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  • Understanding Alcoholic Seizures

    Published on July 23, 2021
    Understanding Alcoholic Seizures

    Seizures can sometimes occur because of alcohol abuse. Alcoholic seizures are a side effect that’s likely due to alcohol withdrawal

    Those who participate in heavy alcohol consumption and those who suffer from alcohol dependence have an increased risk of seizures. In order to better understand the reasons why seizures can occur, it’s important to understand the relationship between alcohol use and seizures.

    The Relationship Between Alcohol & Seizures

    Alcohol-related seizures may occur when a person participates in heavy drinking or binge drinking. Those who stop drinking abruptly may also experience seizures.

    For instance, when a person drinks, the seizure threshold is raised. That threshold begins to decline once the drinking has stopped. 

    If a person has epilepsy, their threshold for alcohol is much lower than that of someone who hasn’t been diagnosed with epilepsy. 

    How Alcohol Affects The Brain

    Alcohol binds to the NMDA and GABA receptors in the brain. These mechanisms influence the seizure threshold. When a person suffering from alcohol addiction has prolonged intoxication, their central nervous system (CNS) begins to adapt to the effects of alcohol. 

    Because of this, a person may develop tolerance to alcohol. After a large amount of alcohol adapts to the brain and the person stops drinking, seizures can occur. 

    Once alcohol intake has stopped, the brain’s neurons will likely fire rapidly since the chemicals in the brain have changed so quickly. 

    Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures

    Alcohol withdrawal may take place between 6 to 48 hours after the person has had their last drink. During this time, withdrawal symptoms, including seizures, are more likely to occur.

    Some of the alcohol withdrawal symptoms you may experience alongside seizures include:

    • sweating
    • nausea
    • loss of appetite
    • vomiting
    • increased heart rate
    • insomnia
    • headaches
    • irritability

    Delirium Tremens 

    In addition to these symptoms, alcohol withdrawal can lead to delirium tremens (DTs) which can be life-threatening and cause other symptoms such as:

    • confusion
    • tremors
    • agitation
    • fatigue
    • more seizures
    • hallucinations

    Some may develop alcohol withdrawal syndrome which may require urgent medical attention. You may need to undergo detoxification and speak with your healthcare provider immediately.

    Other Types Of Seizures

    There are a few different types of seizures that are important to know—especially if you or a loved one have experienced alcohol-related seizures and their side effects.

    Drinking alcohol in excessive amounts and then abruptly stopping isn’t the only way that seizures can occur. However, those who have alcohol-related seizures may develop status epilepticus, which means you may have multiple seizures within a short time frame. 

    For those dealing with alcohol-related seizures, the most common are tonic-clonic seizures. These seizures are characterized by convulsions and muscle stiffness. 

    There are also types of seizures that can be brought on by:

    • brain tumors or lesions
    • genetics
    • brain abnormalities
    • ​stroke
    • infections
    • heart attack

    Treating Alcoholic Seizures

    Doctors may use an electroencephalogram, also known as an EEG, to check for problems with the brain. They may also treat you with anti-epileptic drugs or even benzodiazepines to help manage your symptoms.

    Your mental health is also extremely important, so doctors may refer you to addiction treatment. Treatment programs likely include behavioral therapy, peer support, and short-term detox programs to help you manage withdrawal symptoms. 

    If you need help for substance use or alcohol abuse, please connect with our helpline today. 

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2023 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.
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