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Delirium tremens: the danger in suddenly stopping drinking

Excessive alcohol use can have many impacts on our health. But for those who regularly drink large quantities, it can also be dangerous to abruptly cut back or stop. In fact, sudden alcohol withdrawal can cause a set of symptoms that may lead to delirium tremens. Without medical assistance, delirium tremens can lead to coma and even death.

What is delirium tremens?

Delirium tremens, or DT’s, is a potentially serious medical condition caused by alcohol withdrawal, which happens most often to people who have had this addiction for a long time. This condition can occur when someone drastically cuts back or completely stops drinking following a long period of excessive alcohol use.

Alcohol is a depressant of the central nervous system, meaning it slows down certain brain functions. When someone used to excessive drinking, suddenly decreases or stops, it can lead to an overstimulation of the brain and nervous system. This overstimulation can result in a set of symptoms that can be particularly serious.


Delirium tremens symptoms

Symptoms may include:

  • severe agitation
  • anxiety or depression
  • deep confusion
  • severe tremors (shakes)
  • excessive sweating
  • heart palpitations
  • fever
  • hallucinations (visual, auditory or tactile)

These symptoms generally occur during the 48 to 72 hours following the last drink. It is considered a medical emergency needing immediate assistance.

Without proper medical attention, these symptoms can lead to a coma and potentially death.

Reminder: for someone who is addicted, suddenly stopping drinking can become very dangerous. If you choose to stop drinking, be aware of symptoms such as shaking, nausea, cold sweats, vomiting. If you have these symptoms, contact a doctor or get to a hospital near you.

Necessary medical attention

Treating delirium tremens, above all, begins with soothing the person’s agitation, thanks to a benzodiazepine regimen which is medication generally used to treat anxiety. This can be strengthened by taking beta blockers to protect the heart or anticonvulsants to prevent epileptic seizures. Around 10% to 15% of alcohol withdrawals require medical attention.

Attention: only health care professionals can decide on a treatment course for delirium tremens. It is important to not self-medicate in such a situation and risk making it worse.


Around 10% to 15% of

alcohol withdrawals require

medical attention

Prevention and finding help

Preventing delirium tremens starts with managing alcohol use favoring harm reduction and for those who are addicted, it starts with medical attention during withdrawal if they want to decrease or stop drinking. Many resources are available across Québec.

If you want more information or to get help, for either you or a loved one, contact our team by chat, bottom right of screen, or by telephone at 1-800-265-2626. Our service is free, confidential and available 24/7.


Ce contenu a été traduit grâce au soutien du Secrétariat aux relations avec les Québécois d’expression anglaise

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