Alcohol abuse is a prevalent health problem that affects millions of Americans and their loved ones.
One of the most dangerous signs of alcohol abuse is seizures, which can occur as a result of alcohol withdrawal in people with a long history of heavy drinking, among other risk factors.
Seizures that develop from alcohol abuse and withdrawal can be prevented and effectively treated with the support of healthcare providers.
How Alcohol Withdrawal Leads To Seizures
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is a condition that can develop if someone with an alcohol dependence suddenly stops drinking or goes too long without alcohol.
Alcohol dependence is a physical dependence on alcohol that can build up through chronic alcohol abuse—or a pattern of frequent, heavy drinking.
Seizures are not a common symptom of alcohol withdrawal. This is one of the most serious symptoms that can develop, as a sign of delirium tremens (DTs).
Delirium Tremens May Cause Seizures
Delirium tremens (DTs) is a life-threatening form of alcohol withdrawal that can develop within 48 hours of your last drink.
This may cause seizures, in addition to other physical, mental, and psychological symptoms.
Symptoms of delirium tremens include:
- visual or auditory hallucinations
- body tremors (severe shaking)
- delirium (sudden, severe confusion)
- deep sleep
- bursts of energy
- fluctuating blood pressure
- rapid or erratic heart rate
- chest pain
- sensitivity to light, touch, sound
Symptoms can get worse quickly. And in some people, this may develop seven to 10 days after your last drink, instead of in the first 48 hours.
Are Seizures A Sign Of Alcohol Abuse?
They can be, if they occur in someone who drinks very heavily and regularly. This is most common in people who have abused alcohol in heavy amounts for years.
Alcohol can have profound effects on physical health and mental health when abused over a long period of time.
Overcoming alcohol abuse can often require drug abuse treatment. This may involve medical care and behavioral health treatment services, such as behavioral therapy and support groups.
Alcohol abuse treatment programs include:
- inpatient treatment
- residential rehab
- outpatient rehab programs
Without treatment, additional complications, including alcoholic liver disease and alcoholic cardiomyopathy, can develop from chronic alcohol abuse or binge drinking.
What Causes Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures?
Withdrawal seizures can develop as an effect of alcohol dependence, whereby the body becomes dependent on having alcohol in your system.
Put plainly, if you stop drinking abruptly after a period of frequent, heavy drinking, this could lead to symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, including seizures.
What to know about alcohol-related seizures:
- They most commonly develop within eight to 48 hours after last drinking alcohol.
- Alcohol withdrawal seizures, the most common of which are tonic-clonic seizures, can occur before the alcohol blood level has returned to zero.
- The cause of alcohol seizures is believed to be connected to the chronic exposure of heavy alcohol consumption to brain chemicals like GABA.
Warning Signs Of Seizures Caused By Alcohol Withdrawal
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, seizures from alcohol withdrawal can occur without other symptoms of delirium tremens.
However, it may accompany other common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, including heavy sweating, irregular heartbeat, rapid heart rate, and rapid muscle tremors (shaking).
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are the primary sign to look for when it comes to determining whether seizures can or will occur in someone who abuses alcohol.
Risks Factors For Seizures Caused By Alcohol Withdrawal
Certain factors can place you at higher risk for developing symptoms of delirium tremens, such as hyperthermia, psychosis, and seizures.
Risk factors for seizures from alcohol withdrawal include:
- history of detoxification attempts (i.e. the “kindling effect”)
- history of past complications during withdrawal
- heavy drinking for 10 years or more
- high alcohol tolerance
- recent head injury or illness
- epilepsy diagnosis
- central nervous system (CNS) infection
- polysubstance abuse
- older age
Are Seizures Caused By Alcohol Abuse Dangerous?
Withdrawal seizures are a medical emergency. Without treatment, they could have severe consequences. Hospitalization is highly recommended.
Anyone who is at risk for seizures as a result of alcohol withdrawal should go to their nearest emergency department or find a nearby detox center for alcohol treatment.
Treatment And Prevention For Alcohol Withdrawal
Getting help for alcohol withdrawal before side effects develop is highly recommended to reduce the risk of seizures and other negative effects during the detoxification period.
Alcohol withdrawal can be treated in an inpatient setting, such as a hospital, detox center, or addiction treatment facility that offers alcohol detox services.
Treatment of alcohol withdrawal seizures may include:
- IV fluids: Remaining hydrated, with proper electrolyte levels, can help protect against severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
- medication: Benzodiazepines like diazepam and lorazepam, as well as other anticonvulsants, are the first-line treatment for withdrawal seizures.
- medical supervision and monitoring: Medical supervision within a safe, secure setting can help to prevent, monitor, and treat severe alcohol withdrawal.
- aftercare support: After alcohol withdrawal ebbs, additional treatment for alcohol abuse or addiction may be recommended to help prevent a return to alcohol.
Additional prevention measures include:
- avoid alcohol use
- reduce your alcohol intake
- seek treatment for alcohol use disorder
Find An Alcohol Detox Center Near You
Detoxification is the first step in overcoming a chronic problem of alcohol abuse or addiction. Ideally, this should take place in a medically supervised setting, for optimal safety.
Don’t wait to seek help. Call our helpline today to learn more about alcohol withdrawal and how to find alcohol detox options at treatment centers near you.Article Sources
- American Family Physician — Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome
- ScienceDirect — Withdrawal Seizure - an overview
- U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) — Alcohol Facts and Statistics
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus — Delirium tremens