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Alcohol Detox: Process, Effects, and Timeline

Adjunctive treatment with a beta blocker should be considered in patients with coronary artery disease, who may not tolerate the strain that alcohol withdrawal can place on the cardiovascular system. Clonidine (Catapres) also has been shown to improve the autonomic symptoms of withdrawal.10 Although phenytoin (Dilantin) does not treat withdrawal seizures, it is an appropriate adjunct in patients with an underlying seizure disorder. The spectrum of withdrawal symptoms and the time range for the appearance of these symptoms after cessation of alcohol use are listed in Table 2. Generally, the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal relate proportionately to the amount of alcoholic intake and the duration of a patient’s recent drinking habit. Most patients have a similar spectrum of symptoms with each episode of alcohol withdrawal. In alcoholics that have consumed alcohol for a long time, withdrawal from alcohol can be a serious problem, as withdrawal seizures can occur and cause serious harm or even death.

  • All these factors combine to increase your risk of seizures while using alcohol.
  • Another trial12 yielded similar results, with patients in the fixed-schedule group receiving an average of 231.4 mg of oxazepam and those in the symptom-triggered group receiving an average of 37.5 mg.
  • Early studies indicated that a withdrawal seizure placed the patient at increased risk for progression to DTs, so close monitoring is warranted.
  • Alcohol withdrawal seizures are typically grand mal, nonfocal, and one or two in number.

Older antiepileptic drugs, such as phenytoin and carbamazepine, are not useful in the prophylaxis of alcohol withdrawal seizures, and even benzodiazepines, the current mainstay of therapy in the United States, may not be optimal. Newer agents, such as chlormethiazole, topiramate, gabapentin, and valproate are promising, but validation in controlled clinical trials is necessary. The emerging understanding of the neurobiology of alcohol withdrawal suggests additional treatment approaches. Neuronal plasticity mechanisms may play a role in the susceptibility to alcohol withdrawal seizures in humans and rodents. In humans the number of detoxifications, not the absolute amount of alcohol intake, best predicts the likelihood of subsequent alcohol withdrawal seizures (Ballenger and Post, 1978).

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All too often, problem drinkers lie on the questionnaire until they face a life-threatening health issue—and even then denial often reigns supreme. In each case, close monitoring is essential as the symptoms can suddenly become severe. If you or a loved one are struggling with alcoholism and need help safely detoxing, we are here for you. We are committed to not only helping you detox safely but also to helping you maintain long-term sobriety.

What are withdrawal seizures like?

Withdrawal seizures usually begin within 8–24 h after the patient's last drink and may occur before the blood alcohol level has returned to zero. Most are generalized major motor seizures, occurring singly or in a burst of several seizures over a period of 1–6 h.

A higher seizure threshold means that it is harder for your brain to spontaneously develop seizures, while a lower seizure threshold means it is easier and more likely that you will spontaneously have a seizure. Using alcohol raises your seizure threshold, making seizures less likely. For those who don’t suffer from an alcohol-related disorder, when they stop drinking, nothing bad typically happens. If they drank a lot the night before and didn’t properly hydrate they might wake up with a hangover, but that’s about the worst of it. However, for those who struggle with alcohol abuse or addiction, stopping drinking can cause serious medical problems. Alcohol acts by stimulating receptors in your brain that cause brain activity to be suppressed.

Can Alcohol Trigger Seizures?

Abnormally low blood sugar levels can lead to seizures, and this drop normally occurs at the same time as a hangover, causing people to connect the hangover with the seizure. Those on blood sugar medications are most at risk for this complication. Dehydration during a hangover may also increase the risk of seizures developing.

If it happens, it often starts about 3 to 5 days after your last drink. If you’ve had a seizure from any cause, you’re more at risk for a seizure from alcohol abuse. Seizure medicines may not prevent seizures that are caused by alcohol withdrawal. Other common household substances can also contain a significant amount of alcohol if ingested in large quantities, including mouthwash and cough syrup. Some of these items may also contain a high content of salicylates or acetaminophen, so consider checking aspirin and acetaminophen levels in patients presenting with alcohol withdrawal. Drinking too much alcohol at once can increase your risk of seizures, especially if you binge drink or have a history of seizure problems.

Prediction of Alcohol Withdrawal Severity Scale

As frontline clinicians, nurses are uniquely positioned to recognize, prevent, and help treat patients with AWS. This article covers how to assess for patients at risk for AWS with screening tools and how to individualize patient treatment. We described the many different types and categories of seizures beforehand, so we won’t rehash that here. Alcohol-related seizures are generalized seizures, meaning they tend to affect the whole brain. These are the seizures you see on TV where the person falls to the ground in convulsions. As you can imagine, falling can result in injury – anything from a scraped knee to a severe concussion.

  • This conclusion is consistent with observations from studies of cerebral glucose metabolism (see previous section entitled Metabolic Changes Following Alcohol Withdrawal).
  • What counts here is not alcohol consumption, per se, but the quantity of alcohol consumed.
  • Several potential injuries can be fatal, such as falling and hitting your head, biting off your tongue during a seizure and choking on it, and many other potential injuries.
  • A patient who has had a seizure should be observed in the hospital for at least 24 hours afterward.
  • To accomplish this, evidence-based behavioral therapies are commonly used.

They will likely require a multidisciplinary approach before discharge. He is actively involved in in using translational simulation to improve patient care and the design of processes and systems at Alfred Health. He coordinates the Alfred ICU’s education and simulation programmes and runs the unit’s education website, INTENSIVE. He created the ‘Critically Ill Airway’ course and teaches on numerous courses around the world. He is one of the founders of the FOAM movement (Free Open-Access Medical education) and is co-creator of litfl.com, the RAGE podcast, the Resuscitology course, and the SMACC conference. While a seizure itself may not damage the brain, it can lead someone to suddenly fall and be unable to catch themselves.


Others simply can’t afford the cost that comes with inpatient treatment. For those people who can’t or don’t want to enter into an inpatient treatment program, most treatment centers also offer outpatient treatment. With inpatient treatment, you have the benefit of access to around-the-clock 24/7 therapy and care. In addition, it ensures you are in a safe and stable environment while you complete your treatment and attend your therapy sessions, thus, lowering the chances of a relapse during the early stages of recovery. Abnormalities in fluid levels, electrolyte levels, or nutrition should be corrected.

Am I going to have a seizure if I stop drinking?

Yes. Seizures from alcohol withdrawal can happen. Suddenly stopping alcohol intake after prolonged heavy drinking may trigger alcohol withdrawal seizures. The most typical and severe type of seizure that happens is called tonic-clonic seizures, also called convulsions.

Ethylene glycol (antifreeze) ingestion can lead to an altered sensorium, seizures, and severe renal dysfunction with acidemia that may require the initiation of hemodialysis. Methanol is rarely ingested as an ethanol substitute but can result in multisystem organ failure, blindness, and seizures. Until the 1980s, it was generally believed that the actions https://ecosoberhouse.com/article/alcohol-withdrawal-seizure-causes-symptoms-treatment/ of ethanol on biologic systems largely result from alterations in the fluidity of cell membranes, perhaps, with secondary effects on integral membrane proteins. This idea arose from the recognition that ethanol is a member of a group of anesthetic substances whose potency is related to their lipid solubility in accordance with the Meyer–Overton rule (22).

Lines selected to be ethanol Withdrawal Seizure-Prone (WSP) or -Resistant (WSR)

Clearly, detoxification (detox) and withdrawal are best handled with the aid of medical professionals. This is particularly true if you have a severe or long-term addiction to alcohol. It’s important to physically clear your body of alcohol as much as possible before entering a treatment program.

  • For more information about our treatment programs, or to learn more about our medication-assisted treatments as it pertains to alcohol addiction, alcohol tremors, and alcohol withdrawal seizures, contact us today.
  • When you stop drinking abruptly, a significant chemical change happens all at once.
  • If you’ve developed alcohol use disorder in addition to alcohol dependence, detox may not be enough to address your alcohol problem.
  • It’s vital to sober up, detox, and get healthy in the presence of knowledgeable healthcare professionals.
  • If it comes with warning signs, you could experience deja vu, intense anxiety, muscle twitches, loss of bowel or bladder control, numbness or tingling, nausea, and confusion.

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