Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures

Managing Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures

Managing Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures

When someone with an alcohol use disorder (AUD) decides to get sober there are some important things to consider.  The spectrum of withdrawal symptoms during alcohol detox is wide, from minor tremors and insomnia to the delirium tremens (DTs) and everything in between.  Because of the potential for a serious medical emergency to result during alcohol detox and withdrawal, it is usually recommended that the individual have a medically monitored detox.  This type of detox will provide the appropriate medical attention should alcohol withdrawal seizures and other serious symptoms arise.

Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome

When an individual enters a detox program and stops the intake of alcohol a set of withdrawal symptoms will begin to emerge within a few hours.  This response of the body is due to the adjustment, over time, that the brain and nervous system have made as a result of high levels of alcohol received over a long period of time.  The body basically rebels as brain hyperexcitability ensues when the alcohol is withheld, leading to a range of highly uncomfortable symptoms.  The symptoms vary depending on several factors, such as the severity and length of the AUD, the age of the individual, his or her general state of health, and whether a co-occurring mental health disorder is present.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Shaky hands
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Headache
  • Agitation
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Disorientation
  • Grand mal seizures

Of the serious complications that can arise, the risk of seizures is of highest concern.  For this reason, having medical personnel available who can manage alcohol withdrawal seizures is essential during the first 3 or 4 days of detox.

The DTs effects about 5% of the individuals withdrawing from alcohol, according to an article published in Current Psychiatry.  The hallmark symptoms of the DTs include disorientation, visual and/or auditory hallucinations, and seizures, with a 10% mortality rate among those who suffer the DTs.

Management of Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures

In most cases, individuals going through alcohol detox and withdrawal will be prescribed benzodiazepines to help many of the symptoms, including insomnia, anxiety, and risk of seizure.  The medication will be administered at regular intervals, and increased dosing provided if needed.  Along with the Ativan or Valium the detox nurse may provide IV fluids to replenish fluid loss and rebalance electrolytes.

The serious complication of the DTs usually doesn’t show up until about the third day of detox.  The DTs tends to impact older patients, those who have repeatedly gone through alcohol withdrawals, those with other medical problems, and those who also abuse depressants.  Preventing the alcohol withdrawal seizures will depend on enhanced medical intervention, which can include propofol or dexmedetromidine.

Alcohol Detox Timeline

During the alcohol detox process the individual will progress through a mild phase and then a more pronounced phase of withdrawal symptoms.  The first phase commences 3-8 hours after the last drink and lasts about 2 days.  The symptoms in this stage typically include nausea, hand tremors, irritability, and sweating.  Vital signs will be continuously monitored.

The second phase features more physical and psychological discomforts, including agitation, anxiety, confusion, and insomnia.  It is during this phase that the risk of hallucinations and seizures appears.

The Treatment Specialist Can Locate Medical Detox for AUD

The Treatment Specialist is a first line resource for help in seeking a safe, monitored detox for individuals with an AUD.  The specialists understand the importance of having medical management of alcohol withdrawal seizures at hand in the event of alcohol withdrawal syndrome.  Our knowledgeable team understands this and can provide free guidance to an inpatient alcohol detox and treatment program that is suited for your specific needs.  For more information, please contact The Treatment Specialist today at (866) 644-7911.

About the Author

Marissa Katrin Maldonado has been working in the field of addiction and behavioral health since 2006. She has been dedicated to helping individuals and families find treatment for addiction, dual diagnosis, mental health, and eating disorder conditions. Marissa received her undergraduate degree in Psychology from San Francisco State University and her Masters Degree in Business Administration with a focus in Management at the University of Redlands, School of Business.

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