Alcoholic Seizures – Can Alcohol Trigger Seizures?

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Alcohol-related seizures are a type of convulsion that occurs in people with a history of heavy drinking or alcohol abuse. They usually happen when an alcoholic tries to cut back on their alcohol intake or quit cold turkey.

The seizures can be life-threatening if not addressed properly at the time. The person experiencing them should also seek help from a medical professional to avoid any risk of future complications.

Can Drinking Cause Alcoholic Seizures?

Normally, drinking small amounts of alcohol at a time shouldn’t cause alcohol seizures.

However, binge drinking (having 4-5 drinks in a span of two hours) often leads to a higher chance of experiencing a seizure.  

When this happens, your body doesn’t have enough time to process the amount of alcohol entering your system. The alcohol gets absorbed into the bloodstream, crosses the blood-brain barrier, and reaches the central nervous system, and that’s when the seizures can occur.

According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, people who drink at least 200 grams of alcohol daily are up to 20 times more likely to have a seizure.

If you suffer from epilepsy or any kind of seizure disorder, it’s difficult to estimate just how much alcohol might trigger your seizures. That’s why you should consult your healthcare provider before consuming any alcohol to assess your risk.

Types of Alcoholic Seizure

Alcohol-Induced Seizures

This type of alcoholic seizure usually happens during or shortly after you’ve had too much to drink. When you binge drink, the alcohol level in your bloodstream quickly rises, causing difficulty for the liver to process it before it causes brain toxicity.

Alcohol-induced seizures fall under a class of seizures called generalized tonic-clonic seizures. They involve powerful, violent muscle contractions, and the person will usually lose consciousness.

Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures

This type of seizure can happen if you suddenly decide to quit drinking after prolonged alcohol use. An alcohol withdrawal seizure is part of the alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

This syndrome happens when you’ve been drinking for such a long time that your body develops alcohol dependence. It becomes dependent on the presence of alcohol, and when you cut back, you start experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as:

  • Anxiety and irritability
  • High blood pressure and fast heartbeats
  • Nightmares, insomnia, and trouble breathing
  • Headache and confusion
  • Tremors and chills
  • Delirium tremens (rare symptom)

During the withdrawal period, which lasts for up to 4 days after quitting cold turkey, you’re much more likely to experience mild symptoms than you are to experience seizures. However, when you abuse alcohol or drink heavily, you have a higher chance of developing seizures related to withdrawal.

In fact, one study showed that heavy drinkers were 73% more likely to have a seizure in general compared to light and moderate drinkers. Heavy drinkers also had a 45% higher chance of an alcoholic seizure.  

The Science Behind Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures

Alcohol has a strong suppressive effect on your nervous system.

When you’ve been drinking for a long time, your central nervous system, especially the brain, gets used to these suppressive effects and adapts to them.

If you suddenly quit drinking, your nervous system becomes more prone to excitation by environmental stimuli, and that’s why seizures occur.

Timeline of Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures

Alcohol withdrawal seizures can happen relatively quickly, even in those who don’t have epilepsy or a preexisting seizure disorder.

A 2017 study showed that you might experience an alcoholic seizure as soon as 6-8 hours after your last drink. The study also highlighted that about 90% of people who experience these seizures do so within the first 48 hours of quitting.

Kindling Seizures 

This is a type of seizure that occurs when you go through alcohol withdrawal several times. The severity and frequency of this type of seizure increase each time you experience a withdrawal episode.

This is more common in people with a history of chronic alcohol consumption who have difficulty staying sober.

Status Epilepticus 

Status epilepticus is a life-threatening medical emergency that can cause permanent brain damage or death.

This type of seizure either lasts for more than five minutes or includes multiple seizures where you remain unconscious between episodes.

This type of seizure is rarely caused by chronic alcohol abuse or withdrawal. It can, however, start as a regular alcohol seizure and then develop into status epilepticus.

Signs and Symptoms of Alcoholic Seizures

People going through an alcoholic seizure might experience any of the following:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Convulsions
  • Uncontrolled movements
  • Involuntary urination or bowel movements
  • Confusion or disorientation

Are Alcoholic Seizures Fatal?

Most cases point to these seizures being dangerous but not fatal. However, there are certain cases where an alcohol-induced seizure may become life-threatening, such as when a seizure turns into status epilepticus.

Seizures can also be fatal if they happen while you’re driving, crossing the street, or in a similar situation.  

Another common problem with alcoholic seizures is that individuals who throw up while seizing may end up choking on their own vomit. They can also experience head trauma and concussion when hitting the hard ground.

That’s why it’s crucial in seizure first aid that you turn a person on their side and place a soft object under their heads to avoid these life-threatening injuries.

Treatment and Management of Alcoholic Seizures

The best way to prevent alcoholic seizures is to avoid drinking or lower your alcohol intake. If you’ve decided to quit alcohol, it’s better to join a medically supervised recovery program where healthcare providers can help you if you experience seizures.

They might give you medications such as:

  • Benzodiazepines (central nervous system depressants that reduce seizures)
  • Anti-epilepsy medications 
  • Propofol (a sedative)

Healthcare professionals in these rehab programs can also provide you with alcohol addiction medication to help you stay on the wagon.

Choose Sobriety to Prevent Alcohol Abuse Complications

If you’re worried about your risk of seizures or struggling with alcohol addiction, the best thing you can do to ensure your safety is to get help.

Talk to a healthcare provider or book an appointment with Curednation’s telemedicine services to start your recovery journey today.  

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