Alcohol and Delirium Tremens (DTs)


Delirium Tremens, or DTs, are a serious reaction to alcohol withdrawal. They occur usually in people who are alcoholics. The term is translated from Latin and means “shaking frenzy”. DTs are often accompanied by other withdrawal symptoms such as shaking, perspiring heavily, feeling or being sick and feeling anxious. However, Delirium Tremens is more serious and also includes mental confusion, hallucination and fits.

DTs attacks affect people with a history of alcohol dependence. An attack of Delirium Tremens can be set off by periods of heavy drinking, a lack of food whilst drinking, an injury to the head or an illness or infection. The attack will most often come on within three days of the last drink but it can occur up to a week after.

Delirium Tremens is serious and can be fatal. Research shows that around 10-30% of attacks result in death. Those suffering from Delirium Tremens are also at an increased risk of accidents because of the mental confusion that they may experience. Some people with Delirium Tremens and other alcohol withdrawal symptoms also have epileptic seizures.  Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome can also develop,  which can be fatal.

To prevent DTs, anyone looking to quit drinking should consult a medical professional. They can help alcoholics to detox under medical supervision and can provide drugs which minimise the effects of DTs. Those who detox under supervision have a reduced risk of death from Delirium Tremens.

If you are concerned that someone has Delirium Tremens you should phone 999 – it is a medical emergency and hospital treatment is required. Those with DTs may be medicated to help their body withdraw from alcohol safely.

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