Long-term alcohol abuse can lead to complications in the brain. Learn about how heavy alcohol consumption can cause seizures and what delirium tremens is when experiencing alcohol withdrawals.
After years of alcohol abuse, seizures become a severe and life-threatening experience when withdrawing from alcohol. Having one drink with dinner or even a couple drinks on the weekends doesn’t normally increase the risk of seizures. However, individuals who drink heavily every day are at risk of experiencing brain damage when they suddenly stop drinking.
What Are Seizures?
When someone has a seizure, there is a burst of uncontrolled electrical activity in the brain. This burst of uncontrollable activity causes temporary abnormalities like stiffness, twitching, muscle spasms, and cognitive impairments. Depending on the type of seizure, length of time the seizure lasts, long-term and short-term effects to daily routine, and normal brain function can vary from person to person. Convulsions – when the body shakes quickly and uncontrollably – can help others identify when the person needs help. Not all seizures cause the body to display that it is experiencing a seizure.
Knowing the difference between the three types of seizures could help someone:
Generalized Seizures: Affect all areas of the brain with common symptoms of staring off into space without cognitive response to stimuli, and/or rapid eye movement or blinking quickly.
Focal Seizures: This type of seizure is also called a partial seizure because it tends to only affect one side of the brain. This often happens when someone experiences head trauma or head injury. This type of seizure can leave a long-term effect on the body like twitching, changes in sensations like smelling or taste, confusion or memory impairment, and/or lack of responsiveness.
Tonic-clonic (or grand mal) Seizures: These seizures are the most common seizure type involving alcohol withdrawal and are easily identified due to convulsions, falling to the ground due to muscle contractions, loss of consciousness, and/or loss of bladder control.
Can Alcohol Trigger a Seizure?
When alcohol abuse and binge drinking become more frequent in your daily routine, there is an increased risk in having a seizure when you suddenly stop drinking. However, many people experience alcohol withdrawal without seizures as they might be classified as a light drinker or a binge drinker.
Occasional drinker aka light drinkers or social drinkers: Small amounts of alcohol do not typically cause seizures. Consuming 1-3 drinks in one week may not cause a seizure, however, the feeling of being ‘hung-over’ is likely. Feeling ‘hung-over’ is the body withdrawing from the absence of alcohol.
Binge drinking or heavy drinker: This classification of alcohol abuse infers that the frequency of consuming alcoholic beverages has increased and the amount of alcohol consumed has resulted in extreme cognitive impairment. Cognitive impairment can include:
- Blacking out or becoming unconscious.
- Speech impairment.
- Decrease in pain reception or response time to stimulus.
- Engaging in risky behaviors or experiencing abnormal personality characteristics.
Alcohol withdrawal can be considered mild or severe depending on the amount consumed during the drinking episode.
Alcoholism: Key indicators of alcoholism involve everyday consumption of alcoholic beverages and the type of alcohol consumed. The body becomes dependent on the daily consumption of alcohol in order to function. The person avoids the alcohol withdrawal affect by drinking more alcohol maintaining an elevated blood-to-alcohol ratio in the body.
How often do alcohol-related seizures happen?
For those who are struggling with alcoholism, alcohol-related seizures appear 6-48 hours after the last drink. More than 90 percent of alcohol withdrawal seizures occur within 48 hours after the person stops drinking. Clinical data suggest that the likelihood of having withdrawal seizures, as well as the severity of those seizures, increases with the number of past withdrawals and continued abuse of alcohol.
What is Alcohol Withdrawal?
Alcohol withdrawal occurs as little as 6 hours after the person stops drinking alcohol. Symptoms of withdrawal can be mild to severe and may include:
- Memory impairment
- Nausea or vomiting
- Motion sickness
- Rapid heart rate
- Mood swings
- Clammy skin
- Muscle ache
Alcohol withdrawal severity can vary depending on quantity of alcohol consumed, frequency of consumption, and the body’s alcohol tolerance. Those who are interested in quitting alcohol, medical supervision is recommended to avoid seizures and Delirium Tremens aka DT’s.
The Severity of Delirium Tremens
For alcoholics, a severe complication of alcohol withdrawal is called delirium tremens. Delirium tremens (DT’s) is a severe form of alcohol withdrawal after consistent prolonged alcohol abuse.
Symptoms may include:
- Delirium (sudden confusion)
- Body tremors
- Agitation or irritability
- Deep sleep for longer than one day
- Mood swings
- Restlessness or fatigue
The mortality rate among those who experience DT’s is 5 to 25 percent due to the organ systems failing. When alcohol is consumed regularly, the body learns to cope or adapt to the alcohol in the blood and how each organ system functions on high alcohol-to-blood ratio. Given enough time, the body becomes alcohol dependent. The sudden imbalance the body experiences when the alcohol-to-blood ratio is low is the catalyst for a seizure.
Can Alcohol Dependence cause an alcohol-related seizure?
Alcohol dependence is often a sign of alcoholism or having an alcohol use disorder (AUD) and may increase the chances of having an alcohol-related seizure. Alcohol Dependence occurs when your brain has adapted to the presence of alcohol and alters its normal brain chemistry to the elevated alcohol levels of the body. Months, years, and decades of consistent alcohol abuse are needed to the point of addiction. As the alcohol is filtered out of the body, the chemical imbalance causes alcohol withdrawal influencing the risk of a seizure.
Alcohol addiction involves a compulsive physical and mental need to obtain the substance regardless of well-being in avoidance of the withdrawal process. Compulsive abuse despite negative ramifications of the alcohol to the body is why addiction and dependency need to be treated at medical facilities like hospitals and rehabilitation centers.
To be diagnosed with AUD, a person must meet at least two of the criteria outlined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), and medical treatment is needed if alcohol withdrawal symptoms cause seizures and Delirium tremens. These facilities often administer lifesaving medication like anti-seizure medication to prevent further damage to the body if the person is experiencing an alcohol-related seizure.
How do I know if I am an alcoholic and will I get seizures from alcohol withdrawal?
To determine whether or not you are an alcoholic depends on the body’s dependency to alcohol.
The more often a person drinks alcoholic beverages and the amount consumed will depict the increased risk of having a seizure when the body is withdrawing from the substance. Drinking alcohol every day till intoxication and cognitive impairment increases alcohol-related seizures.
Having a history of continued abuse of alcohol can help determine dependency.
Avoiding regular meals or refusing to drink water because it affects the feeling of inebriation is a sign of alcoholism.
Consuming alcoholic beverages with a high alcohol content all-day is another behavior commonly associated with an alcohol abuse disorder.
Consider seeking medical help during the withdrawal process when making the decision to stop drinking.
Preventing Alcohol-related Seizures by Getting Help for Alcoholism
If you think you a history of abusing alcohol or have experienced an alcohol-induced seizure, do not hesitate to seek professional help. Many people do not seek help because they fear the withdrawal process. Understand that rehabilitation centers control symptoms of withdrawal to protect the body from long-term damage.
Detox to Rehab provides you with the knowledge to achieve sobriety and connects you with professionals that help you recover from alcohol use disorder.
Scientific studies have shown that an increase in quality of life and improvement in health significantly improves when a person receives treatment for alcoholism. The risk of having an alcohol-related seizure when you no longer consume alcohol significantly decreases.