Why Does Alcohol Withdrawal Cause Seizures?

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Why Does Alcohol Withdrawal Cause Seizures?

Alcohol is one of the most dangerous substances to withdraw from. Usually, people who are heavy or chronic drinkers will experience alcohol withdrawal when they suddenly cut down on alcohol or stop drinking altogether. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, meaning that it reduces nerve activity in the brain to produce relaxation. The more a person drinks, the harder their mind is fighting to keep itself awake. When you suddenly take alcohol away, the mind remains in this alert state, producing all kinds of symptoms, including seizures. Many people who are thinking of quitting or cutting down have wondered why alcohol withdrawal causes seizures and how dangerous this process is. If this is you, then keep reading to better understand seizures and whether you’re at risk if you stop drinking.


Why Do You Have Seizures From Alcohol Withdrawal?

It’s known that alcohol-induced seizures can occur if consumption is ceased after a prolonged period of drinking. Specifically, the type of seizures caused by alcohol withdrawal are tonic-clonic seizures. A tonic-clonic seizure, also known as convulsion, is the type of seizure that most people are familiar with. Another older term used to describe this type of seizure is “grand mal.” The name is indicative of the nature of these seizures. Tonic means stiffening, and clonic means rhythmical jerking.


Usually, when a person experiences a tonic-clonic seizure or a seizure due to alcohol withdrawal, they may become stiff and lose consciousness. Once this phase has passed, they may then begin to jerk rapidly. After that happens, they may then regain consciousness and awareness. Tonic-clonic seizures or alcohol seizures usually occur 6 to 48 hours after the person’s last drink and can last from 1 to 3 minutes.


But the question is, why does alcohol withdrawal cause seizures? Alcohol withdrawal seizures occur when alcohol consumption is significantly reduced or cut off. Alcohol increases the levels of the chemical GABA, which reduces brain activity while decreasing the actions of glutamate and then excites the nervous system. Long-term or chronic drinking causes the body to develop a physical tolerance. When alcohol consumption is suddenly reduced, this chemical balance that it’s become so accustomed to maintaining changes, resulting in seizures.


To put it simply, imagine spinning a wheel as fast as possible in one direction, then suddenly trying to spin it in a different direction. A sort of interruption in the rhythm occurs. This is a basic way to think of what happens to the mind when a long-term drinker is suddenly cut off from alcohol. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms, in general, can be terrifying if you want to quit drinking. The idea of having seizures and other side effects often stops people from getting the treatment they need. However, there’s a safe way to detox and withdraw from alcohol that’s offered at Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches. If you’re interested in quitting alcohol in a safe way that will benefit your recovery in the long run, our medically monitored detox may be right for you.


Will I Have A Seizure if I Stop Drinking?

Not everyone has seizures when they stop drinking, and people don’t normally have seizures while they’re drinking. Seizures normally occur during withdrawal as a result of long-term alcohol abuse or binge drinking that’s lasted for months or years. Binge drinking is classified as having more than 5 drinks for men and more than 4 drinks for women within a 2-hour period.1 The longer you’ve been drinking or the more you drink, the higher your risk of experiencing alcohol withdrawal seizures. Even so, seizures do not occur in everyone who withdraws from alcohol. Seizures occur in approximately 5% of people who undergo alcohol withdrawal or detox from alcohol.2


Moreover, individuals with epilepsy who struggle with alcohol dependence are more likely to experience seizures during withdrawal. Around 2.3 million people in the United States have epilepsy, not including 450,000 children and teens.3 However, while people who may experience seizures during withdrawal develop epilepsy, not everyone who has a seizure is epileptic. People are only diagnosed with epilepsy when they’ve had 2 or more seizures.


Because alcohol withdrawal can produce uncomfortable or even life-threatening symptoms, those who want to quit drinking should detox under medical supervision. At Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches, we provide alcohol detox that’s led by a medical team. Our team slowly weans patients off of alcohol while providing treatment and assistance for their withdrawal symptoms. Although everyone’s experience withdrawing from alcohol may differ, detoxing from any sort of substance is best done with the help of a medical team.


If you or someone you know is struggling with a drinking problem and is worried about alcohol withdrawal and seizures, we can help. Our alcohol rehab in Palm Beach incorporates medical detox as well as therapy programs to help patients physically and emotionally recover from their addiction. If you’re interested in our levels of substance abuse for yourself or a loved one, call our rehab in Lake Worth at any time at 561-220-3981.


Related Reading:

Social Anxiety Disorder and Alcohol Use: I’m SAD! I need a drink!

Warning Signs of Alcohol Addiction



  1. NIH – Complications of alcohol withdrawal: pathophysiological insights
  2. NIH – Drinking Levels Defined
  3. NIH – The Epilepsies and Seizures: Hope Through Research

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