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Can Alcohol Withdrawal Cause Seizures?

man with hand on head wondering if alcohol withdrawal can cause seizures

Taking the courageous first step toward recovery from alcohol use disorder is commendable, but it’s crucial to be aware of potential challenges, including alcohol withdrawal symptoms. One of the more serious complications is the risk of seizures during alcohol withdrawal. An estimated 2 million Americans suffer the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal every year, and up to one-third of those people may experience alcohol withdrawal seizures (also called tonic-clonic seizures, or convulsions). In this article, we’ll delve into the dynamics of alcohol withdrawal seizures, what they can look like, provide answers for the question, “Can Alcohol withdrawal cause seizures?” and what an individual can expect when potentially facing one. We’ll also shed some light on treatments and support available for individuals suffering from alcohol use disorder, and ways we can support you on your journey at Serenity Grove. 

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol abuse, Serenity Grove can help. Our alcohol rehab in Georgia has helped hundreds of people get back on track to recovery. Call us now at 844-904-3485.

Can Alcohol Withdrawal cause Seizures?

Alcohol withdrawal seizures are a manifestation of the body’s response to suddenly decreasing or ceasing alcohol intake after a period of heavy and prolonged consumption. These seizures typically occur within the first 48 hours of the last drink, though they may occur at any point during the initial week of withdrawal, and their severity can vary from mild to more intense convulsions. The tonic-clonic seizure is commonly associated with the term “seizure” in popular understanding, and is most often what people are referring to when discussing seizures. The term “tonic-clonic” is derived from merging the features of tonic and clonic seizures. Tonic denotes stiffness, while clonic implies rhythmic jerking. 

What Does a Seizure Look Like?

Seizures during alcohol withdrawal can take various forms. They may involve muscle rigidity, convulsions, loss of consciousness, and uncontrollable shaking. It’s essential to note that the appearance of seizures can be alarming and requires immediate medical attention. Most tonic-clonic seizures follow a general pattern: 

  • Tonic Phase:

    • Begins on both sides of the brain, with the potential to start on one side and spread.
    • Muscles become completely stiff.
    • A cry or groaning sound may occur.
    • Loss of consciousness leads to falling down.
    • Potential for biting tongue or cheek, resulting in bloody saliva.
  • Clonic Phase:

    • Rapid and rhythmic jerking of arms and usually legs, bending at hips, knees, and elbows.
    • Jerking slows and stops after a few minutes.
    • Face may appear blue or darkish if breathing is challenging.
    • Loss of bowel or bladder control as the body relaxes.
    • Consciousness gradually returns after the seizure.
  • Duration and Recovery:

    • Tonic-clonic seizures typically last 1 to 3 minutes.

Recovery may take longer, and individuals may feel sleepy, confused, depressed, or irritable afterward.

  • Emergency Situations:

    • A seizure lasting more than 5 minutes requires immediate medical help – call 911.
    • Three seizures in a row without regaining consciousness between, or a seizure lasting more than 5 minutes, is a dangerous condition known as “status epilepticus,” demanding hospital emergency treatment.

Why Do Alcohol Seizures Happen?

Alcohol affects the central nervous system, and prolonged alcohol use can lead to changes in the brain’s functioning. When alcohol intake suddenly stops, the brain undergoes a state of hyperactivity, resulting in seizures. The severity of withdrawal symptoms, including seizures, is often influenced by factors such as the duration and intensity of alcohol consumption.

The Kindling Effect

The kindling effect refers to the phenomenon where repeated episodes of alcohol withdrawal increase the likelihood and severity of subsequent withdrawal symptoms, including seizures. The underlying idea is that each withdrawal episode serves as a stimulus (or “kindling”) to the brain. As these incidents accumulate, the threshold for experiencing seizures is reduced.This underscores the importance of seeking professional assistance to manage alcohol withdrawal safely.

Delirium Tremens (DTs)

In severe cases of alcohol withdrawal, individuals may experience delirium tremens (DTs). Experiencing a seizure during alcohol withdrawal increases the likelihood of developing DTs, which are typically the most severe aspect of the withdrawal process. If DTs occur, they usually manifest approximately 3 to 5 days after the last drink, and are characterized by severe confusion, hallucinations, fever, and cardiovascular instability. DTs pose a significant risk and require immediate medical attention.

A Few Facts About Alcohol and Seizures

Timing of Seizures: Alcohol withdrawal seizures typically occur within the first 48 hours of abstinence but can manifest up to a week after the last drink.

Individual Variability: Not everyone undergoing alcohol withdrawal will experience seizures, and the risk varies among individuals.

Underlying Health Conditions: Pre-existing health conditions, such as epilepsy, may increase the risk of seizures during alcohol withdrawal.

Treatment Options for Alcohol Use Disorder

Addressing alcohol use disorder involves a comprehensive approach to manage withdrawal symptoms and support long-term recovery. Treatment options include:

  • Medical Alcohol Detox: Supervised medical detox helps manage withdrawal symptoms, reducing the risk of complications such as seizures, and aim to provide compassionate support that helps prepare the patient for further recovery.
  • Medications: An assortment of medications may be prescribed to alleviate withdrawal symptoms and prevent seizures. Benzodiazepines are commonly considered to be the drugs of choice to treat alcohol withdrawal and to help prevent seizures, though many other medications are available for specific symptoms.
  • Residential Treatment: Inpatient programs offer a structured environment for individuals to focus on recovery. They are able to provide continuous short-term medical and therapeutic support to individuals around the clock.
  • Outpatient Rehab Programs: Outpatient programs provide flexibility for those with milder withdrawal symptoms, offering counseling and support while allowing individuals to live at home.

Types of Therapies To Treat Alcohol Addiction

  • Individual Counseling: One-on-one counseling helps individuals explore the root causes of their alcohol use and develop coping strategies.
  • Group Therapy: Group sessions provide a supportive environment where individuals can share experiences, receive encouragement, and build connections.
  • Family Therapy: Involving family members in the recovery process can enhance support systems and address familial dynamics related to alcohol use.
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT helps individuals identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with alcohol use.
  • Holistic Therapies: These can include treatments such as mindfulness practices, meditation, yoga, and physical expression to address the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of recovery.

Find Alcohol Detox in Georgia Today!

Understanding the risk of alcohol withdrawal seizures emphasizes the need for professional support during the recovery process. At Serenity Grove, we prioritize the safety and well-being of individuals, offering comprehensive care to guide them toward lasting recovery. If you or someone you know is navigating the challenges of alcohol use disorder or concerns about withdrawal symptoms, Serenity Grove in Athens, Georgia, is here to provide compassionate and effective support. Remember, seeking help is a courageous step towards a healthier and more fulfilling life. You are not alone in this journey!