Alcohol seizures are serious, so detox should never be attempted without medical support.
When someone takes that first brave step toward sobriety it is surely a cause for celebration. After all, each year more than 88,000 deaths are attributed to alcohol use disorder (AUD). It takes a lot of courage to stop drinking and enter a detox program.
People with AUD are well aware of what withdrawal symptoms feel like, but do it anyway. It is a life saving choice to enter recovery. There is great risk, though, if you attempt to stop drinking cold turkey on your own.
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. Seizures can happen as early as day two during detox, but delirium tremens (DTs) can appear on days 3-4. 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. These include:
- 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. The DTs occur in about 5% of those who begin an alcohol detox. It is hard to predict who will suffer from the DTs. This is why it is always advised that someone be supervised throughout the detox phases.
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.
Understanding Delirium Tremens aka DTs
The DTs is 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 to15% 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.
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.
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.
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.