Alcohol withdrawal seizures

Epilepsy Behav. 2009 Jun;15(2):92-7. doi: 10.1016/j.yebeh.2009.02.037. Epub 2009 Feb 26.


The topic of alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS), including delirium tremens and especially seizures, is reviewed. From mice and rat studies, it is known that both N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors are involved in AWS. During alcohol intoxication chronic adaptations of NMDA and GABA receptors occur, and during alcohol withdrawal a hyperexcitable state develops. In studies on humans, during intoxication the NMDA receptors are activated and mediate tonic inhibition. In withdrawal, a rebound activation of these receptors occurs. Both GABA-A and GABA-B receptors, especially the alpha2 subunit of GABA-A receptors, are also likely involved. Homocysteine increases with active drinking, and in withdrawal, excitotoxicity likely is induced by a further increase in homocysteine, viewed as a risk factor for AWS and also as a screening tool. The dopamine transporter gene is also associated with AWS. Characteristics involves changes in the ECG, especially an increase in QT interval, and EEG changes, including abnormal quantified EEG, at times periodic lateralized epileptiform discharges, and especially seizures, usually occurring 6-48h after the cessation of drinking. Therapy has emphasized benzodiazepines, mainly diazepam and lorazepam, but more standard antiepileptic drugs, like carbamazepine and topiramate, are also effective and safe.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures* / genetics
  • Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures* / metabolism
  • Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures* / therapy
  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Rats
  • Receptors, GABA / genetics
  • Receptors, GABA / metabolism
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / genetics
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / metabolism
  • Risk Factors


  • Receptors, GABA
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate