The Importance of Preventing an Alcohol Withdrawal Seizure

Share on Pinterest

Yes, it is very possible that you or someone you know who is detoxing might have an alcohol withdrawal seizure.  The first thing you need to understand is that you can have a seizure due to alcohol withdrawal even if you have never had a seizure before in your life.

I work in an alcohol detox unit and I see seizures happen from time to time.  They do not happen every day but they probably happen at least once a month.  What blows me away is how naive people are when it comes to the possibility.

I will go to give a detoxing alcoholic patient their medication for the day and they will say “What is this?”  And I’ll say “that is your medication.”

“For what?”

“It helps prevents seizures.”

“Oh, I don’t need that.  I don’t have seizures.”

I hear this over and over again.  People think seizures are a lifelong condition like asthma or something.  Oh, I don’t need that inhaler, I don’t have asthma.  But saying that you don’t have seizures is just plain ignorant. Anyone can have a seizure.  Anyone who is detoxing from alcohol has an increased likelihood of having an seizure.  It’s not like everyone is going to have one or anything–don’t get me wrong.  But the chances are multiplied by the alcohol withdrawal.

J-Party Ballads
Creative Commons License photo credit: ToniProtto

Figure this in too: many of the people who have seizures due to alcohol withdrawal were taking strong medications to help prevent the seizures.  That is pretty serious when you think about it….that most of the seizures I see in the alcohol detox are from people who are already taking the proper medication to try and prevent the seizures.  So this is a very real threat that you need to take seriously, especially if you are detoxing at home and do not have the proper medication on hand (most people normally would not, as it is prescription only).

If your hands tend to shake whenever you go for too long without a drink, then you are probably a more likely candidate for someone who would have a seizure during alcohol withdrawal. The solution in this case is to try to go to treatment in order to stop drinking.  This is really the safest route you can go, because detoxing at home can lead to dangerous situations and decrease your chances of staying sober at all.  If you can get into a detox unit then you will be much safer and your odds of staying sober will increase.


Share on Pinterest
  • Jessica

    I have a boyfriend who has had seizures. He is an alcoholic. We went to the zoo and he had nothing to drink all morning and afternoon. He was feeling sick and had tremors or shakes. After we left we got something to eat and he had a 2 or 3 beers. On the way home that night he had a seizure. Could it still be associated with withdrawl even though he had had some beer and was feeling fine at the time?

  • Patrick

    That is a tough question Jessica and I am not a doc.

    But based on my own experience, I would think that 2 or 3 beers would normally help to hold off a seizure in most cases. Maybe if he had gone 2 or 3 full days with no booze at all, then the 3 beers might have been too little too late to help. But if he drank the day before then I am guessing he might have something going on in addition to the withdrawal.

    Certainly would not hurt to get medical help for something like this. I would encourage a medical detox if he is willing to stop drinking. Good luck…

  • C. J. Meyers

    Can alcoholics still have seizures after completely detoxing?

  • Patrick

    @ C.J. – Well if a person has completely and totally detox from alcohol, and they have a seizure, then by definition, it is not alcohol related.

    But having said that, many alcoholics get past the worst part of their detox and think that they are home free, only to have a seizure a day or two later.

    Seizures are quite common on like day 5, day 6, day 7…that sort of thing. And most alcoholics get through the worst of their withdrawal long before that. So the answer to your question is basically “yes, you need to be very careful, even after you think your detox is over with.”

    As always, please consult a doctor before you just blindly take my advice. I have watched a lot of detox, but I am not a doc myself….

  • Chris

    Hello there. I am asking for some help and advice really. We have a family member that is alcohol dependant. She really wants to give up, but when she comes off the alcohol for 1 day, the day after she will have fits throughout the day and therefore feels that to be safe she needs to drink more. What is the best way to tackle this. What drugs should we be approaching the doctor for? Is there a detox place that anybody can reccomend in Cheshire, England? Thanks in advance.

  • Patrick

    @ Chris – I do not know about in Cheshire England but I do know that you should try to seek out a medical detox, as alcohol withdrawal is nothing to mess around with. Typical drugs that are prescribed for alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous as well, and also tricky to administer. One of the safest ways is to use Gapapentin under the direct supervision of a doctor, but unfortunately most will lean more towards pills such as Librium for alcohol detox.

    None of it is really safe if you are on your own and not under direct medical supervision. Please seek help for this!

  • Rachel

    I had an alcohol withdrawal seizure (grand mal) in September of this year (2010). I was sober for a few weeks, then picked up again and pretty much drank every day for a few weeks thereafter. I then went to a detox center the first part of November and have been sober for 25 days. My question is, what are the chances of me having another seizure if I drink again? Even in moderation (if that is possible…)? I do not plan on having another drink, but those around me (my support system)drink and do not get the seriousness of it. Just wondering if I’m blowing it out of proportion and if my risk of having another seizure or DT’s is really that high since I have had one already?

  • Patrick

    @ Rachel – I am not a doctor, but I have been told by doctors who specialize in alcoholism and addiction that people who have had seizures before due to withdrawal are very likely candidates to have them again in the future if they go through detox again.

    This is evidenced by the fact that a detox center will take extra precautions in situations exactly like what you describe. The doctor will take extra care and often times even change the medications that he gives for the detox.

    So yes, if you drink again, expect a similar experience.

    Actually, you can almost always count on it being just a bit worse each time you try to sober up.

    Like I said, I am not a doc, but I am a drunk who has been to rehab a few times, and I have also worked in a detox for about 5 years now. So I see the evidence.

    Please do whatever you can to stay sober Rachel!

  • Rachel

    I have a question. I had an alcohol withdrawal seizure (grand mal) in September 2010. I was sober of a few weeks, then picked up again and drank almost every day. The first part of November, my family took me to a detox center and I have been sober for 25 days now (yeah!). My question is, what are the chances of me having another seizure if I pick up again – even in moderation(if that is possible)? I do not plan or want to pick up again, but my husband drinks and does not get the seriousness of this or alcoholism. I know I need to make a lifestyle change, but I also am yearning for him to understand my situation. Am I blowing this out of proportion? Are my chances of having another siezure or DT’s higher, and if so, how much? Thank you.

  • Rachel

    Thank you – I didn’t realize the first question went through!

  • Neil

    hello.. i have a friend who had seziure once and he is on medication for couple of years but with the medication he consume lot of alcohol. is it safe ? next thing is when he is in a crowd of people he feels shakiness n nausea.. but after consuming alcohol he doesnt have those symptoms.

  • Patrick

    @ Neil – I would say mixing alcohol with other drugs almost always carries some risk. If he has symptoms when not drinking then those are withdrawal symptoms; it means he is physically addicted to alcohol. I would suggest rehab or a medical detox….

  • Larry

    Your comments in the original article:

    “What blows me away is how naive people are when it comes to the possibility.”


    “But saying that you don’t have seizures is just plain ignorant. Anyone can have a seizure.”

    This seems a bit strong as no one is born with this innate knowledge of seizures nor is this a thing the layman learns in primary education.

    My mother was an alcoholic and I and my brother were completely unaware of alcohol withdrawal seizures until a nurse off-handedly mentioned that our mother had a seizure the night before. (She was at the time at a detox hospital.)This was our first account of ever knowing that seizures could be a symptom of alcohol withdrawal and the nurse politely explained without telling either of us we were ‘ignorant of the facts’.

    I think it is nice how you are telling others to seek help via a detox unit or the like as I hate to think of what could of happened to my mother had she had a seizure while alone at home or while driving her car, etc.

  • Larry

    btw: Congrats on the 9 years and the 5 of non-smoking. That’s a real feat.

  • Patrick

    @ Larry – you are right, sorry for the harsh tone. The reason I had a harsh tone was because I work in a rehab, and some people get downright snotty with us when we try to give them medication for withdrawal….some of them have exclaimed: “I don’t have seizures, why are you trying to give me that medicine?”

    So I think that was why I came across that way…sorry bout that!

  • paul

    Hey all, I have a question. My brother had an Alcohol Withdrawal Seizure last year and claims to sober since. However, he just had another Seizure and our family is not prone to seizures. We have no history of seizures in the family. I wondering if he’s soberity has been a lie or if it’s highly possible he now is susceptible to Seizures?

  • Tess

    Both my parents are alcoholics – my Father had a seizure last Sept when he was in hospital recovering from a fall he had at home whilst drunk. Since Dec last year he has reduced his drinking by about 50% gradually and is maintaining at this level – its still to much and he knows it has to reduce further. What do you know about seizures whilst still drinking? Everything I can find talks about the seizures during withdrawl and the cold turkey phase or 2-3 days after last drink – well Dad had a fit at home a few mornings ago – he had consumed his normal level of alcohol the night before which he has maintained on the whole quite well for a few months now and generally he is eating much better too – the hospital just dismissed him and sent him home when they saw alcohol on his notes. What is your experience? I know you worked in rehab/detox and Dad is not doing that but you have seen much more than I.
    Many thanks

  • Patrick

    @ Tess – I have limited knowledge about your father’s situation.

    I think if he is drinking the same amount every day, then he is less likely to seize.

    However, it is possible that he quits drinking when he goes to sleep, then wakes up, goes about his business during the day, and actually enters withdrawal before he takes his first drink of the day. That could be the problem.

    I would consult an addictionologist, if you can find one…..

  • lucy

    i have been drinking every night for the past 8 months – usully only 2 glasses of wine or a few vodkas – im scared that i will have a seizure as i witnesses one b4. im not dependant just anxous that i will seize – what do u think the chances of me seizing are?

  • paula

    if you drink and and a couple days later you have a siezure can that be caused from drinking a couple days before.

  • Anonymous

    @ Paula – yes you can have a seizure 3 days into sobriety.

  • A

    Should someone who has been to rehab a number of times and just recently had a seizure (or went into a convulsion) be scuba diving? I don’t know all the details but think she was trying to detox herself. She is now in rehab again.

  • Patrick

    @ A – if you are in withdrawal or have gone like 1 to 5 days without a drink (and you are dependent on alcohol) then no, you should not be in the water at all.

    Most likely seizure is 2 to 4 day range from last drink. But up to a week is possible, as is the first day. But most common is about 72 hours from last drink taken.

  • A

    Thanks. There are medical forms that need to be filled out for every dive shop/operator when you plan to dive with them for liability issues; state of health, meds, medical conditions. I hope that she is honest with herself if she ever plans to dive again in her current condition as it could have a horrible outcome. Scuba diving should be medically approved by your doctor if there are issues.

  • E

    Hi, I have been alchol dependant for the past 5 years, I have tried at various times to stop drinking (1 or 2 days here and there) but have also had two pregnancies, neither of which I drank during, and never had a seziure. I generally have been consuming 1-1 and a half bottles of wine perday, always in the evening. Four weeks ago, I gave up drinking for 7 days, and then started drinking heavily again. In the last 3 weeks I have been drinking two bottle of wine per day, and 4 days ago started drinking 3 bottles per day. I have visited various doctors and treatment centres who have all told be not to stop drinking completely, but I don’t feel I can go another day feeling this awful. I have been sober for the past 30 hours, my hands don’t shake when I don’t drink, and one doctor said I was “unlikely” to have a seizure with this level of drinking. I also suffer from anxiety disorder and panic attacks, all of which are being worsened by the fact I’m terrified I’ll have a seziure or start hallucinating. What should I do? Please help.

  • Marco

    Hello – I was in detox from Nov 9, 2011 to Nov 14, 2011. Released and got my last 1/2 mg of Ativan at noon on the 14th (5 days). I didn’t feel right the day I was released, called the hospital a few times telling them I had muscle spasms (uncontrollable), twitching, hot/cold; trembling; sweats but they said I was totally detoxed. 2 days later, at my out-patient continuing care intake evaluation, I was having withdrawal symptoms and they convinced me it was a “panic attack” only. 1 hour later, on hospital grounds, I had a seizure! Fell and hurt myself pretty badly. I think I wasn’t detoxed properly, or long enough. The hospital says I was detoxed completely. I say I can’t have been or I wouldn’t have had a seizure! What the heck? I’m filing a grievance. IF I was totally detoxed, could I still have had an “alcohol related seizure” 2 days after release? That’s what the ER doctor said it was.

  • Pingback: Seizure And Alcohol Withdrawal - Alco Detox & Recovery Center()