Can Alcohol Withdrawal Cause Seizures?

Compensatory upregulation of NMDA and kainate receptors as well as calcium channels also have been implicated in alcohol dependence and withdrawal seizures. The relevance of this mechanism is highlighted by the fact that NMDA-receptor antagonists are highly effective anticonvulsants in animal models of alcohol withdrawal seizures . Rodent models that mimic human alcohol withdrawal–related tonic–clonic seizures have been useful in defining the physiologic mechanisms underlying ethanol withdrawal seizures . In these models, animals are exposed to alcohol by intragastric intubation, inhalation, or feeding in a nutritionally complete liquid diet for periods of 2 to 21 days. The animals exhibit sound-evoked audiogenic seizures or handling-induced convulsions during the 1- to 3-day period after cessation of alcohol intake and may also experience spontaneous generalized seizures. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur when patients stop drinking or significantly decrease their alcohol intake after long-term dependence. Withdrawal has a broad range of symptoms from mild tremors to a condition called delirium tremens, which results in seizures and could progress to death if not recognized and treated promptly.

alcohol withdrawal seizure

16.Sullivan SM, Dewey BN, Jarrell DH, Vadiei N, Patanwala AE. Comparison of phenobarbital-adjunct versus benzodiazepine-only approach for alcohol withdrawal syndrome in the ED. In people with milder levels of alcohol dependence, these may be the only symptoms they experience. Less commonly, a person experiencing alcohol withdrawal may have a partial seizure, also known as a focal seizure, in which only part of the brain is affected. These types of seizures can include numbness and tingling, abnormal muscle contractions or staring spells. People with alcohol use disorder are at high-risk for withdrawal symptoms.

What Is Alcohol Withdrawal?

Patients with alcoholic hallucinosis experience visual, auditory, or tactile hallucinations but otherwise have a clear sensorium. If yourblood pressure, pulse, or body temperature rises, or if you have more serious symptoms likeseizuresand hallucinations, seek medical care immediately . Typically, alcohol withdrawal symptoms happen for heavier drinkers. Alcohol withdrawal can begin within hours of ending a drinking session. A focal finding on the neurologic examination, or a focal seizure, the physician should consider other possible causes besides alcohol.

When GABA comes to bind to the nerve cell, it opens up a channel to a negative charge that slows down brain activity. Alcohol and other central nervous system depressants keep that channel open, causing more intense sedating effects. There is no evidence that alcohol-related seizures confer additional maternal or fetal risk, over and above those of alcohol abuse and seizures independently. This article deals only with seizures occurring during alcohol withdrawal in adults. All adult patients arriving to the emergency room with a seizure should be questioned about alcohol intake history. Although the significance of kindling in alcohol withdrawal is debated, this phenomenon may be important in the selection of medications to treat withdrawal. If certain medications decrease the kindling effect, they may become preferred agents.

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It’s also recommended that family members engage in some type of therapy or support to help them take care of themselves and help them return to “normal” family roles. A tonic-clonic seizure usually lasts 1 to 3 minutes and takes longer for the person to recover.

alcohol withdrawal seizure

Lorazepam and oxazepam are intermediate-acting medications with excellent records of efficacy. Treatment with these agents may be preferable in patients who metabolize medications less effectively, particularly the elderly and those with liver failure. Lorazepam is the only benzodiazepine with predictable intramuscular absorption . While many people consider alcohol to be a “safe drug,” it can induce seizures. What counts here is not alcohol consumption, per se, but the quantity of alcohol consumed. It’s important to know that alcohol effects the brain, acting as a depressant to the central nervous system.

NEW STUDY: 1 in 5 deaths among U.S. adults 20 to 49 are from excessive drinking

Drinking alcohol in small amounts generally does not trigger seizures, but seizures can result from alcohol withdrawal. Grand mal seizures are another manifestation of alcohol withdrawal. “Withdrawal” seizures may occur 6 to 72 hours later, after drinking has stopped. Doctors and pharmacists are always warning alcohol withdrawal seizure people with epilepsy about alcohol. If you have epilepsy, drinking alcohol can have serious consequences. Most people with epilepsy are told to not drink, but that’s not always realistic. Continued use of benzodiazepines may impair recovery from psychomotor and cognitive impairments from alcohol.

  • If you’re dependent on alcohol, you may need to go through a tapering period with the help of a doctor.
  • The anxiety of not knowing how to talk about my relationship to alcohol became the focus, instead of honestly examining how I was drinking.
  • Healthline has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations.
  • They should not be taken until alcohol withdrawal has already started.
  • Intravenous fluids should not be administered routinely in patients with less severe withdrawal, because these patients may become overhydrated.
  • ED clinicians are responsible for risk-stratifying patients under time and resource constraints and must reliably identify those who are safe for outpatient management versus those who require more intensive levels of care.

You may be given anxiolytic and sedative medications to help overcome the anxiety and insomnia that is common with alcohol withdrawal. Drugs like benzodiazepines are often used to treat alcohol withdrawal, and they can also be used to taper you off alcohol.


After the seizure, you should position them on their side and ensure that their airway is clear while waiting for emergency assistance. When alcohol is stopped suddenly or is reduced by large amounts over a short period of time, a seizure may occur. The withdrawal seizures are provoked by the alcohol withdrawal and are not due to epilepsy itself. Six to 12 hours after the ingestion of the last drink, withdrawal symptoms such as shaking, headache, sweating, anxiety, nausea or vomiting may occur.

  • Nearly half of seizure admissions to a city hospital were attributable to alcohol withdrawal.
  • Withdrawal is something that happens when your body has become dependent on the presence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Drinking in situations where it is physically dangerous to do so or being in unsafe situations because of drinking .
  • We described the many different types and categories of seizures beforehand, so we won’t rehash that here.
  • A patient who has had a seizure should be observed in the hospital for at least 24 hours afterward.

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