Alcohol Withdrawal: Symptoms, Treatment & Timeline

Alcohol withdrawal seizures can occur within a few hours or up to 72 hours after stopping drinking. Acamprosate is another drug doctors may prescribe to a person who is receiving treatment for alcohol use disorder. Clients may only begin acamprosate after completely detoxing from alcohol, which may be one to two weeks after initially abstaining from drinking. Acamprosate helps individuals stay sober by curbing future urges to consume alcohol. Heavy, long-term alcohol use and withdrawal from alcohol can lead to seizures. Alcohol can also trigger seizures if you have epilepsy and often interacts poorly with anti-seizure medications.

Additional research also is needed to determine the most appropriate treatment settings as well as methods of engaging patients in ongoing relapse prevention efforts. Improved insight into these issues will enable clinicians to improve the efficiency and quality of care for patients who are experiencing or are at risk for withdrawal. Patients with mild withdrawal symptoms (i.e., CIWA–Ar scores of 8 or less) and no increased risk for seizures can be managed without specific pharmacotherapy (Mayo-Smith 1997; Saitz and O’Malley 1997). Successful nonpharmacological treatments include frequent reassurance and monitoring by treatment staff in a quiet, calm environment.

Brain Substrates for Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures

Most patients with mild withdrawal symptoms, whether they are treated or not, do not develop complications. The symptoms of withdrawal are not specific and easily can be confused with other medical conditions. Consequently, the clinician’s initial assessment also serves to exclude other conditions with symptoms similar to those of AW.

why does alcohol withdrawal cause seizures

Once a person stops using alcohol, they can often experience recovery from symptoms, though in some cases, some damage may be permanent. According to a 2017 review, muscle myopathy is common in alcohol use disorder. In addition, why does alcohol withdrawal cause seizures about 40 to 60 percent of people who experience chronic alcohol misuse also experience alcohol-related myopathy. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals.

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The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers. Alcohol acts by stimulating receptors in your brain that cause brain activity to be suppressed. Alcohol itself does not normally cause seizures, but during withdrawal, when the suppressive activity of alcohol is removed, your brain will be more susceptible to seizures than it normally would. There are some specific considerations that may affect your risk of seizures when using alcohol.

In clients who are no longer abusing alcohol, naltrexone blocks the effects people typically experience after drinking. Therefore, consuming alcohol while taking naltrexone no longer produces the same feelings the individual once enjoyed. Taking naltrexone after detox helps alcohol rehab clients maintain their sobriety. Each drug works differently to make it easier for an individual to reduce his or her alcohol consumption. Symptoms are generally mild during the first 12–24 hours of withdrawal but increase in intensity around the third day without alcohol. In addition, vitamin supplements may be given to replace essential vitamins that are depleted by alcohol use.

What Causes Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms?

In these models, animals are exposed to alcohol by intragastric intubation, inhalation, or feeding in a nutritionally complete liquid diet for periods of 2 to 21 days. The animals exhibit sound-evoked audiogenic seizures or handling-induced convulsions during the 1- to 3-day period after cessation of alcohol intake and may also experience spontaneous generalized seizures. A rare but very serious syndrome called delirium tremens can occur during alcohol withdrawal. Also known as DTs, an estimated 2% of people with alcohol use disorder and less than 1% of the general population experience them. Over 50% of alcohol withdrawal seizures may relate to additional risk factors, such as preexisting epilepsy, structural brain lesions, or drug use. Despite its legal status and cultural acceptance, it is a serious psychoactive substance that can profoundly affect your health.

why does alcohol withdrawal cause seizures

If you’ve gone through opioid withdrawal before, you may need to experience the kindling effects. The aura stage can involve the early stages of a seizure or another warning sign that a seizure is coming. When the seizure begins during the aura stage, it may be called a partial seizure or a simple focal seizure. If it comes with warning signs, you could experience deja vu, intense anxiety, muscle twitches, loss of bowel or bladder control, numbness or tingling, nausea, and confusion. However, if you’re experiencing some of these symptoms, it could also mean you are about to experience a potential symptom that is particular to alcohol withdrawal called delirium tremens. Depressants like alcohol can cause your muscles to relax, but withdrawal can cause tremors, muscle tightness, and seizures.

Neurologic effects of alcohol

“Signs” are changes in the patient’s condition that can be objectively observed by an examiner (e.g., temperature, a rash, or high blood pressure). Conversely, symptoms are changes that are subjectively perceived by the patient (e.g., irritability or craving for alcohol). The term “manifestations of alcohol withdrawal,” which is used in this article, can refer to either signs or symptoms. For example, other cross-tolerant medications, such as barbiturates, would be expected to relieve withdrawal symptoms and prevent withdrawal seizures and DT’s. In fact, a few studies have demonstrated that long-acting barbiturates can ease withdrawal symptoms. However, controlled studies have not provided sufficient data to demonstrate that these agents can prevent seizures or DT’s.

Compensatory upregulation of NMDA and kainate receptors (54) as well as calcium channels (55,56) also have been implicated in alcohol dependence and withdrawal seizures. The relevance of this mechanism is highlighted by the fact that NMDA-receptor antagonists are highly effective anticonvulsants in animal models of alcohol withdrawal seizures (59). As a response to chronic alcohol misuse or abuse, your body will adapt by tilting your chemical balance toward more excitatory chemicals.


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