Drinking is a common activity for many people. Many drink alcohol in moderation, either at home or in a social setting. Others yet binge drink or drink excessively to the point of blacking out or experiencing an alcohol-induced seizure.
The 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported that 85.6 percent of people ages 18 or older said they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime; 69.5 percent admitted they drank in the past year, and 54.9 percent relayed they drank in the past month.
More startling facts regarding alcohol use and abuse from the NSDUH proclaim that almost 26 percent of people ages 18 or older said they engaged in binge drinking in the past month. Another 6.3 percent claimed they engaged in heavy alcohol use in the past month.
Binge and heavy drinking are dangerous to indulge in as they can cause seizures in people who are not diagnosed with epilepsy if drinking is abruptly stopped.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines binge drinking as “a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 g/dl or above.” Binge drinking is dangerous and may produce seizures in people who have not been diagnosed with epilepsy.
Epilepsy is “a central nervous system disorder in which brain activity becomes abnormal, causing seizures or periods of unusual behavior, sensations, and sometimes loss of awareness,” according to the Mayo Clinic. The esteemed medical organization also states that symptoms vary widely, with some people staring blankly for a few seconds while others twitch repeatedly. An epilepsy diagnosis is usually made when two unprovoked seizures occur. Anyone from any background can have a seizure.
If you’ve already been diagnosed with epilepsy that is not related to alcohol, it is vital to understand the relationship between alcohol and seizures. If you have epilepsy and drink moderately, there is a lesser chance of seizure. If you are a heavy drinker, the chance is higher.
What Are Alcohol-Related Seizures
Perhaps you are wondering what an alcohol-related seizure is? This type of seizure is one that can be experienced by someone who is a heavy drinker, one with alcohol use disorder (AUD), and someone with diagnosed epilepsy who drinks excessively.
Seizure is one of the symptoms of an alcohol overdose. This can happen when there is so much alcohol in the bloodstream that some parts of the brain that control life-support functions, such as heart rate and breathing, start shutting down. Other symptoms of an overdose are mental confusion, trouble remaining conscious, breathing difficulty, slowed heart rate, no gag reflex (prevents choking), clammy skin, and very low body temperature. Alcohol overdose can cause permanent brain damage or death.
Alcohol-related seizures are known as one of the symptoms of withdrawal. A person with epilepsy could have a higher chance of seizure if they drink three or more alcoholic beverages at a time. Also, binge drinking can lead to status epilepticus, a condition when the seizure lasts longer than five minutes or when seizures happen close together, and the person does not recover from them, as noted by the Epilepsy Foundation. This is a life-endangering and potentially deadly problem.
People with epilepsy should know that seizure medicines can lower their tolerance for alcohol, so the immediate effects of alcohol consumption are greater.
How Can Alcohol Withdrawal Cause Seizure?
Alcohol withdrawal is one of the most dangerous types of substance use withdrawal to undergo. When you go through it alone, without medical supervision, it can be life-threatening. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms may start eight hours after the last drink. However, they can also start days later. Symptoms usually peak between 24 to 72 hours and could last for weeks.
There are many symptoms that can lead to dehydration and more severe symptoms, which may result in a condition called delirium tremens, sometimes called the “DTs.” If you are in delirium tremens, you may be experiencing:
- Severe confusion
What Happens When You Have a Seizure from Alcohol?
If you abruptly stop consuming alcohol after prolonged periods of heavy drinking, you may begin to feel the beginning of a tonic-clonic type seizure. This happens because your nervous system is used to feeling excited by alcohol. The more prolonged time you have been drinking, the more your body becomes used to and dependent on the alcohol.
Alcohol also affects the neurotransmitters in your brain. When you drink, alcohol suppresses some of them, causing you to feel relaxed. When you stop drinking, they are no longer suppressed but have to work harder, and thus, they go into a state of overexcitement.
What Does an Alcoholic Seizure Look Like?
Generally, a seizure begins on both sides of the brain. However, it can start on one side and spread to the whole brain. You will lose consciousness, your muscles will stiffen, and your body will produce jerking movements. Seizures can last one to three minutes and may take longer for you to recover. This is what it will look like to those near you when you are seizing. It can be very frightening.
What Does a Seizure Feel Like?
Since alcohol withdrawal seizures are usually categorized as tonic-clonic, it will most likely feel like this, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
- Your body, arms, and legs will contract (or flex), straighten out, and shake.
- Then your muscles will contract and relax (the clonic period).
- The postictal period may make you feel sleepy, have vision and/or speech problems, a very bad headache, fatigue, or body aches.
A user on Empatica, a health technology company, relayed how she feels before and after a tonic-clonic seizure: “I can feel myself fading into it, knowing that I cannot stop it, and then later I wake up on the floor and I always know what happened. I hurt so very badly all over my body, I feel like I’ve been run over by a train for days.”
Can Alcohol Poisoning Cause Seizures?
The short answer is yes, alcohol poisoning can cause seizures. It is one of a list of symptoms that you could feel if your alcohol consumption overloads your system. Here is what you could possibly experience:
- Slow breathing, irregular breathing
- Pale or blue-tinged skin
- Hypothermia (low body temp)
- Passing out and cannot be awakened
These symptoms need immediate medical attention in order to save your life.
How Can I Stop Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures and Shaking?
Alcohol is a foreign body that changes your hormone levels, blood sugar levels, and the usual functions of your body. High quantities of alcohol or prolonged drinking periods can cause the body to spasm or shake. These shakes may be long enough to dangerously affect your health and life. If your body is struggling to process the amount of alcohol consumed, withdrawal, including the shakes, could last a week.
You can try to stop the shakes by keeping hydrated with water or sports drinks that will replenish the electrolytes in your body, consume food and beverages with Vitamin B, as these will help rebalance your body’s blood sugar levels.
If you are having seizures, your best bet is if someone calls emergency services. The possibility of your not being able to breathe and possibly dangerous low heart rate could be fatal.
Can Alcohol Cause Seizures in a Non-Epileptic?
As mentioned previously on this page, abusing alcohol, consuming too much of it at one time, or an extended time of heavy drinking, such as throughout adulthood, can cause non-epileptic seizures (NES). These are dangerous when experienced on their own and if they are not treated by medical professionals.
Non-epileptic seizures can come in three different types, as noted by Cedars-Sinai Medical Center:
- Panic attacks
- Uncontrollable dissociative seizures
They have their own set of symptoms in which to be aware:
- Making a noise or crying out
- Falling down
- Stiffening of muscles
- Jerky, rhythmic or twitching motions
- Biting the tongue
- Loss of consciousness
- Confusion after returning to consciousness
- Loss of bladder control
- Dizziness, tingling feeling
- Altered senses
- Repetitive motions
- Changes in emotions
Alcohol Addiction and Treatment
If you or someone you care about is struggling with alcohol addiction, it is time to seek help. Arete Recovery offers alcohol rehab, which includes medically supervised detox. Medical detox ensures that the client undergoing alcohol withdrawal is provided with the correct fluids and medications to ease all symptoms, including shaking or seizures.
The safest and most successful way to overcome alcoholism is through addiction treatment, which involves evidence-based therapies and steady support. Addiction is a chronic disease that affects the brain, but it is treatable. Before you consider withdrawing from alcohol on your own and risk your life, reach out to us for guidance. Your life depends on it.