Drug and Alcohol

Alcohol Seizures: Understanding the Cause and Effects of Alcoholism Seizures 

Get The Truth About Alcohol Seizures

Can you drink yourself into a seizure? Alcohol seizures are a frightening (and deadly) complication of heavy alcohol use. Read more in our blog.

Written by

brian-mooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

jeremy-arztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

Drug and Alcohol

July 19, 2023

Alcohol seizures are a common consequence of long-term alcohol abuse or excessive drinking. Alcoholism can cause seizures by affecting the way nerve cells in the brain communicate with each other, leading to abnormalities in electrical activity that can trigger uncontrolled muscle spasms or other seizure-like symptoms.

Seizures from alcoholism are a serious risk of alcohol abuse. Often encountered during withdrawal from alcohol, alcoholism seizures can be extremely dangerous.

The cause of alcohol seizures is largely unknown, although researchers believe that chronic alcohol consumption can lead to changes in the brain that increase its vulnerability to seizures. This may be because long-term drinking affects the release of neurotransmitters in the brain which regulate electrical activity, and too much or too little of these chemicals can create an environment conducive for seizure activity.

Alcohol Seizures: Can Alcohol Cause Seizures?

Alcohol can cause seizures, mainly in individuals susceptible to alcohol withdrawal seizures or alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Alcohol withdrawal seizures may ensue when you abruptly stop or significantly reduce your alcohol intake after drinking for a long time.

Alcohol has a suppressive effect on the central nervous system (CNS), and prolonged and excessive alcohol use can lead to adaptations in the brain. When alcohol consumption suddenly stops, the brain's functioning can become hyper-excitable, leading to withdrawal symptoms, including seizures.

These alcohol seizures usually occur within 2 days after you stop consuming alcohol. They can manifest as generalized tonic-clonic seizures or grand mal seizures. They involve loss of consciousness, muscle rigidity, and convulsions and can be potentially deadly.

Alcohol withdrawal seizures are more likely to occur in individuals who have been involved in heavy and prolonged alcohol use, mainly folks who have developed alcohol dependence or alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Not everyone who consumes alcohol will experience seizures upon withdrawal.

Can I Get Alcohol Seizures if I Drink Moderately?

Moderate drinking isn’t likely to cause a seizure unless you have a condition that alcohol can make worse or are taking a prescription drug that interacts with alcohol.

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Can I Get Alcohol Seizures From Binge Drinking?

Yes. Binge drinking refers to drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time. Between four to five drinks inside a two-hour period is binge drinking.

When a person binge drinks, their body can’t process alcohol quickly enough, so it enters the bloodstream. This can affect the nervous system, resulting in seizures. Binge drinking can also cause alcohol poisoning.

Signs of Alcohol Seizures

Here are some common signs that may indicate the occurrence of an alcohol seizure:

Loss of Consciousness

During an alcohol seizure, you may lose or experience an altered level of consciousness.

Muscle Rigidity

Alcohol seizures often cause muscle rigidity, making the muscles tense and stiff. This rigidity can affect various muscle groups throughout our body.

Convulsions

Alcohol seizures may be characterized by involuntary movements, jerking, or twitching of the limbs, and rhythmic contractions of the muscles.

Uncontrolled Movements

Some people experiencing an alcohol seizure may exhibit uncontrolled movements of the arms, legs, or other body parts.

Involuntary Urination or Bowel Movements

Alcohol seizures can sometimes lead to involuntary urination or bowel movements due to losing control over the muscles involved in these bodily functions.

Confusion or Disorientation

After a seizure, you may also experience confusion, disorientation, or difficulty recalling the events that occurred during the alcohol seizure.

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What Are the Different Types of Alcohol Seizures?

Various types of seizures can occur in association with alcohol use; some of them are:

Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures

These seizures occur by stopping or significantly reducing alcohol consumption after heavy and prolonged drinking. They typically manifest as generalized tonic-clonic seizures or grand mal seizures. These seizures involve loss of consciousness, muscle rigidity, and convulsions and can cause death.

In addition to alcohol seizures, alcohol withdrawal has symptoms including:

  • Anxiety and confusion

  • High heart rate

  • Shaking

  • Mood swings

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Nightmares

Alcohol-Induced Seizures

These alcohol seizures can occur during or shortly after a drinking episode. They may be related to high levels of alcohol in the bloodstream and the direct effect of alcohol on the central nervous system. Alcohol-induced seizures are often generalized tonic-clonic seizures.

Kindling Seizures

Kindling refers to a phenomenon where repeated alcohol withdrawals increase the severity and frequency of seizures over time. With each withdrawal episode, the risk of experiencing seizures can increase. Kindling seizures can be more severe and prolonged than initial alcohol withdrawal seizures.

Status Epilepticus

Quite uncommon, but in a few cases, alcohol-induced seizures can develop into an ailment termed status epilepticus, a prolonged seizure lasting longer than five minutes or repeated seizures without full recovery of consciousness between episodes. 

Suppose you or someone you know is experiencing seizures or has a history of alcohol-related seizures. In that case, it is essential to consult a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and guidance regarding treatment and management.

What Does an Alcohol-Induced Seizure Look Like?

An alcohol-induced seizure can vary in presentation, but it typically manifests as a generalized tonic-clonic seizure, also known as a grand mal seizure. Here's a description of what an alcohol-induced seizure may look like:

Aura (Optional)

Some individuals may experience an aura, a subjective sensation, or a warning sign preceding the seizure. The aura can vary among individuals and may include feelings of unease, déjà vu, or unusual smells or tastes.

Loss of Consciousness

The seizure typically begins with a sudden loss of consciousness. You may become unresponsive and unaware of your surroundings.

Tonic Phase

The tonic phase is characterized by the sudden onset of muscle rigidity throughout the body. The person's muscles may become stiff, and they may arch their back or extend their limbs.

Clonic Phase

The clonic phase follows the tonic phase and involves rhythmic, jerking movements of the limbs. These movements can be violent and involve both the arms and legs. 

Breathing Irregularities

During the seizure, your breathing may become irregular or temporarily cease. You may also exhibit gasping or noisy breathing.

Cyanosis

Cyanosis, or bluish skin discoloration, may occur during the seizure due to inadequate oxygenation.

Involuntary Urination or Bowel Movements

Loss of bladder or bowel control may occur during the seizure due to the loss of muscle control.

Postictal Phase

After the seizure, you enter the postictal phase, a recovery period. During this phase, you may remain unconscious or gradually regain consciousness. Confusion, disorientation, fatigue, and headache are common during this phase.

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What Are Delirium Tremens (DTs)?

Delirium tremens (known better as the DTs) is a condition that’s caused when someone immediately stops drinking without tapering off. Lasting for around two weeks, this is an extremely dangerous condition that can be fatal.

Symptoms of DTs include:

  • Body pains

  • Sleep disorders

  • Extreme mood swings

  • Extreme sweating

  • Confusion and stupor

  • Body aches

  • Fever

  • Alcohol seizures

A person detoxing from alcohol should always do it with medical professionals. A detox center makes alcohol detox far safer.

Is There Any Relation Between Alcohol Seizures and Brain Damage?

Yes, there is a potential relationship between alcohol seizures and brain damage. Regular alcohol abuse can harm the brain, particularly through repeated or persistent seizures, further contributing to brain damage.

Excitotoxicity

Seizures cause excessive and abnormal electrical activity in the brain. This abnormal activity can lead to a phenomenon called excitotoxicity, where there is a disproportionate release of neurotransmitters (such as glutamate) that can cause damage to brain cells. Excitotoxicity can contribute to neuronal injury and cell death.

Hypoxia

During a seizure, there may be interruptions in oxygen supply to the brain due to irregular breathing patterns or impaired blood flow. Prolonged or severe hypoxia (oxygen deprivation) can lead to brain damage, including neuronal death and impaired cognitive functioning.

Status Epilepticus

Status epilepticus is when people experience seizures for an extended period or in rapid succession without full recovery between episodes. This state of continuous or recurrent seizures can become a major medical emergency. If not promptly treated, status epilepticus can cause significant brain damage and increase the risk of long-term cognitive impairment.

Kindling Effect

Kindling refers to the phenomenon where repeated seizures can sensitize the brain, making it more susceptible to future seizures. With each subsequent seizure, the risk of brain damage may increase. This kindling effect can be particularly relevant in individuals with a history of alcohol withdrawal seizures.

Underlying Structural Abnormalities

In some cases, chronic alcohol use can lead to underlying structural abnormalities in the brain, such as brain shrinkage (cerebral atrophy) or brain lesions. These abnormalities may increase the susceptibility to seizures and contribute to an increased risk of brain damage.

The risk and extent of brain damage related to alcohol seizures can vary among individuals. Factors such as the frequency, severity, and duration of seizures, individual susceptibility, overall health, and other co-existing conditions can influence the potential for brain damage.

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Can Alcohol Seizures Cause Death?

Yes, alcohol seizures can potentially cause death, particularly in certain circumstances. Following are a few factors that can contribute to the risk of fatality associated with alcohol seizures:

Status Epilepticus

If alcohol withdrawal seizures progress to status epilepticus, where prolonged or repeated seizures occur without recovery of consciousness between episodes, it can become a life-threatening condition. Status epilepticus requires immediate medical intervention to prevent severe complications, including brain damage and death.

Respiratory Distress

During a seizure, breathing irregularities or temporary cessation of breathing can occur. If breathing is severely compromised or prolonged, it can lead to hypoxia (lack of oxygen) and respiratory failure, which can be fatal.

Aspiration

Seizures can cause uncontrolled muscle movements, including those involved in swallowing. If an individual experiences a seizure while consuming alcohol or shortly after, there is a risk of aspirating (inhaling) vomit or fluid into the lungs. Aspiration can lead to pneumonia or other respiratory complications that may be fatal.

Co-Existing Health Conditions

If you suffer from pre-existing medical conditions or compromised health, such as respiratory disorders, cardiovascular disease, or neurological conditions, you may be at higher risk of severe complications or death due to alcohol seizures.

Alcohol seizures can be serious and potentially fatal, but not everyone who experiences alcohol seizures will die as a result. Prompt medical attention and appropriate management of alcohol withdrawal seizures are crucial in mitigating the risks of experiencing alcohol-induced seizures. 

Treatment for Alcohol Seizures

The treatment for alcohol seizures typically involves a combination of medical interventions and supportive care. The primary goals of treatment are to manage the acute seizure episode, prevent complications, address underlying alcohol-related issues, and provide support for long-term recovery. Let us look at some common approaches to treating alcohol seizures:

Medical Evaluation

A thorough medical evaluation is essential to assess the individual's overall health, identify any underlying conditions, and determine the appropriate course of treatment. This evaluation may involve physical examinations, laboratory tests, and neurological assessments.

Seizure Management

During an active alcohol seizure, ensuring the safety of the affected person is crucial. Health experts may provide interventions to protect the person from injury, such as placing them in a safe position and removing potential hazards. Emergency medical attention is required if the seizure lasts longer than a few minutes or progresses to status epilepticus.

Medications

In cases of alcohol withdrawal seizures, some medicines may be suggested to manage the acute seizure episode and prevent further seizures. Benzodiazepines, such as diazepam or lorazepam, are commonly used to control alcohol-induced withdrawal seizures.

Alcohol Withdrawal Management

Alongside seizure management, addressing alcohol withdrawal symptoms is important. Healthcare professionals may develop a personalized withdrawal management plan involving medications, such as benzodiazepines or anticonvulsants, to manage withdrawal symptoms and prevent further seizures.

Supportive Care

Supportive care focuses on providing an individual with a safe and supportive environment. This may include monitoring vital signs, maintaining hydration and nutrition, and addressing associated complications or medical issues.

Addressing Underlying Alcohol Issues

Treating alcohol seizures often involves addressing underlying alcohol-related problems, such as alcohol dependence or alcohol use disorder (AUD). This may involve various interventions, including counseling, psychotherapy, support groups, and substance abuse treatment programs tailored to the individual's needs.

Alcoholism Seizures: Why Do People Continue To Drink?

Everyone knows that alcohol is harmful to our health…especially for those affected by alcoholism. Yet people with dangerous drinking habits still continue to drink.

Why?

According to scholars, there can be several reasons why we continue to consume alcohol, even with knowledge of its adverse effects. Various social, cultural, psychological, and personal factors influence each individual's motivations and behaviors.

Here are some common reasons why we may continue consuming alcohol even after knowing its negative after-effects:

Social and Cultural Factors

Alcohol consumption is deeply ingrained in many cultures and societies. It is often associated with socializing, celebrations, and rituals. Often, we feel pressure to conform to social norms or engage in drinking activities to connect with others or fit in.

Pleasure and Relaxation

Alcohol can produce pleasurable effects, such as relaxation, euphoria, and a temporary escape from stress or problems. Some folks may consume alcohol to unwind, have fun, or temporarily alleviate negative emotions.

Habit and Addiction

Regular drinking can lead to the development of habits and addiction. Alcohol addiction, or alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a complex condition involving physical dependence, psychological cravings, and difficulty controlling alcohol intake. Once you get addicted to abusing alcohol, quitting it can be difficult without professional intervention. 

Coping Mechanism

Some of us may use alcohol to cope with underlying emotional or psychological issues, such as anxiety, depression, or trauma. We use alcohol as a self-medication to temporarily alleviate our distressing feelings or escape reality. Alcohol can temporarily escape personal problems, stress, or difficult life circumstances. It can create a sense of numbness or detachment from reality, offering a temporary respite from emotional or psychological distress.

Advertising and Media Influence

Alcohol advertising and media portrayals often associate alcohol with desirable qualities, such as attractiveness, sociability, and success. These messages can influence perceptions and create an allure around alcohol consumption.

Lack of Awareness or Denial

Some individuals may not fully comprehend the long-term health consequences of excessive alcohol use. They may underestimate the risks or believe the adverse effects won't happen to them personally. In some cases, denial can also play a role, where individuals may rationalize or minimize the adverse effects of their drinking behavior.

Peer Pressure

Peer pressure can significantly influence our alcohol consumption. We feel compelled to drink in social settings to avoid being labeled as weird, aloof, or "not good company."

While many of us abuse alcohol, some people choose not to drink or consume alcohol in moderation, fittingly recognizing its potential risks. Personal choices regarding alcohol use are influenced by individual and external influences. Still, the truth stands that alcohol, in large quantities, is unhealthy for our bodies.

Need Help Controlling Your Drinking? Reach Out Today to The Edge Treatment Center

Alcohol, as we all know, can be one of the worst things for our health – both physical and mental. And because of its effects, it can be very addictive. Due in part to alcohol seizures, alcohol addiction can be lethal if left untreated.

Like every other form of substance abuse, alcoholism can convince a person they’re alone. They’re not. Alcoholism is treatable, and there’s no reason to go through it alone. The team of expert healthcare professionals and addiction specialists at The Edge Treatment Center can help you stop abusing alcohol.

Guided by a trauma-informed philosophy, our warm, welcoming center is the ideal place to explore and treat the roots of alcoholism. With our team acting as companions, there’s no better way to get treated for alcohol abuse.

The life you truly deserve is within your grasp. Reach out to The Edge Treatment Center today and learn more about our effective, proven alcohol addiction treatment programs.

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