Should Benzodiazepines Be Used to Treat Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures?

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Should Benzodiazepines Be Used to Treat Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures?

When withdrawing from alcohol, some addicted users experience severe symptoms such as seizures and delirium tremens (the DTs). The potential for these problems makes alcohol detox more dangerous than most other forms of detox. If you develop seizures during alcohol withdrawal, your doctor will likely treat this complication with a medication called a benzodiazepine. These medications have a known, proven benefit in this situation. 

Why Do Withdrawal Seizures Occur?

When you drink heavily for extended periods of time, you greatly alter the normal chemical environment inside your brain. One of these alterations affects how your brain uses GABA, a substance that functions as an “off” switch for cell-to-cell communication. If you stop drinking or quickly decrease your intake, your brain’s GABA receptor sites can react strongly to this unanticipated change. The result of this intense reaction is the onset of alcohol withdrawal seizures. Unfortunately, most affected people experience a severe kind of seizure known as a generalized tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizure.  

What Are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines are a large, diverse group of medications classified as sedative-hypnotics or tranquilizers. Widely known examples of these medications include: 

  • Diazepam (Valium) 
  • Lorazepam (Ativan) 
  • Alprazolam (Xanax), and 
  • Chlordiazepoxide (Librium) 

In addition to producing sedation, individual benzodiazepines can have a number of other beneficial effects. One prominent example of these effects is the ability to stop seizure activity inside the brain. 

Use in Alcohol Withdrawal Treatment

Decades of research have verified the usefulness of benzodiazepines as a frontline treatment for alcohol withdrawal seizures. In fact, doctors generally prefer these medications to any other treatment option, including other substances specifically developed to prevent seizures. The benzodiazepine of choice for alcohol-related seizures is Librium (chlordiazepoxide). However, a number of other medications in the category also provide excellent seizure protection.  

If you receive a benzodiazepine as a treatment for alcohol-related seizures, your doctor will base your daily dose on the amount of alcohol you habitually consumed while drinking. Benzodiazepines are also used in recovering drinkers who develop delirium tremens, an extreme withdrawal complication that can have fatal consequences if not promptly treated. Because seizures are a common delirium tremens symptom during alcohol withdrawal, benzodiazepines are often used for alcohol detox.   

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