Delirium tremens


  • Most severe form of alcohol withdrawal
  • Onset 48 to 96hrs after last drink

Clinical Features

Differential Diagnosis

Ethanol related disease processes

Altered mental status

Diffuse brain dysfunction

Primary CNS disease or trauma


General Psychiatric


  • Generally a clinical diagnosis, however comorbidity is common so additional work-up/screening is required:
  • Labs:
    • Serum glucose
    • Serum ethanol
    • CBC
    • Metabolic panel
    • LFTs
    • CK
    • Drug screen if concern for coingestion
  • Imaging:
    • CXR in all patients (pneumonia is most common infection)
    • Consider head CT if evidence of head trauma, focal deficits, or other concerning findings
    • Consider LP if concern for meningitis


Vitamin Prophylaxis for Chronic alcoholics

  • At risk for thiamine deficiency, but no symptoms: thiamine 100mg PO q day
  • Give multivitamin PO; patient at risk for other vitamin deficiencies

Banana bag

The majority of chronic alcoholics do NOT require a banana bag[2][3]

Special Situations

  • The propylene glycol diluent in lorazepam, phenobarbital, and diazepam, may induce a hyperosmolar anion gap metabolic acidosis if given as a drip in high doses ≥ 48hrs[4]
  • Consider alternatives such as propofol or dexmedetomidine if patients need long term sedation for Delirum Tremens


  • ICU admit

See Also

External Links


  1. Gold JA et al. A strategy of escalating doses of benzodiazepines and phenobarbital administration reduces the need for mechanical ventilation in delirium tremens. Crit Care Med. 2007 Mar;35(3):724-30.
  2. Krishel, S, et al. Intravenous Vitamins for Alcoholics in the Emergency Department: A Review. The Journal of Emergency Medicine. 1998; 16(3):419–424.
  3. Li, SF, et al. Vitamin deficiencies in acutely intoxicated patients in the ED. The American Journal of Emergency Medicine. 2008; 26(7):792–795.
  4. Arroliga AC, Shehab N, McCarthy K, Gonzales JP. Relationship of continuous infusion lorazepam to serum propylene glycol concentration in critically ill adults. Critical Care Medicine. 2004;32(8):1709–1714. doi:10.1097/01.CCM.0000134831.40466.39.