Alcohol Withdrawal Seizure: Dangers & Treatment

Aug 2023 Alcohol Withdrawal Seizure: Dangers & Treatment

The risk of alcohol withdrawal seizure is one of many reasons why a medical detoxification program may be the ideal place to begin your recovery journey.

Can Alcohol Withdrawal Cause a Seizure?

Alcohol withdrawal seizures are not common, but they can (and do) occur. People who have been drinking heavily for a long period are at greatest risk for alcohol withdrawal seizures and other particularly dangerous symptoms.

Alcohol withdrawal can vary significantly from one person to another depending on several individual factors. Two of the most influential factors are how much someone has been drinking and how long they have been addicted to alcohol. A person’s age, weight, and metabolism can also impact their withdrawal experience. 

For “mild” cases of alcohol addiction, withdrawal can include disrupted sleep patterns, anxiety, headaches, abdominal pain, elevated heart rate, excessive perspiration, and nausea.

For people who have been drinking heavily for an extended period of time, withdrawal can be both more painful and more dangerous. Symptoms can include anxiety, tics and tremors, extreme confusion, hallucinations, and alcohol withdrawal seizure.

What Are Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures Like?

Most alcohol withdrawal seizures are what medical professionals refer to as generalized tonic-clonic seizures.

  • During the tonic phase of an alcohol withdrawal seizure, the individual will lose consciousness and their muscles will stiffen. This stiffening may cause the person to expel breath from their lungs, which may sound like a groan. The person may also appear to foam at the mouth.
  • During the clonic phase of an alcohol withdrawal seizure, the person’s body will begin to twitch. This involuntary twitching, which can become severe, may involve the person’s face, arms, and/or legs. This phase typically lasts for a maximum of about three minutes. As the twitching ends and the person’s muscles begin to relax, they may evacuate their bladder and bowels.
  • After the clonic phase of the alcohol withdrawal seizure subsides, the individual may remain unconscious for a bit. When they awaken, they may experience muscle soreness, extreme fatigue, and confusion. 

Dangers of an Alcohol Withdrawal Seizure

Alcohol withdrawal seizures can be both distressing and dangerous. The following are examples of the many potential dangers they can pose:

  • If the person is standing when they have the seizure, they can fall and injure themselves.
  • Even if the person is seated or lying down, the extreme twitching that can occur during an alcohol withdrawal seizure can lead to physical injuries.
  • In the aftermath of an alcohol withdrawal seizure, a person may struggle with memory loss and exhibit aggressive tendencies.
  • Alcohol withdrawal seizures could pose a risk to the heart and lungs.

Why it Is Important to go to Medical Detox for Alcohol Withdrawal

Why it is important to get medical treatment to prevent an alcohol withdrawal seizureEven after decades of public education and awareness efforts, many people still cling to the misguided belief that alcohol addiction is little more than evidence of a lack of willpower. 

The truth is that alcohol addiction is a chronic, progressive disease that can be fatal if not properly treated. And for some people who have this disease – including those who are at risk of having an alcohol withdrawal seizure – medical detox is an essential component of treatment. 

Here are a few examples of why detox can be so important:

  • The pain of withdrawal can be intense. If a person tries to complete withdrawal on their own, this pain can quickly push them back into active alcohol abuse. Medical detox occurs in a closely supervised environment where patients do not have access to alcohol or other addictive drugs. 
  • Fear of the unknown can prevent people from trying to end their alcohol abuse. Medical detox programs are staffed by trained professionals who are familiar with the alcohol withdrawal process and prepared for any contingencies that may occur. 
  • About 5% of people who become addicted to alcohol will experience delirium tremens (or the DTs) during withdrawal. Experts estimate that, without proper professional treatment, the death rate from the DTs is about 37%. However, when a person gets proper care via a reputable medical detox program, their risk of death declines considerably. 
  • During medical detox, patients may also receive therapeutic support to help them manage symptoms that are not alleviated by medication alone. Engaging in therapy while still in detox can prepare a person to make a successful transition into a residential or outpatient program once they have successfully rid their body of alcohol. 

Remember: While detox can be a vital step on the path to recovery, it is not the only step people need to take. Therapy, education, and ongoing support can help people develop the skills and strategies that will empower them to resist future urges and preserve their sobriety.

What to Do if Someone Is Having Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures

Witnessing someone who is in the midst of an alcohol withdrawal seizure can be an extremely upsetting experience. Your distress may be magnified by worries about how (or if) you can help the person. Here are a few tips for responding if someone has an alcohol withdrawal seizure.

  • If the individual is already in a treatment center, summon professional help immediately.
  • If they are standing when the seizure begins, ease them to the floor or help them get into bed.
  • Place a pillow or other soft object behind their head.
  • If possible, loosen any tight clothing that they are wearing.
  • Do NOT put anything into their mouth. Contrary to a persistent myth, they are in no danger of swallowing their tongue.
  • After the alcohol withdrawal seizure has ended, roll them onto their side.
  • Check to make sure that there is nothing in their mouth that could obstruct their breathing.
  • Speak calmly and reassuringly to them as they regain consciousness.
  • If this is occurring outside of a medical treatment facility, call 911

Contact Our Alcohol Treatment Center at Phoenix Rising Recovery 

If you are seeking detox, residential treatment, and/or outpatient programming for alcohol addiction, Phoenix Rising Recovery may be the ideal place for you. Our alcohol addiction treatment center in southern California is safe and supportive place where you can receive a full continuum of customized care from a team of highly skilled professionals. 

With our help, you can stop drinking for good and start living the healthier life you deserve. To learn more or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Contact page or call us today.