People who drink alcohol in moderation may not experience any withdrawal symptoms if they abruptly remove alcohol from their life.
People who drink heavily and stop drinking alcohol, however, will likely experience mild to severe withdrawal symptoms. In some cases, alcohol withdrawal syndrome can lead to seizures.
Withdrawal seizures usually start around 72 hours after the last drink. They are considered a serious, potentially life-threatening side effect of prolonged alcohol abuse.
The severity and duration of the seizures will vary based on age, health status, alcohol intake, and time between alcoholic drinks. Alcohol withdrawal seizures are considered a medical emergency.
What Happens To The Brain When You Stop Drinking?
Alcohol is a depressant. The brain compensates for the depressant effects of alcohol by producing more neurotransmitters to keep the bodily activity going while alcohol is in the system.
When alcohol is suddenly removed from the body after weeks, months, or years of drinking, the brain’s receptors will take some time to recalibrate which creates the risk for seizures.
Learn more about alcohol’s effects on the brain.
Risk Factors For Experiencing Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures
While there are no specific triggers for the onset of alcohol withdrawal seizures, there are some considerations that may lead to a higher risk of seizures.
Health Status Prior To Withdrawal
If a person’s health is in a deteriorated state when they quit drinking, they may be more likely to experience withdrawal seizures.
Long-term alcohol abuse may also increase your risk of developing epilepsy, which is a condition that causes recurring seizures. If you already have epilepsy, even mild alcohol withdrawal may trigger epileptic seizures.
Alcohol withdrawal seizures are more common in adults. But teenagers and children may also experience seizures if they have underlying health problems such as epilepsy, or if they’ve been drinking excessively over a long period.
Frequency Of Abuse
One of the biggest risk factors for developing withdrawal seizures is how often heavy alcohol consumption occurs.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heavy drinking is defined as more than eight drinks per week for women and more than 15 drinks per week for men.
Amount Of Alcohol Used
Binge drinking occurs when a large amount of alcohol is ingested in one sitting. For men, binge drinking is defined as five or more drinks in one sitting or four or more for women.
Binge drinking is the most common form of alcohol abuse and is a leading risk factor for developing alcohol withdrawal syndrome and alcohol-related seizures.
The Relationship Between Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures And Delirium Tremens
Delirium tremens, or DTS, is the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal. People who develop delirium tremens may experience symptoms such as grand mal seizures, tonic-clonic seizures, disorientation, and more.
DTS is caused by the central nervous system’s inability to adapt when a heavy drinker stops drinking alcohol.
Withdrawal seizures are a common symptom of DTS and should be addressed by a healthcare professional promptly.
In a clinical setting, DTS is treated by administering a range of anticonvulsant medications such as gabapentin and carbamazepine.
Learn more about alcohol withdrawal delirium.
Treatment Programs For Alcohol Use Disorder
Alcohol withdrawal seizures can be life-threatening if left untreated.
If you experience symptoms such as auditory or visual hallucinations, high blood pressure, or elevated heart rate, seek professional help immediately.
Treatment options for alcohol addiction may include:
- crisis interventions
- medical detox for alcohol
- support groups for alcohol dependence
- medication-assisted treatment for alcohol
- dual diagnosis treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders
- 12-step programs
- inpatient and outpatient programs
If you or a loved one have an alcohol addiction, an evidence-based rehab program can help manage symptoms of alcohol withdrawal in a safe and secure environment.
Find Rehab Services For Substance Abuse At Bedrock Recovery Center
For more information about substance use disorder treatment, including treatment for alcohol withdrawal, call our helpline at Bedrock Recovery Center.
Our Massachusetts residential rehab program offers evidence-based services for alcohol use disorder that will put you on the path to sobriety.