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Alcohol withdrawal delirium (AWD) is the most serious form of alcohol withdrawal. It causes sudden and severe problems in your brain and nervous system.
Approximately five percent of hospital patients being treated for alcohol withdrawal also experience AWD. AWD is also known as delirium tremens or DTs. It is a medical emergency.
AWD only affects people with a history of heavy alcohol use. Heavy drinkers may develop this condition if they:
You are at risk of AWD if you:
All heavy, long-term drinkers are at risk of AWD. However, the risk is even higher for people who have been drinking at least four to five pints of wine, seven to eight pints of beer, or one pint of hard alcohol a day for several months. It is also very high for people who have been drinking heavily for more than 10 years.
Symptoms of AWD usually occur within three days of changing alcohol use. However, sometimes they may take a week or more to appear. Symptoms of AWD may include:
Your doctor will perform a physical exam to see if you have AWD symptoms. Some tests that may be needed for a diagnosis include:
You may also be tested for other medical conditions related to alcohol use, such as:
Treatments for AWD may include:
AWD can be fatal. Therefore, treatment should be received in a hospital. It may take up to a week for you to feel better.
People with AWD are at increased risk of:
AWD can be deadly. This is particularly true if it remains untreated. Treatment significantly lowers your risks of complications and death.
With timely medical treatment, AWD has very low death rate. However, some symptoms of alcohol withdrawal may last for more than a year. These include:
To prevent AWD, do not drink alcohol.
If you are already a heavy drinker, get help. Your doctor can help you stop drinking more safely than you can stop alone.
If you suddenly stop drinking, you may end up with symptoms of AWD. If you do, get immediate medical help.
Written by: Rose Kivi and Elizabeth Boskey, PhD
Published on Jul 16, 2012
Updated on Feb 15, 2013
Medically reviewed by George Krucik, MD
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