What Are The Features Of Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures?

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This is when you may experience the most uncomfortable of withdrawal symptoms, such as insomnia, rapid heartbeat, changes in blood pressure, sweating, tremors, and fever. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome occurs when a person abruptly stops drinking after heavy alcohol use and may trigger life-threatening health complications. However, only about every second person living with an alcohol use disorder will develop symptoms due to alcohol withdrawal when drinking is strongly alcohol withdrawal seizures reduced or stopped. Jose R. Maldonado, MD, FAPM, FACFE, is a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University Medical Center. He is also the medical director of psychosomatic medicine and chief of psychiatric emergency services and transplant psychiatry at Stanford University Medical Center. Dr. Maldonado’s research focuses primarily on solid organ transplantation, delirium, and neuropathophysiology of alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

These are the seizures you see on TV where the person falls to the ground in convulsions. As you can imagine, falling can result in injury – anything from a scraped knee to a severe concussion.

Cigarette smoking may slow down or interfere with recovery of brain pathways in recovering individuals with an alcohol use disorder. This may occur following a planned or unplanned decrease in alcohol intake.

But then, on day 3 or 4, sudden severe withdrawal symptoms might emerge. In most patients with mild to moderate withdrawal symptoms, outpatient detoxification is safe and effective, and costs less than inpatient treatment. Treatment of alcohol withdrawal syndrome should be followed by treatment for alcohol dependence.

Clinical Features

In their role as gatekeepers to systems of care, ED clinicians should also be familiar with levels of care and behavioral interventions available to patients with AUD. Patients who are actively seizing should be immediately treated with benzodiazepines until cessation of seizure activity is achieved. Typical starting doses are 5–10 mg intravenous of diazepam and of 2–4 mg of lorazepam, which can be repeated in 5–10 mins. Midazolam can be given intramuscularly at a dose of 2–4 mg if IV access has not been secured.4,37 The specific agent often varies by institution. Most importantly, the selected agent should be the most readily available.

alcohol withdrawal seizures

The primary debate between use of long-acting benzodiazepines and short-acting is that of ease of use. Longer-acting drugs, such as diazepam, can be administered less frequently.

Prevention Of Further Drinking

While some people have specific triggers, for most people, there’s no known cause for these seizures. However, we do know of some things that can lead to this experience. Focal seizures stem from abnormal electrical activity focused on one area of the brain. Some people may lose consciousness while others remain conscious. Other reasons people turn to alcohol are to lower their inhibitions and because they think drinking will allow them to have more fun. Since the 1950s, scientists have been trying to determine the answer to this question. Researchers say there are two main reasons people drink – they turn to alcohol to cope with stress, or because of influences from their social circle.

  • Davies M. The role of GABAA receptors in mediating the effects of alcohol in the central nervous system.
  • You’ll likely begin to feel better between five to seven days after you stop drinking, though some symptoms—like changes in sleep patterns, fatigue, and mood swings—can last for weeks or months.
  • Cleveland Clinic cautions that those with epilepsy have much lower thresholds when it comes to alcohol tolerance and that these people are more likely to experience seizures as a part of alcohol withdrawal.
  • One randomized controlled trial 19 affirmed previous findings that carbamazepine is an effective alternative to benzodiazepines in the treatment of alcohol withdrawal syndrome in patients with mild to moderate symptoms.

Do not mix anti-seizure medication and alcohol without first speaking to a physician. The diagnostic yield for CT following a first alcohol-related seizure is high. A 1988 Denver study reported head CT scan results in 259 patients with a first alcohol-related convulsion. A clinically significant lesion was found in 16 (6.2%) patients, seven of whom were alert and had nonfocal neurologic examinations and no history of trauma. In these patients, the history and physical examination did not predict the CT abnormality. This study highlights the need to strongly consider neuroimaging in this special group of patients. During this time, it is best that you stay with family or friends who can help and support you.

Outpatient Treatment

The most commonly used agents are long-acting benzodiazepines, such as chlordiazepoxide and diazepam. These are believed Addiction to be superior to other benzodiazepines for treatment of delirium and allow for longer periods between doses.

alcohol withdrawal seizures

The provider will need to make sure you do not have a seizure disorder. Gessner PK. Failure of diphenylhydantoin to prevent alcohol withdrawal convulsions in mice.

How COVID-19 Has Impacted Alcohol AbuseAs the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the numbers of alcohol abuse have continued to rise, causing concern across America. MDCalc loves calculator creators – researchers who, through intelligent and often complex methods, discover tools that describe scientific facts that can then be applied in practice.

Get Help For Alcoholism

Whether you’ve been drinking for weeks, months, or years, it’s possible to experience alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Professional care from a specialized alcohol rehab facility is highly recommended for those attempting to quit drinking as withdrawal can be extremely dangerous. Withdrawal is one of many terrible consequences of alcohol abuse, but there is hope for a better tomorrow. If you or someone you know is ready to start a life without alcohol addiction, contact a treatment provider today to learn more about treatment centers that offer alcohol detox. Most alcohol withdrawal symptoms begin within 6 hours after a person stops drinking, and they usually become most intense after 2 or 3 days. Less frequently, people can develop severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

alcohol withdrawal seizures

This review provides an overview of the current understanding of the cellular and molecular events that lead to alcohol withdrawal seizures. Once a patient receives treatment for withdrawal seizures to prevent complications or progression to delirium tremens, it is important that he or she receive treatment for the underlying alcohol abuse. This treatment may include support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, or individual counseling, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, where people can learn coping skills and develop the tools to prevent relapse. Fortunately, while research shows that as many as half of patients with alcohol use disorders develop withdrawal when they stop drinking, most symptoms are mild and fade away on their own without medical treatment. That being said, a patient who progresses to seizures should seek medical care, especially since these seizures can be an early sign of delirium tremens. Diazepam and chlordiazepoxide are long-acting agents that have been shown to be excellent in treating alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Alcohol Seizures Are Serious, So Detox Should Never Be Attempted Without Medical Support

One symptom of an alcohol use disorder, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), is withdrawal. This happens when a person stops drinking and experiences uncomfortable symptoms such as sleep problems, nausea, and tremors as alcohol leaves the body. In some cases, alcohol withdrawal can lead to seizures, but not everyone who undergoes withdrawal will have a seizure. In general, the course of alcohol withdrawal is highly variable and somewhat unpredictable. Screening and assessment tools do not allow physicians to predict with confidence who will or will not experience life-threatening symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Alcohol Withdrawal

When a person is addicted to alcohol and it’s removed from their system, they will experience many unpleasant symptoms. If someone consumes 4-5 servings of alcohol in a 2-hour period, this constitutes binge drinking. The liver cannot process this amount of alcohol quickly enough and the alcohol will be absorbed into the bloodstream. Sometimes, the seizure experienced involves all areas of the brain. These are called generalized seizures and there are a few different kinds of them. When a seizure nears 5 minutes in duration, it becomes a medical emergency. Another study carried out by researchers in Sweden and the United States found that people addicted to alcohol exhibit misfiring signals in the amygdala.

Patients with AWS may also present with concomitant diseases that require treatment (e.g., alcoholic hepatitis, complicated cirrhosis) or develop AWS during periods of hospitalization for unrelated comorbidities. Most patients require Sober living houses hospital admission for monitoring and treatment. The spectrum of alcohol withdrawal symptoms ranges from such minor symptoms as insomnia and tremulousness to severe complications such as withdrawal seizures and delirium tremens.


In animals, benzodiazepines have yielded variable effects, in some cases slowing withdrawal-induced kindling, and in other cases, causing paradoxical worsening . Whether other agents used in the treatment of alcohol withdrawal have antiepileptogenic potential remains to be determined. Over the course of the first few days and weeks after someone stops drinking alcohol, he or she may experience acute alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome refers to the common withdrawal symptoms a heavy drinker experiences when they suddenly reduce the amount of alcohol they drink after prolonged periods of heavy use. During this time, you’re most at risk of temporarily losing consciousness, developing delirium tremens, and having seizures. Medical professional can assess your mental and physical health frequently throughout the day to make sure symptoms do not escalate. In line with results from animal studies, there is little evidence that carbamazepine prevents Sober living houses and delirium in humans, although it may be useful to treat alcohol craving .

Alcohol withdrawal seizures may be different than epilepsy seizures or make epilepsy worse. Doctors and pharmacists are always warning people with epilepsy about alcohol.

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