Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures: Causes and Symptoms

Every year in the US, two million people stop drinking and go through alcohol withdrawal. About 200,000 of them will have alcohol withdrawal seizures, which can be extremely dangerous and potentially fatal. Those who drink alcohol sparingly are generally not at risk of developing withdrawal symptoms or seizures upon stopping. In contrast, people with alcohol use disorders encounter distinct challenges when they choose to discontinue their alcohol consumption.

Alcohol withdrawal can present significant challenges and unpredictability, particularly for people who have been drinking over an extended period or have experienced withdrawal previously. To stop drinking, talk to doctors about programs to help with alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Seeking out medical advice is crucial. Such programs help in reducing the risk of withdrawal seizures and other potentially hazardous side effects.

Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures

Alcohol withdrawal seizures represent a severe risk for people with alcohol use disorder who abruptly cease drinking. Data from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) indicates that 10% of people experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms may have seizures. This risk is higher for those not receiving medical assistance during the withdrawal process.

Alcohol withdrawal seizures are a specific kind called tonic-clonic seizures. These seizures are also known as generalized or grand mal seizures.

They involve the whole brain and make the body go stiff and jerk. These seizures can come from injuries, genetic issues, and alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Usually, if someone is going to have seizures from stopping drinking, it happens within the first 48 hours after they stop.

What Causes Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures?

Alcohol withdrawal seizures are a result of a significant and abrupt shift in the brain’s chemical equilibrium. Prolonged excessive alcohol consumption results in changes to the brain and central nervous system. Changes impact GABA neurotransmitters, which are important for communication between the brain and spinal cord.

Alcohol acts as a sedative by slowing down GABA transmitters. As someone drinks heavily over time or goes on repeated alcohol binge drinking sprees, the body adapts to this to keep working right. The body breaks down the alcohol, leading to withdrawal symptoms when it is not replaced. Then, the brain works extra hard to compensate for the absence of alcohol, producing an excess of GABA that can lead to seizures.

Not everyone showing signs of alcohol withdrawal will have seizures, but some factors can increase seizure probabilities

Factors that amplify the likelihood of seizures during alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Age
  • Using nicotine
  • Genetics
  • Having other seizure disorders
  • Head injuries
  • Past tries to stop drinking

People who have experienced multiple withdrawal attempts are at a higher risk for seizures because of kindling syndrome. This condition involves heightened sensitivity and reactivity of the brain and central nervous system to chemical imbalances.

When neuroreceptors are compromised, they get damaged more quickly and severely, like lighting wet grass in a drought. This means the damage is worse than if the neuroreceptors were functioning properly. In this situation, the neuroreceptors suffer more severe effects than when they are not compromised.

Certified alcohol abuse treatment programs have special rules to spot risk factors. They have trained professionals ready to treat alcohol withdrawal seizures and other symptoms of alcohol withdrawal safely and correctly.

withdrawal symptoms of alcohol

Withdrawal Symptoms of Alcohol

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal may begin within six hours of consuming the last alcoholic beverage. The timing and how bad these symptoms are can change a lot from one person to another. How much and how often someone drinks alcohol are key factors that influence these differences.

Many people who frequently drink socially may develop dependence but not addiction, experiencing only mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms. The more someone drinks heavily, the worse their withdrawal symptoms can be. This applies to binge drinkers and those with chronic alcohol problems.

Drinking heavily for a long time can lead to more severe withdrawal symptoms. This also heightens their risk of experiencing seizures and delirium tremens (DTs).

Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome Symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) is when someone has terrible effects after they stop drinking alcohol. AWS is not the same as a hangover. This includes symptoms that can last for a few days to weeks and could potentially be deadly.

When someone stops drinking alcohol, they might feel:

  • A headache
  • Sweaty
  • Stomach troubles
  • Worried
  • Sad
  • Sick to their stomach
  • Like throwing up
  • Chilly
  • Body pains
  • Sore muscles
  • Changes in how fast their heartbeats, their blood pressure, and how warm or cold they feel
  • A strong want for alcohol
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Very tired
  • They may see things that aren’t there
  • They could have seizures

Alcohol Withdrawal Seizure Symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal seizures are the most common type of seizure associated with this topic. They also go by the name “tonic-clonic episodes.” People often think of these seizures when discussing alcohol withdrawal. Typically, these seizures manifest within the initial 48 hours following the cessation of drinking.

People experiencing an alcohol withdrawal seizure may exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Unconsciousness
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Audible crying or groaning because of air expulsion from the throat
  • Drooling, which may include blood if the inside of the mouth or tongue is bitten
  • Tremors in the arms and legs
  • Cyclical contraction and relaxation of the joints
  • Eyes rolling back, remaining half-open, or appearing unresponsive
  • Potential incontinence of bladder or bowels
  • Gradual return to consciousness
  • Confusion
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Severe headache
  • Drowsiness

Seizures are inherently hazardous, particularly for people without a previous history of such episodes. Any seizure persisting longer than five minutes necessitates urgent medical intervention. Getting medical help is important if the person does not wake up or has more than one seizure quickly.

What Is Delirium Tremens?

Half of people with withdrawal seizures may develop delirium tremens, which can be deadly. Delirium tremens is highly critical and carries a death rate of 15% among the impacted people.

If someone experiences alcohol withdrawal seizures, they should immediately go to the hospital. This is important to prevent delirium tremens, which can be fatal. Delirium tremens is a severe condition that can result from alcohol withdrawal seizures. Seeking medical help promptly can save a person’s life.

Signs of delirium tremens include:

  • Constant shaking and tremors
  • Severe confusion or not making sense
  • Seeing, hearing, smelling, or feeling things that aren’t there
  • Heavy sweating for a long time
  • Irregular or fast heartbeat
  • Seizures
  • Coma

Delirium tremens require medical professionals to stabilize the person, a process that can take several days. Watching a loved one suffer while trying to improve their life can be distressing, but it may be an opportune moment to discuss treatment programs with them.

alcohol withdrawal treatment

Alcohol Withdrawal Treatment

The first step in addressing alcohol addiction and withdrawal is to focus on the physical effects of alcohol. Ensuring the person’s safety during this process is important. Once you or your loved one is stable, the subsequent efforts to overcome alcohol use disorder can commence.

At Northridge Addiction Treatment Center, we focus on your safety during detox and preparing you for life after treatment. We use a holistic approach to help you develop the skills needed for long-term recovery.

Medical Detox

Inpatient medical detox programs offer a tranquil environment with medical support and attention throughout the withdrawal process. Some people may need medication to alleviate more severe symptoms. Psychological symptoms and cravings are also addressed with proper guidance and support. Northridge Addiction Treatment Center provides onsite medical detox with 24-hour care.

Research consistently indicates that a secure and comfortable detoxification process, coupled with extensive treatment plans, diminishes the chances of a relapse and enhances people’s commitment to sustaining their recovery.

Family Therapy

Family counseling aids in restoring communication and trust among family members impacted by a relative’s alcohol misuse. A neutral setting allows the person beginning their recovery to work on making amends for past behaviors, while those hurt in the past can express their feelings and be understood. Building solid and wholesome connections is vital for sustained progress in rehabilitation. At Northridge Addiction Treatment Center, we have experienced, licensed family therapists who are skilled at handling various dynamics and providing constructive support in a safe environment.

Group Therapy

Group therapy fosters a sense of community and understanding, providing perspective and insight from others facing similar struggles. This aids in reducing the sense of loneliness and shame that numerous people encounter when battling addiction.

A supportive community and a feeling of inclusion boost self-esteem and the drive to sustain recovery. While you’re at Northridge Addiction Treatment Center, you’ll be given the choice to engage in supervised group therapy with other residents alongside one-on-one sessions.

Inpatient Alcohol Treatment at Northridge Addiction Treatment Center

Residential addiction treatment has many benefits, like starting fresh in a caring and supportive place. Here, people can focus on getting better without the temptations and stress of everyday life. The structured schedule includes time for fun and relaxation, helping them learn healthy habits and new routines. Our dedicated and caring staff always offers extra support and motivation.

We offer at Northridge Addiction Treatment Center detailed, evidence-based treatments for alcohol addiction to meet each person’s unique needs and goals. Contact us today to explore your treatment options and start your journey toward a life rooted in recovery.

Find Meaningful Recovery

Our caring and compassionate specialists are eager to help you comfortably navigate this journey to recovery. Our individualized treatment plan, programs, and therapies may be a perfect match for you or your loved one. Let us assist you in living the happy life you deserve. It starts with a phone call.

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