Kindling in alcohol withdrawal

Alcohol Health Res World. 1998;22(1):25-33.


In many alcoholics, the severity of withdrawal symptoms increases after repeated withdrawal episodes. This exacerbation may be attributable to a kindling process. Kindling is a phenomenon in which a weak electrical or chemical stimulus, which initially causes no overt behavioral responses, results in the appearance of behavioral effects, such as seizures, when it is administered repeatedly. Both clinical and experimental evidence support the existence of a kindling mechanism during alcohol withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms, such as seizures, result from neurochemical imbalances in the brain of alcoholics who suddenly reduce or cease alcohol consumption. These imbalances may be exacerbated after repeated withdrawal experiences. The existence of kindling during withdrawal suggests that even patients experiencing mild withdrawal should be treated aggressively to prevent the increase in severity of subsequent withdrawal episodes. Kindling also may contribute to a patient's relapse risk and to alcohol-related brain damage and cognitive impairment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism / physiopathology
  • Animals
  • Ethanol / adverse effects*
  • Ethanol / toxicity
  • Humans
  • Kindling, Neurologic / physiology*
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / physiopathology*


  • Ethanol