Blog | Alcohol Abuse

The DTs: What They Are and How to Fight Them

AlcoholismWhen you drink too much or too often, you become dependent on alcohol. When you are dependent on alcohol or any drug, you experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop using. Every drug has unique withdrawal symptoms. One potential alcohol withdrawal symptom is delirium tremens (DTs).

Not everyone experiences DTs when ending alcohol use. Only a small percentage of individuals struggling with alcohol abuse progress to DTs.

The Royal College of Physicians[1] shares, “Delirium tremens (DTs) occurs uncommonly, perhaps in less than 5% of individuals withdrawing from alcohol.”

While only a small percentage of alcohol-dependent individuals will experience DTs, there are enough dependent individuals that a significant number of people are affected.

Man chugging beerDTs are more common in individuals who have had trouble with alcohol withdrawal in the past. The more and longer you drink, the more likely DTs become. MedlinePlus[2] explains DTs are, “especially common in those who drink 4 to 5 pints (1.8 to 2.3 liters) of wine, 7 to 8 pints (3.5 to 4 liters) of beer, or 1 pint (1/2 liter) of ‘hard’ alcohol every day for several months. Delirium tremens also commonly affects people who have used alcohol for more than 10 years.” DTs are also affected by shorter-term factors such as if you have eaten enough food or not. Medical attention during withdrawal makes DTs less likely and easier to manage. This medical attention is also important for your immediate safety and your long-term continued recovery.

DTs involve a variety of changes to mental health and nervous system function. You may experience confusion, mood changes, fatigue and hallucinations. Symptoms can culminate in potentially life-threatening seizures. Individuals often experience other alcohol withdrawal symptoms at the same time. MedlinePlus emphasizes that “Delirium tremens is an emergency condition.” Do not ignore any withdrawal symptoms. Get emergency medical help when needed. Begin your recovery with medically supervised detox services that protect your health and ensure symptoms are as manageable as possible.

DTs and other withdrawal symptoms can be scary. You may wonder why anyone would ever stop using. The reason is because as uncomfortable as withdrawal can be, symptoms only last a short period of time. You will have support and understanding throughout the entire experience. You will have medical professionals monitoring your health around the clock.

Recovery professionals will help you begin to rebuild all aspects of your life. Peers will be on hand to share experiences, offer advice, and even laugh and joke with you as you begin to feel better. Addiction and recovery are serious, but they are also filled with hope, lightness and good humor. Recovery is a positive experience.

Continued substance use is not. The consequences of alcohol use continue indefinitely without treatment. Alcohol will make you sicker than withdrawal ever can.

The Lancet[3] explains, “Continued heavy alcohol use also shortens the onset of heart disease, stroke, cancers, and liver cirrhosis, by affecting the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and immune systems. Heavy drinking can also cause mild anterograde amnesias, temporary cognitive deficits, sleep problems, and peripheral neuropathy; cause gastrointestinal problems; decrease bone density and production of blood cells; and cause fetal alcohol syndrome.”

These are just some of the many physical effects of alcohol use. They are worse and longer-lasting than any withdrawal symptom. You will have limited if any medical support as you face these health issues. You will not have positive peer support and understanding. You will not be on the path to greater health and a more rich and rewarding life.

Continued alcohol use takes away your health. It also takes away your happiness. You may be afraid of recovery and withdrawal for more reasons than delirium tremens alone. You may think life without alcohol will be empty or unenjoyable. You may simply be unable to imagine it at all, and that unknowing seems just as scary. Alcohol keeps you from finding emotional and mental health.

The Lancet explains, “Alcohol-use disorders are associated with depressive episodes, severe anxiety, insomnia, suicide, and abuse of other drugs….Alcohol-use disorders complicate assessment and treatment of other medical and psychiatric problems.”

When you are dependent on alcohol, you are sick and unhappy. You feel alone, overwhelmed by feelings, or maybe you feel nothing at all. You feel worse and worse. When you pursue recovery, you benefit. You get a real diagnosis and appropriate treatment for any co-occurring mental health issues. You find physical health. You create the life you want to live rather than the life alcohol dictates for you. Withdrawal is not the scary option; continued addiction is.


[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0047840/. “Acute Alcohol Withdrawal.” Royal College of Physicians. 2010. Web. 29 Mar 2017.

[2] https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000766.htm. “Delirium Tremens.” MedlinePlus. 8 Feb 2015. Web. 29 Mar 2017.

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19168210?dopt=Abstract. “Alcohol-use Disorders.” The Lancet. 7 Feb 2009. Web. 29 Mar 2017.