How Long Do Alcohol DTs Last?

woman suffering from alcohol delirium tremens

Very informative with scientific explanation – Taylor Brown, B.A.Com., MAADC II

When heavy amounts of alcohol are consumed regularly, the body becomes physically dependent on its presence. If alcohol consumption abruptly stops, physical and mental withdrawal symptoms result. This condition is known as alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS). While symptoms of AWS can range from mild to severe, some can be life threatening.

Alcohol delirium tremens, widely known as DTs, is the most dangerous result of AWS, affecting 3-5% of those going through alcohol withdrawal. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) describe DTs as, “a severe form of alcohol withdrawal. It involves sudden and severe mental or nervous system changes.” Those who have been heavy drinkers for at least 10 years run the highest risk of developing DTs upon withdrawal from alcohol.

Excessive alcohol use accounts for 88,000 deaths in the United States each year, including 1 in 10 deaths among adults aged 20-64, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Alcohol related liver disease and motor-vehicle crashes are the most common causes of death.

How Does Alcohol Affect the Body?

The central nervous system (CNS), made up of the brain and spinal cord, regulates functions of the pleasure and reward center, breathing, heart rate, body temperature, and more. Alcohol depresses the (CNS), slowing down vital functions of the body, affecting mood, speech, motor functions, perceptions, and reaction time.

Alcohol also triggers the release of dopamine, a natural chemical responsible for increasing feelings of pleasure. Because alcohol increases dopamine at unnaturally high levels, the urge to repeat the experience reinforces the alcohol use behavior. Regular, heavy consumption of alcohol rewires the brain, creating a permanent state of overstimulation. Even after alcohol use is stopped the brain remains overstimulated, triggering withdrawal symptoms. Long term, heavy alcohol use can lead to blackouts, memory lapses, and permanent brain damage.

What are the Symptoms of DTs?

In his article, Delirium Tremens (DTs): The Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome from Hell, Dr. Gary Cordingley identifies the, “three T’s- temperature elevation, tremor and tachycardia (rapid heartbeat),” as early signs of DTs.

Anyone exhibiting symptoms of DTs requires emergency medical treatment, as it can be fatal. Symptoms typically begin 2-4 days after drinking stops, but can take several days to appear. Once they begin, they may worsen rapidly

The National Institutes of Health MedlinePlus identifies the most typical signs of DTs as:

  • Delirium (sudden severe confusion)
  • Heavy sweating
  • Agitation, fear
  • Increased startle reflex
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Stupor, lethargy
  • Problems with eye muscle movement
  • Sensitivity to lights and sounds
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Rapid muscle tremors
  • Hallucinations

MedlinePlus also warns that DTs can include common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, seizures, chest pain, fever, nausea, stomach pain, and sleep disturbances.

How Long Do DTs last?

DTs typically last up to 5 days, however some symptoms; mood swings, sleep disturbances, and exhaustion, may continue up to a year or more.

Research on Delirium Tremens (DT), by Abdul Rahman and Manju Paul found those experiencing DTs have, “an anticipated mortality of up to 37% without appropriate treatment.” This is why alcohol detoxification should always be medically supervised. If a person is not under medical supervision while detoxing, and exhibits serious signs of withdrawal, emergency help should be summoned immediately.

As an extended care treatment facility, Midwest Recovery Centers serves to provide intensive recovery treatment for alcohol addiction as well as other life problems. Contact us today to see how we can help you or your loved one begin recovery.


Reviewed and Assessed by
Taylor Brown, B.A.Com., MAADC II
Tim Coleman, M. of Ed.

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