Alcohol and Seizures: Can Drinking Cause Seizures?
Last Updated: November 3, 2023
Drinking too much alcohol can harm your health and increase the risk of seizures, especially if you have a seizure disorder.
Alcohol use, especially in excessive amounts, has long been known to profoundly impact the brain and body. While many people drink moderately, excessive alcohol intake can lead to health issues, including increasing the risk of seizures. Any alcohol use, even in moderation, may be risky for those with a seizure disorder. It is important to understand the relationship between alcohol and seizures to ensure your health and safety while using alcohol.
Alcohol and the Brain
The reason most people drink alcohol is the effect it has on your brain. While this can result in relaxation and good feelings, it also has many other effects that can affect how your brain functions. When used heavily or for prolonged periods, this can be harmful.
How Alcohol Affects Brain Chemistry
Alcohol affects brain chemistry by stimulating GABA receptors in the brain. This depresses the central nervous system, slowing brain function and altering mood, behavior and cognitive functions. GABA receptors are directly related to seizure risk.
The stimulating effect alcohol has on GABA receptors actually temporarily decreases the risk of seizures. Many ways alcohol increases the risk of seizures are related to how these receptors lead to hyperactive states in the brain as the alcohol wears off rather than the direct action alcohol has on them.
Types of Seizures From Alcohol
Seizures occur when your brain activity suddenly starts to fire all the cells in your brain at the same time. They often occur when the brain is physically stressed or hyperactive. There are several different ways that alcohol can lead to seizures.
Seizures From Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol abuse can increase your overall risk of epilepsy. Epilepsy is a condition where seizures can occur unpredictably. While in this situation, alcohol doesn’t specifically cause the seizure itself, it increases the risk of the condition that causes it to occur. Alcohol use can also interfere with epilepsy medications, increasing the risk of seizures in those who take certain medications for epilepsy.
Seizures From Alcohol Poisoning
Alcohol poisoning is a potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when you consume a large amount of alcohol quickly. This can cause certain critical bodily functions to shut down, inducing seizures. These seizures are usually not a result of alcohol’s effect on the brain but rather are due to low blood sugar levels or lack of oxygen to the brain that can occur during alcohol poisoning.
Seizures From Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcohol withdrawal seizures happen when someone dependent on alcohol suddenly stops drinking. These seizures typically occur 24–48 hours after the last drink and result from the brain’s reaction to the absence of alcohol and the resulting nervous system hyperactivity.
Risk Factors for Alcohol-Induced Seizures
Anyone can have alcohol-induced seizures; however, risk factors can increase specific people’s risks. Understanding these factors can help you understand your risk of developing alcohol-induced seizures; however, not having these risk factors does not mean that you will never experience one.
History of Seizures or Epilepsy
If you have a history of seizures or epilepsy, you are at a heightened risk of experiencing alcohol-induced seizures. The brain of someone with a seizure disorder is more susceptible to the effects of alcohol, making them more prone to seizures when consuming alcohol. Additionally, alcohol can interact with some seizure medications and decrease their effectiveness, increasing the risk of seizures.
Use of Other Substances
Combining alcohol with other substances, especially those that affect the central nervous system, can increase your risk of seizures. These substances can interact with alcohol, exacerbating its effects on the brain and increasing the likelihood of seizures.
Brain Abnormalities or Injuries
Physical stress on the brain increases anyone’s risk of having seizures. Having a neurological condition or a brain injury can make you more susceptible to alcohol-induced seizures. In this situation, whatever amount of alcohol it would take to cause a seizure will be less than it generally would be.
Heavy Alcohol Intake or Binge Drinking
Heavy alcohol intake or binge drinking is a significant risk factor for alcohol-induced seizures. Consuming large amounts of alcohol can alter brain chemistry and function, making the brain more prone to seizures. This behavior can also cause a “rebound effect,” in which the brain is more hyperactive as the effects of alcohol wear off. This effect increases the risk of seizure the more you drink in one sitting.
How To Prevent Alcohol-Induced Seizures
Preventing alcohol-induced seizures primarily involves moderating your alcohol intake. While this may be possible for some, many people who drink enough alcohol to cause concern for seizures may have an alcohol addiction. In this situation, abstaining from alcohol is typically the best option. Everyone’s situation is different, and it is important to consult a doctor about the best steps for your situation.
Treatment Options for Alcohol-Related Seizures
If someone has an alcohol-related seizure, call 911 and stay with them until help arrives. You may need to provide first aid if they injure themselves during the seizure or have any complications during or after the seizure.
In the long-term treatment, stopping alcohol is often necessary to avoid future alcohol-related seizures. This typically involves getting professional help from a medical detox or rehab facility like The Recovery Village Kansas City. If you have had alcohol-related seizures or think you are at risk for them, we encourage you to contact us to learn how we can help you start your journey to lasting recovery today.
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