Doctors and healthcare providers often warn people with epilepsy about drinking alcohol, but can alcohol cause seizures?
If you have epilepsy or have experienced a seizure in the past, then you may have asked yourself this question before. Our drug rehabilitation center is aware of the many alcohol-related diseases out there and the long-term effects of heavy drinking. We’re going into depth about alcohol-induced seizures, their symptoms, and how and why they occur.
Can Drinking Cause Seizures?
Yes, alcohol can cause seizures, but not in the way you think. Small amounts of alcohol or drinking alcohol every once in a while don’t cause seizures. Alcohol causes seizures when a person is going through alcohol withdrawal. Seizures may also occur as a result of alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS), which is the name for the symptoms that occur when heavy drinkers or alcoholics suddenly stop or significantly reduce their alcohol consumption. A seizure is a burst of uncontrolled electrical activity between brain cells or neurons that causes temporary abnormalities like stiffness, twitching, or limpness. Alcohol withdrawal seizures usually occur 6 to 48 hours after the person’s last drink.
In addition to symptoms like nausea, vomiting, fatigue, anxiety, and hallucinations, alcohol seizures may also occur as the person’s body is adapting to their reduced drinking. It’s important to note that binge drinking can also lead to alcohol withdrawal seizures in people who do not have epilepsy. This substance is also one of the most dangerous to wean off of, which is why so many people undergo alcohol detox to ensure their safety and health throughout the withdrawal process.
How Does Alcohol Cause Seizures?
Alcohol mainly causes seizures when a person has completely stopped drinking or greatly reduced their alcohol intake because the body has trouble adjusting. Alcohol, especially in large amounts, greatly impacts your central nervous system, increasing gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) signaling to reduce nerve activity while increasing excitatory signaling through chemicals like glutamate. This means that in heavy or chronic drinkers, the body compensates for the sedative effects of alcohol by working hard to keep the brain in a more awake state and increasing nerve activity. When an alcoholic suddenly stops drinking or dramatically reduces their intake of alcohol, the brain remains in an excitatory state, which leads to withdrawal and symptoms like seizures.
Seizures caused by alcohol also occur due to an imbalance of nerve-signaling brain chemicals. As with many other drugs of abuse, individuals who fail to receive inpatient drug treatment for their alcoholism may eventually suffer from changes in chemical brain structure. Not only can changes in levels of chemicals like dopamine contribute to addiction, but they can also lead to seizures.
Alcohol Seizure Symptoms
Although all seizures are different, there are some basic signs to look out for. Some common alcohol-induced seizure symptoms include:
- Staring off at one point
- Stiffening of the body
- Jerking movements of the arms and legs
- Loss of consciousness
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
- Falling suddenly for no reason
- Failing to respond to noise for a brief period
- Appearing confused or hazed
- Rapid blinking
A person who’s experiencing a seizure of any kind may have blue lips due to abnormal breathing. They may also feel confused or sleepy afterward. There is a clear relationship between alcohol and seizures, and those who drink heavily for long periods are at a higher risk. Moreover, people with epilepsy should avoid drinking, as alcoholism may also aggravate their condition.