Can Alcohol Withdrawal Cause Seizures?
When someone takes that first brave step toward sobriety, it’s a cause for celebration. After all, each year more than 88,000 deaths are attributed to alcohol use disorder (AUD). There is a great risk, however, if you attempt to stop drinking cold turkey on your own.
Alcohol seizures are serious, so detox should never be attempted without medical support. How a person’s alcohol detox will progress is often hard to predict. Some people start the detox process and are doing just fine. But then, on day 3 or 4, sudden severe withdrawal symptoms might emerge.
Seizures are a rare but serious complication that occurs during alcohol detox. They can happen as early as day 2 during detox, while delirium tremens (DTs) can appear on days 3-4. The DTs occur in about 5% of those who begin an alcohol detox. During the DTs, the person has a high risk of having alcohol withdrawal seizures.
There are some factors that can cause symptoms to be more severe in some people:
- How long the heavy drinking has lasted.
- How much is consumed daily.
- The person’s age.
- The person’s health status.
- If there is a co-occurring mental health issue.
- If the person has a history of alcohol detox attempts.
These factors can help a detox team predict the timeline and severity of the detox process. Still, the DTs can come on without notice, and it’s hard to predict who will experience them. This is why it is always advised that the detox process be supervised.
What Happens When You Stop Drinking?
After a long history of heavy alcohol intake, the brain pathways have become altered. When this has taken place, and then you suspend drinking to enter recovery, the body will react. Withdrawal symptoms begin to show up within hours of cessation.
As the brain begins to react to the sudden lack of alcohol in the system, the symptoms become more intense. This is a sign that the body is trying to adjust to the absence of alcohol. The longer the person’s history of problem drinking, the more severe the withdrawal symptoms will be.
When you begin detox you will be under the care of a trained support team. These detox experts will keep a close eye on your vital signs and observe the symptoms as they emerge. They will provide medical support throughout the detox process, and be on the lookout for alcohol withdrawal seizures and other withdrawal warning signs.
What Causes Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures?
When someone has severe AUD, their drinking has caused the central nervous system to slow down as the brain produces more GABA. When he or she stops drinking, the nervous system becomes destabilized.
When someone enters alcohol detox they are often given benzos to reduce the chances of seizures. These drugs act to slow down the central nervous system and are very helpful during detox.
About 10% of people in alcohol detox will have seizures. Seizures, while scary on their own, can also be a warning sign of the DTs. Someone who does have a seizure during detox will likely be transferred to a hospital setting, as seizures tend to repeat. That way, if it does progress to the DTs they will receive proper medical treatment.
Risk Factors for Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures
Having an alcohol withdrawal seizure is a possible outcome for anyone undergoing alcohol detox without the proper medical supervision. Certain risk factors heighten this possibility, including:
Prolonged and Heavy Drinking: The longer and more heavily someone has consumed alcohol, the greater the risk of severe withdrawal symptoms, including seizures.
Previous Withdrawal Episodes: Individuals who have experienced withdrawal symptoms in past detox attempts are at an increased risk.
Concurrent Medical Conditions: Existing health issues, especially related to the liver or neurological conditions, can intensify withdrawal symptoms.
Use of Other Drugs: Concurrent use of other substances can exacerbate withdrawal and increase seizure risks.
Age: Older adults may have a heightened vulnerability to alcohol withdrawal seizures due to age-related physiological changes.
Because of the potential symptoms, tailored detox plans and vigilant monitoring are essential to avoid life-threatening seizures from alcohol withdrawal.
Understanding Delirium Tremens aka DTs
The DTs are a very serious health emergency that can emerge during alcohol detox rather suddenly. The DTs are most common among those who have been heavy drinkers for a long time. Of those who have the DTs, up to 15% will not survive.
The DTs may present at or around the third day of detox. However, in some cases, detox may be winding down when on day seven the sudden symptoms of the DTs commence!
Symptoms of the DTs include:
- Uncontrollable tremors and shaking.
- Severe mental confusion.
- High blood pressure.
- Hallucinations or delusions
- Extreme anxiety.
- A sense that insects are crawling under the skin.
- Heart failure.
Treatment for the DTs may mean a hospital stay in order to stabilize the person and improve the outcome. Treatment will involve IV sedative infusions and hydration. This can provide quick relief and stabilization until symptoms subside.
The Kindling Effect: A Growing Concern in Alcohol Detox
The Kindling Effect refers to the phenomenon where each successive withdrawal from alcohol becomes more severe than the previous one, even if the alcohol consumption levels remain consistent. This is because the brain becomes more sensitive to the effects of alcohol withdrawal over time. For individuals with a history of multiple detox attempts, this can result in increasingly intense and dangerous withdrawal symptoms, including a higher risk of having an alcohol withdrawal seizure. At Journey Hillside, we’re acutely aware of the Kindling Effect and tailor our detox protocols to ensure the safety and well-being of those in our care.
Stages of Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcohol detox proceeds through three stages:
Stage One: Symptoms emerge. Early symptoms during the first 24 hours of detox include:
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Shaking or trembling
- Increased heart rate.
Stage Two: Symptoms peak. During days 2-4, the symptoms will peak, including:
- Increased nausea
- Cold sweats
- High blood pressure
- Hallucinations or psychosis
- Fuzzy thinking,
- Alcohol withdrawal seizures.
This is the phase of withdrawal when the DTs can occur.
Stage Three: Symptoms subside. On days 4-7, the symptoms begin to subside. In those with more severe AUD, there may be psychological effects that linger, such as anxiety or depression, fatigue, and insomnia for a few more weeks.
Risks of Unsupervised Detoxification
Detoxifying from alcohol without professional supervision poses a significant threat to the individual’s safety. While the idea of “going cold turkey” at home might seem courageous or cost-effective, the dangers are immense. Here are some potential consequences of going about detox on your own.
Severe Withdrawal Symptoms: Without medical professionals, one might underestimate the severity of their withdrawal symptoms. These can range from nausea and sweating in the initial stages to more serious complications like seizures and delirium tremens in later stages.
Lack of Medication Management: Detox facilities often use specific medications to ease the withdrawal process, reduce cravings, and manage potential complications. At home, one might not have access to these life-saving drugs or might misuse them without proper guidance.
Mental Health Risks: Alcohol withdrawal can take a toll on one’s mental health, leading to anxiety, severe mood swings, and even suicidal thoughts. Without immediate professional intervention, these symptoms can become life-threatening.
Physical Dangers: In addition to seizures, unsupervised detox can lead to dehydration, heart irregularities, and other severe health complications. In a detox facility, staff can swiftly act at the first sign of these symptoms and take preventative action in the event an individual may be on the verge of having an alcohol withdrawal seizure.
Risk of Relapse: The initial stages of withdrawal can be so uncomfortable that many might be tempted to drink again just to alleviate the symptoms. This risk of relapse is higher without the supportive environment of a detox center.
Lack of Support System: Emotional and psychological support is crucial during detox. Professionals in a detox facility not only provide medical support but also offer counseling and psychological help. At home, one might feel isolated and overwhelmed, leading to a higher risk of complications.
The Importance of Professional Help
Medical supervision and therapeutic support serve as vital lifelines during the detoxification process. Expertise ensures that withdrawal symptoms are managed appropriately, decreasing potential health risks. Additionally, therapists and counselors provide essential emotional and psychological support, helping individuals navigate the complex emotions and mental hurdles associated with breaking free from addiction. Their guidance is instrumental in crafting coping strategies, building resilience, and preparing for life post-detox.
Furthermore, being in a professional setting offers a structured environment free from triggers and temptations, ensuring a safer and more effective detox journey. Simply put, seeking professional help not only enhances the chances of successful recovery, but also prioritizes the individual’s overall long-term well-being.
What Happens After Alcohol Detox?
Detox is only the first step in the recovery journey. Detox is required in order to allow the person to fully engage in treatment in a sober state. Detox does not prevent someone from going back to drinking. To stop drinking they must engage in a treatment program.
Treatment programs for AUD involve a multi-track approach that includes:
Therapy. In order to make lasting changes and avoid drinking again, you must change your thought patterns. While in rehab you will be learning new ways to process your thoughts and how you respond to triggers.
12-Step Program. A.A.’s 12-step program themes provide a structured approach to recovery.
Education. Learning new coping techniques and life skills helps people in recovery improve their chances for a sustained result.
Holistic. Learning how to manage stress through techniques like mindfulness and yoga can be useful during and after treatment.
To launch your new sober life you must complete the detox step. Just know that you will be well cared for during the process, and symptoms will be managed. Soon, a new life in recovery will be yours to enjoy.
Embracing a Comprehensive Treatment Approach at Journey Hillside
Alcohol withdrawal and seizures are not to be taken lightly – ever. This potentially fatal symptom from withdrawal should be all the proof you need to attend supervised detox.
At Journey Hillside, we firmly believe that the path to lasting sobriety extends beyond mere detoxification. It’s about embracing a holistic treatment plan that focuses not just on the physical but also on the emotional, psychological, and social facets of addiction.
With this in mind, our multidisciplinary team crafts personalized treatment plans that include therapy sessions, educational modules, and holistic interventions such as mindfulness practices and yoga. This ensures that individuals not only overcome their dependence on alcohol but also acquire the tools and insights to rebuild their lives with resilience and purpose.
By nurturing the mind, body, and spirit in tandem, Journey Hillside ensures that every individual in our care is equipped to navigate the challenges of recovery. Reach out to us today and learn how much can change with a simple phone call.
Journey Hillside Provides On-Site Alcohol Detox Support
Journey Hillside is an upscale treatment center that helps people with AUD to enjoy a fresh start in life. For questions about our alcohol detox program, please give us a call on our confidential helpline at (877) 414-1024.