Drinking alcohol in small amounts generally does not trigger seizures, but seizures can result from alcohol withdrawal when you’re dependent on alcohol or drink heavily.
Article at a Glance:
Drinking alcohol in small amounts generally does not trigger seizures, but seizures can result from alcohol withdrawal.
People who drink in moderation are not likely to experience seizures.
Binge drinking can cause alcohol withdrawal seizures in people, even for individuals who do not have epilepsy.
Alcohol withdrawal seizures can occur within a few hours or up to 72 hours after stopping drinking.
Can Drinking Alcohol Cause Seizures?
Drinking alcohol does not normally cause seizures. Rather, the risk of alcohol withdrawal seizures is more of a concern. Developing a tolerance for alcohol has a direct impact on the central nervous system. For abusers, the cessation of drinking can significantly increase the seizure threshold. There is no definitive cutoff for what amount of alcohol you have to drink to experience withdrawal symptoms that increase the risk of seizures. As a general rule, the longer you have been drinking over time and the more you drink, the higher your risk for developing withdrawal symptoms, which may include seizures.
Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures
Alcohol withdrawal can trigger a seizure. In fact, people suffering from chronic alcohol abuse increase their risk of developing seizures when they suddenly stop drinking. A study by The Recovery Village found heavy drinkers were 45% more likely than light or moderate drinkers to experience seizures during withdrawal and 73% more likely to have had a seizure in general.
Related Topic: How To Wean Off Alcohol
Withdrawal seizures can begin within just a few hours after stopping drinking, or they can take up to 72 hours to start. Withdrawal is something that happens when your body has become dependent on the presence of drugs or alcohol. When you suddenly stop using that substance, your body goes through withdrawal symptoms as it adjusts to the absence of the addictive substance; this is why alcohol and seizures have a relationship with one another. If you are dependent on alcohol, it’s important to participate in a medically-supervised detox program, which can help alleviate the risks of the situation.
Alcohol acts by stimulating receptors in your brain that cause brain activity to be suppressed. Alcohol itself does not normally cause seizures, but during withdrawal, when the suppressive activity of alcohol is removed, your brain will be more susceptible to seizures than it normally would. There are some specific considerations that may affect your risk of seizures when using alcohol.
Binge Drinking Seizures
Binge drinking and alcohol withdrawal together can cause seizures, even in people not previously diagnosed with epilepsy. Binge drinking refers to a scenario where you drink a lot in a short period of time, and the seizures related to binge drinking can stem from withdrawal. Even if you’re not a chronic drinker, in some cases, you may also experience withdrawal seizures after binge drinking.
Long-term alcohol use can increase your risk of developing epilepsy, a condition where you are prone to having seizures. While the reason for this is not fully understood, alcohol does create changes in receptors in your brain that affect your likelihood of having a seizure. While epilepsy can develop on its own in people who do not use alcohol, long-term alcohol use will increase the risk of epilepsy developing in some people.
People with epilepsy should consult their doctor before using alcohol, as alcohol can affect epilepsy medications. Alcohol use can also trigger seizures in people with epilepsy if withdrawal symptoms begin to occur. Epilepsy can cause seizures to occur with more mild levels of alcohol withdrawal than would occur in most people.
FAQs About Alcohol-Related Seizures
Alcohol seizures are complex occurrences with much to discover. Below is a collection of FAQs based on what we do know about this subject.
What is an alcohol withdrawal seizure?
Alcohol naturally suppresses brain activity. When this effect occurs deeply or over a long period of time, brain activity can rebound during alcohol withdrawal, exceeding normal levels and creating the risk of a seizure. Someone with an alcohol withdrawal seizure may experience convulsions and lose consciousness. If an alcohol withdrawal seizure occurs, it is a medical emergency.
What does an alcohol withdrawal seizure feel like?
An alcohol withdrawal seizure may feel like a loss of consciousness which you are slow to wake up from. If you are conscious during an alcohol withdrawal seizure, you may experience repetitive, uncontrolled movements of part or all of your body. Prior to the seizure, you may also experience an “aura,” consisting of an unusual visual change, smell, taste, or sound caused by abnormal brain activity.
What to do if someone has a seizure from alcohol withdrawal?
If someone has a seizure from alcohol withdrawal symptoms, you should move things out of the way that they could accidentally hurt themselves with during the seizure. You should not try to touch them or hold them during the seizure. You should also call 911 and get emergency medical help as soon as possible, even if the seizure has stopped. After the seizure, you should position them on their side and ensure that their airway is clear while waiting for emergency assistance.
What happens when seizure medication is mixed with alcohol?
Alcohol has the potential to enhance some side effects of anti-seizure medications, including drowsiness and dizziness. Alcohol can also impact how certain medications are absorbed by the body. Do not mix anti-seizure medication and alcohol without first speaking to a physician.
How long after you quit drinking may you experience a seizure?
Alcohol withdrawal seizures may begin within hours to days of stopping alcohol use or starting an alcohol detox. The timeframe will be different for everyone, but seizures will normally start within the first 72 hours.
Can a person with epilepsy drink alcohol?
Someone with epilepsy should not drink alcohol without first discussing the potential risks with a doctor who is familiar with their specific condition.
What can trigger a seizure?
There are many potential triggers for someone who is prone to seizures. Flashing lights, especially repetitive on and off or patterns, may trigger a seizure. However, someone who is having an alcohol withdrawal seizure may not need any trigger other than stopping alcohol use.
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Christoffersen, S. “Death from seizures induced by chronic alcohol abuse—Does it exist?” Seizure, July 2007. Accessed August 4, 2021.
Epilepsy Ontario. “Alcohol and Seizures.” 2018. Accessed August 4, 2021.
Hillbom, Matti; Pieninkeroinen, Ilkka; & Leone, Maurizio. “Seizures in alcohol-dependent patients: […]logy and management.” CNS Drugs. 2003. Accessed August 4, 2021.
Morelli, Jim. “Seizure Medications.” RxList, April 7, 2021. Accessed August 4, 2021.
Schachter, Steven C., Shafer, Patty Obsorne, & Sirven, Joseph I. “What Happens During a Seizure?” Epilepsy Foundation, March 19, 2014. Accessed August 4, 2021.
Schachter, Steven C., Shafer, Patty Obsorne, & Sirven, Joseph I. “Triggers of Seizures.” Epilepsy Foundation, August 2013. Accessed August 4, 2021.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.