Delirium Tremens: Causes, Effects and Treatments

Delirium Tremens, sometimes called “the DTs” or Saunders-Sutton syndrome, is the most severe symptom of alcohol withdrawal. It typically occurs within 2 to 5 days of the last drink of alcohol, and because it can be fatal, it is wise to treat it as a medical emergency and seek assistance for a loved one immediately. It often starts within 2 days but gets progressively worse. Delirium Tremens symptoms are rare (affecting 5% to 10% of alcoholics) but extreme, with confusion as one of the main indications. This means that detoxing at a rehab center, medical facility or at least in the company of a sober friend or family member is always a good idea, as you may not be clear-minded enough to call for help yourself.

Delirium Tremens Symptoms

Delirium Tremens affects one’s behavior, psychological state, cardiovascular system, nervous system, respiratory system and more. Delirium Tremens symptoms include:

  • Confusion (delirium)
  • Hallucinations (which can affect all five senses)
  • Nightmares
  • Shaking or tremors
  • Seizures
  • High blood pressure
  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Shallow breathing
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Severe anxiety (sometimes described as a feeling of “impending doom”)
  • Irritability
  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Electrolyte imbalance
  • Dilated pupils

Feeling as though bugs are crawling on the skin is one example of a type of a sensory hallucination commonly experienced by people with Delirium Tremens.

Other Causes of Delirium Tremens

Although Delirium Tremens is most often caused by the sudden cessation of a long period of heavy drinking, it can also be brought on when a drug addict suddenly stops abusing tranquilizers like barbiturates or benzodiazepines. Infections, illnesses and head injuries can also cause Delirium Tremens in people who actively consume alcohol.

Treatment of Delirium Tremens

Delirium Tremens is treated with prescribed sedatives and supportive care. The mortality rate for this condition has been estimated to be between 15% and 40% if no treatment is administered. With treatment, the mortality rate falls to less than 4%. Seek care for yourself or a loved one immediately if you suspect Delirium Tremens.   Source:  

Scroll to Top