What are Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures?

Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures, as the name suggests, are seizures occurring in a person who has been a chronic alcoholic for many years and is trying to quit drinking or stop drinking alcohol. The seizures develop as a result of withdrawal from alcohol and can be very scary. Anyone can have alcohol withdrawal seizures, even those people who have never had a seizure previously.

Anyone who is going through detox from alcohol can experience Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures, which is a common symptom of alcohol withdrawal. If immediate medical attention is not sought, then it can cause serious consequences. Alcohol withdrawal or delirium tremens causes drastic changes in the body of the patient, such as changes in the temperature, breathing, heart rate, hydration and blood pressure. There can also be disorientation, confusion, loss of consciousness, and in some cases hallucinations from decreased blood flow to the brain. Death may also occur in severe cases.

What are Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures?

Preventing Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures

It is most important that the detox is done at a treatment center to decrease the risk of suffering from Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures. If the patient’s hands start to shake after a period of going without drinking alcohol, then the risk of having alcohol withdrawal seizures is very high. Detoxification at home should be strictly avoided and should always be done under medical supervision to prevent Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures. If a person is detoxing at home and starts feeling tremors, which often develop around 6 to 10 hours after the last drink, then it is important to admit the patient into a detox facility or hospital immediately. Alcohol withdrawal seizures start around 2 to 3 days after the patient’s last drink, however, they can also occur a week after the last drink. Alcohol withdrawal seizures resemble grand seizures which occur in epilepsy. Having alcohol withdrawal seizures does not mean that the patient also suffers from epilepsy.

To understand the severity of this condition, it should be understood that even alcoholics who are undergoing detoxification with the use of right prescription medications that are meant to prevent seizures can still experience alcohol withdrawal seizures. If the correct medication is not used, then the risk of alcohol withdrawal seizures is even higher.

Cause of Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures

Alcohol withdrawal seizures commonly occur in individuals who are physically dependant and when the alcohol consumption is stopped abruptly or if there is a sudden and drastic reduction in the alcohol levels of the blood. Such type of rapid reductions in alcohol consumption or abrupt cessation of alcohol can occur due to ill health where the patient is not able to drink, if the patient does not have money to buy alcohol or in a hurried attempt to ‘self detox’. Individuals with previous history of such type of seizures are at a greater risk for having alcohol withdrawal seizures.

Signs & Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures

  • Patient experiences loss of consciousness for several minutes with Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures.
  • There is rigidity and muscle contraction, which can last for 15 to 20 seconds followed by violent contraction of the muscles and relaxation which can last for 1 to 2 minutes.
  • Biting of the cheek or tongue can also occur as a sign of alcohol withdrawal seizure.
  • Patient also suffers from clenched teeth and incontinence during the event of alcohol withdrawal seizure.
  • After the alcohol withdrawal seizure has passed, patient may experience some impairment in the memory drowsiness, headache and brief confusion.
  • The breathing of the patient commonly returns back to normal after the seizure has ended.

First Aid & Treatment in Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures

When the patient is having such type of seizures, it is important to remove hard/sharp objects from the nearby area. A cushion should be provided to the patient for protecting the head. The clothing around the neck should be loosened and the head should be positioned, such that the tongue does not obstruct the airway and any other difficulties which the patient is having can be easily observed. After the seizure has passed, the patient should be kept in a recovery position which is laying on his/her side. This will help with the patient’s breathing and decreases the risk of asphyxiation. It is important to monitor the patient until he/she has regained consciousness.

Never restrain a person who is having a seizure. Never force anything between the person’s teeth or put anything in the person’s mouth. The patient should only be moved if they are in danger. Drinks should never be given to the patient until they have regained complete consciousness.Immediate medical attention is required if the patient has incurred an injury during an alcohol withdrawal seizure. If the patient is experiencing status epilepticus, i.e. multiple repeated seizures, then it causes severe lack of oxygen to the brain, which is an emergency situation that requires immediate medical attention.

Some patients, who are long-term heavy drinkers, can develop epilepsy, which makes them more prone to seizures that are unrelated to alcohol withdrawal. There is exacerbation of the epilepsy if the patient continues to drink heavily and does not take their anti-convulsant medication accordingly. Medicines such as benzodiazepines can be used for preventing alcohol withdrawal seizures.

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD, FFARCSI

Last Modified On: June 2, 2016

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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