Risk factors for delirium tremens development

J Gen Intern Med. 1996 Jul;11(7):410-4. doi: 10.1007/BF02600188.


Objective: To identify clinical characteristics associated with inpatient development of delirium tremens so that future treatment efforts can focus on patients most likely to benefit from aggressive therapy.

Design: Retrospective cohort study among patients discharged with diagnoses related to alcohol abuse.

Setting: University-affiliated inner-city hospital.

Patients/participants: Two hundred consecutive patients discharged between June 1991 and August 1992 who underwent evaluation and treatment for alcohol withdrawal or detoxification.

Measurements and main results: Mean age was 41.9 years, 85% were male, 57% were white and 84% were unmarried. Forty-eight (24%) of the patients developed delirium tremens during hospitalization. Bivariate analysis indicated that those who developed delirium tremens were more likely to be African-American, unemployed, and homeless, and were more likely to have gone more days since their last drink, and to have concurrent acute medical illness, high admission blood urea nitrogen level and respiratory rate, and low admission albumin level and systolic blood pressure. In multiple logistic regression analyses, patients who developed delirium tremens were more likely to have gone more days since their last drink (odds ratio [OR] 1.3; 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.09, 1.61) and to have concurrent acute medical illness (OR 5.1; 95% CI 2.07, 12.55). These risk factors were combined for assessment of their ability to predict the occurrence of delirium tremens. If no factors were present, 9% developed delirium tremens; if one factor was present, 25% developed delirium tremens; and if two factors were present, 54% developed delirium tremens.

Conclusions: Inpatient development of delirium tremens was common among patients treated for alcohol detoxification or withdrawal and correlated with several readily available clinical variables.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium* / diagnosis
  • Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium* / epidemiology
  • Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium* / therapy
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prognosis
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors