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Despite carrying a legal status in most parts of the world, alcohol use comes with various risks and dangers, including seizures. Seizures can theoretically happen in anyone who consumes this beverage but are most commonly seen in long-term abusers as they go through the quitting phase. Finding out about the different types of seizures related to alcohol, identifying them, and knowing how to manage them is imperative if you or your loved one consumes alcohol or is about to stop using them.
Can Alcohol Cause You to Have Seizures?
In small amounts, alcohol does not typically lead to seizures; however, consuming it in heavy quantities or quitting it after long-term abuse can cause a person to experience falling to the floor and jerking violently for a few seconds to minutes. The clinical term used to describe this type of seizure is known as tonic-clonic seizure. Because a seizure can force a person to lose control over their body, they may unintentionally harm themselves. Moreover, they may:
- Hit their head
- Bite their tongue
- Lose control over their bladder
- Feel irritated or confused following an episode
While an alcoholic seizure typically resolves in a few minutes, it may happen back-to-back in certain people, a condition known as status epilepticus. Status epilepticus is characterized by multiple, prolonged seizures that can cause permanent damage to the brain and even death. It may happen when:
- A seizure continues to happen for more than five minutes
- A person experiences more than one seizure within five minutes without regaining normal consciousness levels in between
Types of Alcohol-Induced Seizures
Alcohol consumption directly affects GABA receptors in the brain which, in turn, produces a relaxing effect on the brain. Overconsumption can, therefore, lead to over-relaxation of the organ, a condition known as central nervous system depression. Due to this over-relaxation, the brain may become extra sensitive to stimulation and may experience one or more of the following seizures:
Seizures Following Excessive Drinking
Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol in one go can significantly increase the risk of having seizures, especially in people with a history of seizure attacks or problems with binge drinking. This is because alcohol overuse can change brain signals, induce dehydration, and cause neurochemical imbalances. Seizure medications may also interact with this beverage, reinforcing the beverage’s effects and further heightening the risk.
Seizures due to Alcohol Poisoning
Alcohol poisoning increases the risk of seizures much beyond what using too much alcohol would. It severely decreases the blood sugar levels, which may eventually trigger a seizure, especially in diabetic individuals who already use medicine to keep their blood sugars low.
Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures
While drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can heighten the risk of seizures, these jerky episodes can also happen in people undergoing withdrawal, a stage where a long-term alcohol abuser suddenly quits alcohol. Such type of seizures will most likely happen within 12 to 48 hours after the last drink. As the over-excited GABA receptors slowly try to adjust to the normal circumstances following a complete stoppage of alcohol, they make the brain more prone to experiencing seizures until it completely adapts to the new normal.
Alcoholic Seizures in Epilepsy: What is the Connection?
Heavy alcohol consumption is one of the most common triggers for experiencing seizures in people diagnosed with epilepsy. This elevated risk is due to alcohol’s effects on:
- Anti-seizure medications
- Sleep cycles
Alcohol carries the potential to affect sleep negatively, and these sleep disruptions end up triggering seizures. For people with epilepsy, alcohol can also interact with regular medications, either worsening their side effects or negatively affecting their efficacy. Sometimes, an epileptic person may engage in overconsumption of alcohol which may make them miss their meals or medications, further heightening their risk of epilepsy.
Some other factors that may increase the risk of alcohol-related seizures in individuals with epilepsy may include:
- Drinking heavily
- Having a hangover due to dehydration or a change in blood sugar levels
- Goring through an alcohol withdrawal following long-term use
Alcoholic Seizures Treatment
A doctor may consider the following three different approaches to managing alcoholic seizures:
- Treatment through antiepileptics or long-acting benzodiazepines prescriptions
- Preventive medications for seizures in people undergoing a detoxification process
- Preventive medication for status epilepticus and other repeat seizures following an acute seizure episode secondary to alcohol withdrawal
Most people who develop alcoholic seizures suffer from underlying alcohol addiction or abuse. In such cases, a doctor may recommend engaging in a comprehensive addiction management program at a certified rehab facility. While this program may differ from one person to another based on their circumstances, it normally includes the following steps:
A supervised detox is the first step of most alcohol addiction treatment programs that involves helping and supporting a person to stop their alcohol use and undergo a clean phase. This step is very crucial as it is when most people are at the highest risk of experiencing alcoholic withdrawal seizures. A team of professionals looks after the patients carefully monitor them, and support them until they become stable.
Inpatient and Outpatient Facilities
After detox, individuals join inpatient or outpatient programs to continue fighting the behavioral aspect of alcohol addiction. The choice of the program depends on the severity of the underlying addiction; for example, those with severe, long-term addiction may choose an inpatient program where they reside in supported and supervised accommodations for the entire program length. Others who have supportive environments at home and do not need round-the-clock care may opt for outpatient services where they attend therapy during the day and go back in the evening.
All alcohol addiction programs offer counseling in a private and group setting where a certified counselor helps people identify their triggers for drinking and help them learn how to dodge situations potentially leading to relapses safely.
A healthcare expert may prescribe certain medications to help with alcohol addiction and alleviate uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. This may include using antiseizure medications in a person who has previously had a seizure or is at high risk of it.
Support groups allow patients to connect with others undergoing similar issues and struggle with alcohol to form meaningful connections and seek support and advice from others.
How to Avoid Alcoholic Seizures: Simple Tips to Remember
Alcohol-triggered seizures can be very dangerous and may turn life-threatening within minutes. Hence, it is imperative to take measures to avoid them altogether. For this purpose, keep the following simple tips in mind:
Say no to binge drinking
Binge drinking means having too much alcohol at once, which loads the system with very high levels of this beverage. Note that you may not experience seizures during an active binge session but may develop withdrawal seizures six to seventy-two hours later. Hence, cut down this risk by avoiding binge sessions.
Don’t abuse alcohol
If you or your loved one has been showing signs of alcohol abuse, such as drinking excessively with an inability to stop, neglecting responsibilities and self-hygiene to drink more, or needing alcohol daily as an eye opener, consider getting help. Research shows that alcoholic seizures are particularly common in people abusing alcohol for years, and having co-existing epilepsy can further exacerbate this risk. If you finally decide to stop drinking alcohol, do it through proper channels, such as a professional rehabilitation center that can look over your detox process and safely get you past without danger.
Drink in moderation, if allowed
If a doctor has cleared you to drink alcohol, keep things in control and stick to only a few drinks per week. Drink slowly and have a glass of juice or water for every drink you have. Remember that people with co-existing epilepsy are at a heightened risk of seizures after consuming three alcoholic drinks. Moreover, excessive alcohol may also mess with their seizure medications, reducing their efficacy and putting them at a higher risk of a seizure.
Talk to your healthcare team about alcoholic seizures safety
Do not hesitate to talk to your healthcare team about maintaining everyday safety while consuming alcohol. For example, if you are drinking alcohol and taking antiseizure medications at the same time, the combination may lead to certain dangerous problems. Moreover, it can also make activities, for example, driving, particularly dangerous, as both seizure medication and alcohol negatively affect reflexes, coordination, and awareness. Ask your doctor if there are any more similar precautions according to your circumstances to keep in mind to ensure your safety.
What do you mean by an alcohol withdrawal seizure?
Alcohol naturally works as a suppressant of the central nervous system. Due to long-term exposure, this brain becomes habitual of this suppression and may rebound once an individual stops drinking alcohol, exceeding its normal level. This excessive activity greatly heightens the risk of a seizure, otherwise known as alcohol withdrawal seizures. This type of seizure can lead to multiple convulsions and may even force a person to lose consciousness.
What does an alcoholic seizure feel like?
A seizure related to alcohol may make a person feel like they are losing consciousness and slowly waking up from it. If they maintain consciousness during a seizure, they may undergo uncontrolled, repetitive movements of different body parts. Sometimes, an individual may feel an “aura” or certain unusual taste, smell, sound, or vision change, alarming them that a seizure is about to happen.
What can I do if someone experiences a seizure during alcohol withdrawal?
If someone around you experiences a seizure as a part of alcohol withdrawal symptoms, make the surroundings safe for them by removing anything that may potentially hurt them during the attack. Avoid touching or holding the person during the seizure and call the local medical emergency services as soon as possible, even if the person has stopped seizing. Make the person lie on their side to ensure that their airway is clear, and they do not choke on their saliva or vomit, and remain beside them until help arrives.
What will happen if I mix my seizure medication with alcohol?
Alcohol carries the potential to enhance the side effects of certain anti-seizure medications, such as dizziness and drowsiness. It can also impact how the body absorbs some of these medications and may affect their efficacy, putting a person at risk of seizures. Hence, experts strictly advise against mixing anti-seizure medication and alcohol.
How long after quitting alcohol can I expect a seizure?
For some people, alcohol withdrawal seizures begin within hours after the last drink, while others may not experience it for several days after stopping alcohol or starting a detox process. The timeframe varies for different people, but most people normally experience it within the first 72 hours.
Is it safe for an epileptic person to drink?
Because a person diagnosed with epilepsy is already at a very high risk of seizures, they must proceed cautiously and always discuss their case with a doctor familiar with their condition before drinking alcohol.
What can trigger a seizure?
A simple seizure can have multiple triggers in a vulnerable person, such as flashing lights with continuous on-and-off patterns. However, a person whose seizure is secondary to alcohol abuse or withdrawal may not necessarily need any other trigger other than stopping or overconsuming alcohol.
Are alcoholic seizures dangerous? Can you die from it?
According to experts, seizures on their own are usually not fatal. However, the sudden, jerky movements they cause can make a person fall and acquire potentially life-threatening injuries, including an head injury. Additionally, if a seizure fails to cease or happens multiple times in a row, it may permanently injure the brain, proving life-threatening at a point. Many people lose control over their swallowing mechanism during an ongoing seizure, leading to inhalation of the vomitus and causing life-threatening infections and complications. Lastly, alcohol abuse remains one of the biggest risk factors for status epilepticus, a medical emergency that potentially leads to long-term brain damage or death.