delirium tremens

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This clinical disorder is a Delirium that occurs after abrupt cessation of, or reduction in, Alcohol consumption in an individual who has been a heavy drinker for many years. It represents the most severe form of the alcohol Withdrawal state and is not very common. It is associated, however, with a significant mortality rate of those who develop it (10-15%), if left untreated.

Typically, the delirium sets in forty-eight to seventy-two hours after the last drink or after reduction in drinking. The course of illness is generally short, lasting, in most cases, two to three days. The disorder becomes significantly more life threatening if there is concurrent physical illness, such as liver failure, infection, or trauma.

Clinical signs and symptoms are the same ones that are characteristic of a delirium and include disorientation, fluctuating levels of consciousness, vivid hallucinations, delusions, agitation, fever, elevated blood pressure, rapid pulse, sweating, and tremor. The delirium may at times be preceded by a withdrawal seizure. Close monitoring and medical treatment in a hospital setting are required.

(See also: Withdrawal: Alcohol )


Goodwin, D. W. (1989). Alcoholism. In H. I. Kaplan &B. J. Sadock (Eds.), Comprehensive textbook of psychiatry, 5th ed., vol. 1. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins.

Plum, F., & Posner, J. B. (1980). The diagnosis of stupor and coma, 3rd ed. Philadelphia: Davis.

Myroslava Romach

Karen Parker

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delirium tremens (trē´mənz, trĕm´ənz), hallucinatory episodes that may occur during withdrawal from chronic alcoholism, popularly known as the DTs. An episode of delirium tremens is usually preceded by disturbed sleep and irritability, and generally takes several days to develop. The patient may experience sweating and increases in heart rate and body temperature, as well as hallucinations, tremors, and convulsions. In severe cases, delirium tremens may lead to hypothermia, cardiovascular collapse, and death. Delirium tremens can be treated, and even prevented, by the injection of fairly large doses of glucose, thiamine (vitamin B1), and insulin, and the continued administration of fluids (sodium chloride and sodium lactate) and the B vitamins. The condition is related to the abrupt drop in blood alcohol level after drinking ceases. Tranquilizers, sedatives, and anticonvulsants are also used in treatment.

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de·lir·i·um tre·mens / diˈli(ə)rēəm ˈtrēmənz/ (abbr.: DTs) • n. a psychotic condition typical of withdrawal in chronic alcoholics, involving tremors, hallucinations, anxiety, and disorientation.