. This therapy is designed to help address underlying issues and integrate alternative therapies to promote overall health and well-being.
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Psychotherapy

An essential part of your treatment experience, we offer individual (CBT and DBT talk therapy) and group addiction treatment counseling to help you explore and address the emotional component of addiction, providing you with the tools, self-awareness, and empowerment you need to maintain recovery.

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Dual Diagnosis is a highly effective addiction treatment that addresses substance use and mental health disorders simultaneously. Often co-occurring, these disorders are best managed when treated together with specific and targeted therapy.
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Medication-Assisted Treatment provides you with FDA-approved medications to help ease the symptoms of withdrawal while you’re in treatment. This makes the detox process easier and safer, as well as increasing the chances of a successful recovery.

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Sober living provides a supportive and substance-free living environment for your ongoing recovery. We partner with a number of upscale and carefully vetted sober living homes that are available to our clients after inpatient alcohol and drug addiction treatment.
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Once detox and inpatient are complete, we provide an easy transition to outpatient care through our hand-selected partners. This program offers a more flexible approach, allowing you to ease back in to daily life while still receiving frequent & effective care.
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