February 26, 2024

Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures: Signs, Symptoms, & Treatment

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In most cases, consuming alcohol in moderation does not cause seizures. That said, seizures from alcohol withdrawal may occur in those who are alcohol-dependent or engage in heavy drinking.

Withdrawal seizures are a known risk during the alcohol detox process. Stopping alcohol consumption suddenly after extended periods of heavy drinking can trigger alcohol withdrawal seizures. Tonic-clonic seizures – once called grand-mal seizures –  are the most severe and frequent type of alcohol induced seizure. Up to one in three of those detoxing from alcohol will face seizures from alcohol withdrawal.

This guide to alcohol withdrawal and seizures explores the following issues:

  • When can you have seizures from alcohol withdrawal?
  • What causes seizures from alcohol withdrawal?
  • What are the most common alcohol seizure warning signs?
  • Alcoholic seizures treatment: what to do next.

Can Alcohol Withdrawal Cause Seizures?

Although seizures and alcohol withdrawal can be interrelated, drinking alcohol in moderation typically doesn’t lead to seizures. Having a couple of drinks occasionally won’t likely trigger increased seizure activity. Moderate alcohol consumption doesn’t affect the levels of seizure medications in your bloodstream or alter the results of EEG (electroencephalogram) tests.

However, when alcohol is involved in seizure incidents, it’s usually the withdrawal from alcohol, rather than the act of drinking itself, that triggers seizures. The likelihood of experiencing seizures increases significantly after consuming three or more alcoholic drinks. Binge drinking and subsequent alcohol withdrawal can lead to status epilepticus, a severe, life-threatening condition that can be fatal.

Additionally, medications used to treat seizures can reduce your alcohol tolerance, meaning that the effects of alcohol are felt more quickly and intensely. This rapid intoxication can be particularly problematic because many side effects of seizure medications mimic the immediate effects of alcohol. Those sensitive to alcohol or seizure medications might find their combined effects especially challenging.

Research indicates that chronic alcohol abuse, or alcoholism, may contribute to the development of epilepsy in some people. It’s suggested that repeated alcohol withdrawal seizures can make the brain more susceptible to seizures. This means that someone who has had seizures induced by binge drinking might start to experience spontaneous epilepsy seizures, regardless of whether they’re drinking or not.

Alcohol Seizure Signs

When seizures occur as a result of alcohol use, they present specific observable signs. These include sudden loss of consciousness, involuntary muscle contractions, and episodes of blank staring. Other signs might encompass sudden falls without warning, jerking movements of the arms and legs, and moments of confusion or disorientation following the seizure. Individuals may also experience temporary amnesia, not remembering the seizure event.

Alcohol Withdrawal Seizure Symptoms

When most people think of a seizure, they envision a tonic-clonic seizure, previously referred to as grand mal seizure. The designation tonic-clonic derives from the combination of tonic, indicating muscle stiffening, and clonic, referring to rhythmic jerking. These seizures normally manifest within the first 48 hours following the discontinuation of alcohol consumption, although they can occur at any point during the initial week of withdrawal.

A tonic-clonic seizure unfolds as follows:

Initially, the tonic phase occurs:

  • The seizure often initiates simultaneously in both hemispheres of the brain but may begin on one side before spreading throughout.
  • Muscles throughout the body stiffen.
  • A cry or groan might be emitted as air rushes through the tensed vocal cords.
  • Loss of consciousness ensues, leading to a collapse.
  • There’s a risk of biting the tongue or cheek, which can cause saliva to appear blood-stained.

Following is the clonic phase:

  • Rapid and rhythmic jerking movements begin in the arms and usually the legs, with bending at the joints.
  • Over a few minutes, the jerking gradually diminishes and then ceases.
  • The face might turn blue or appear darker, indicating breathing difficulties or an excessively prolonged seizure.
  • As the body’s muscles relax, loss of bowel or bladder control may occur.
  • The person gradually regains consciousness, though this process can be slow.

Tonic-clonic seizures usually last between one to three minutes, with recovery taking longer, leaving the person feeling sleepy, confused, depressed, or irritable. Immediate medical intervention is essential for any seizure lasting over 5 minutes (status epilepticus) when continuous or if there are three successive seizures without consciousness being regained in between. This condition necessitates emergency hospital treatment.

Alcoholic Seizures Symptoms

Alcoholic seizures are particularly dangerous due to their sudden onset and potential for severe consequences, demand immediate attention and targeted responses.

Key symptoms to watch for include:

  • Initial signs: Look for unexpected falls or loss of consciousness, which can signal the onset of a seizure.
  • Muscle manifestations: Be aware of any sudden stiffening of the body, followed by rhythmic jerking movements – first the stiffening, then the jerking, indicative of the tonic and clonic phases respectively.
  • Auditory cues: A cry or groan at the onset, caused by air passing through constricted vocal cords, is a key audible indicator.
  • Physical evidence: Notice any instances of biting the tongue or cheek, leading to bloody saliva, a common occurrence during seizures.
  • Breathing difficulties: A bluish or darkened complexion may arise from breathing challenges or extended seizure duration.
  • Aftereffects: Following the seizure, many people experience confusion, fatigue, or mood changes, signaling the need for recovery time and possibly medical evaluation.

Here are some immediate actions and long-term strategies to consider:

  • During a seizure: Ensure the person’s safety by moving harmful objects away and cushioning their head. Time the seizure. If it exceeds 5 minutes or if multiple seizures occur without regaining consciousness, seek emergency medical help.
  • Post-seizure care: After the seizure subsides, keep the person on their side to aid breathing and stay with them until they fully regain consciousness.
  • Seeking professional help: Consult healthcare providers for a comprehensive evaluation and to discuss a treatment plan for alcohol dependence and seizure management.
  • Support networks: Engage with support groups and rehabilitation programs that offer guidance and assistance in managing both alcohol dependency and its neurological effects.

Alcoholic seizures are a serious health concern that indicates the importance of prompt, effective interventions. Whether you are supporting someone on their path to recovery or navigating your own journey, knowledge, and preparedness can make a dramatic difference in managing and overcoming these challenges.


When do alcohol seizures occur?

Alcohol seizures typically occur during withdrawal, often within 6 to 48 hours after the last drink, but they can happen up to several days later, especially during the first week of cessation from heavy and prolonged alcohol use.

Why does alcohol withdrawal cause seizures?

Alcohol withdrawal causes seizures due to the sudden reduction in alcohol intake after a period of heavy use, leading to a rapid shift in brain activity. The brain, having adapted to the depressant effects of alcohol, becomes overexcited when alcohol is suddenly removed, potentially triggering seizures.

Get Treatment for Alcohol Addiction at Gratitude Lodge

Not only is home detox from alcohol potentially dangerous, it is possible to die from alcohol detox in the event of delirium tremens (severe withdrawal). Avoid this by choosing supervised medical detoxification at Gratitude Lodge in Southern California.

Our medical detox program, available at our facilities in Long Beach and Newport Beach, enables you to mitigate complications, cravings, and withdrawal symptoms, while addressing the issue of dependence on alcohol.

During ongoing inpatient treatment at one of our luxury beachside rehabs, you can access an individualized blend of the following therapies:

  • Talk therapy
  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment)
  • Holistic therapies
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Individual counseling
  • Aftercare and support

Access effective and evidence-based alcohol addiction treatment right away by calling 800-994/2184.

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Jenni Busse MS, LPCC

Jenni Busse MS, LPSS is the Clinical Director at Gratitude Lodge. Jenni oversees the clinical program and the clinical team at Gratitude Lodge as a whole. Jenni has worked in treatment for almost 14 years. Her background as a licensed therapist and her passion for helping others intersected with addiction recovery when she started working primarily in detox residential treatment.

Drug detox can vary according to the patient’s addiction factors, including the substance abused, how long the addiction has lasted, the patient’s medical condition, if any other disorders are present, and more. Our skilled and credentialed team at Gratitude Lodge work closely with every patient going through drug detox, facilitating the beginnings of a successful recovery at our rehab addiction centers in Orange County, CA.

Drug detox can vary according to the patient’s addiction factors, including the substance abused, how long the addiction has lasted, the patient’s medical condition, if any other disorders are present, and more. Our skilled and credentialed team at Gratitude Lodge work closely with every patient going through drug detox.

Many patients don’t realize the toxicity of prolonged alcohol abuse and how it affects the body. Alcohol detox at the luxurious rehab addiction centers at Gratitude Lodge leeches your body of these toxins in preparation for successful treatment for drugs and alcohol abuse. Alcohol detox may not take as long or produce severe withdrawal symptoms, but it is still an essential beginning to your recovery.

Many patients don’t realize the toxicity of prolonged alcohol abuse and how it affects the body. Alcohol detox at the luxurious rehab addiction centers at Gratitude Lodge leeches your body of these toxins in preparation for successful treatment for drugs and alcohol abuse.
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An essential part of your treatment experience, we offer individual (CBT and DBT talk therapy) and group addiction treatment counseling to help you explore and address the emotional component of addiction, providing you with the tools, self-awareness, and empowerment you need to maintain recovery.
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