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The Dangers & Risks Of Kindling Alcohol

Not everyone who relapses back into alcohol abuse multiple times will develop a kindling alcohol condition. However, the kindling effects of alcohol highlight the significance of getting medical help to safely detox from alcohol via a professional alcohol inpatient rehab program to reduce the risk of relapse.

What is Kindling Alcohol?

Heavy drinkers who abruptly reduce their alcohol intake or abstain from drinking usually experience alcohol withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can range from mild insomnia and irritability to severe consequences, such as seizures, hallucinations, and delirium tremens (known as DTs). The effective treatment of withdrawal symptoms can be the first step on the patient’s road to recovery from alcoholism.

In many long-term heavy drinkers, repeated episodes of alcohol withdrawal lead to increasingly severe symptoms. This progressive exacerbation of withdrawal may result from a “kindling” process, in which repeated alcohol abuse followed by periods of abstinence induces behavioral responses, such as seizures [1]. Kindling alcohol withdrawal may be caused by imbalances in brain chemicals that arise as the body attempts to adapt to the nearly constant presence of alcohol in the brain. These imbalances become more pronounced after repeated withdrawal episodes.

The kindling phenomenon was first discovered in 1967 by Graham Goddard, a scientist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Goddard was a neuroscientist interested in the neurobiology of learning. In one series of experiments, he electrically stimulated various regions of rat’s brains to observe the effects on their ability to learn tasks. In repeating these stimulations daily, he discovered something unexpected: the rats began having seizures in response to stimuli that would normally be too low to provoke seizures. Ultimately, many of the rats started having unprovoked seizures. Somehow, Goddard had created epileptic rats.

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The Kindling Effect of Alcohol

kindling alcohol
Drinking has serious effects on the central nervous system. It depresses brain chemicals that slow brain functions. When drinking ceases and healing begins.

Since Graham Goddard discovered the kindling phenomenon, the concept of kindling has been applied to many conditions where the initial experience of symptoms is fairly mild, but over time, re-experiencing the symptoms will lead to heightened sensitivity. For example, people with bipolar disorder will experience mood changes and emotional discomfort but may not receive a diagnosis until after their first manic episode is “kindled”; after that initial episode. However, the person is more likely to experience a manic episode triggered by stressful life events. The person becomes more sensitive to stress and is more likely to experience intense symptoms. The brain is primed with specific pathways that triggered conditions may follow.

Chronic heavy alcohol drinking changes the central nervous system (CNS). When the chemical changes caused by high-volume alcohol consumption do not occur, the brain cannot balance its chemistry at first. The sudden reduction in available GABA can trigger restlessness, panic, insomnia, and potentially seizures or convulsions. The experience of kindling is not universal; not everyone who relapses back into alcohol abuse multiple times will develop this condition. However, the kindling effects of alcohol highlight the significance of getting medical help to safely detox from alcohol dependence and then enter an inpatient rehab program to change your behaviors around alcohol and reduce the risk of relapse.

Emotional state changes are the first signs of kindling alcohol withdrawal after one or two relapses with subsequent cold-turkey detoxes. These symptoms can often require treatment such as:

  • A general feeling of malaise
  • Other negative emotional experiences

The mental distress associated with these conditions increases the risk of a person self-medicating with alcohol to take the edge off withdrawal. However, after more periods of relapse and withdrawal, physical symptoms will start and may lead to delirium tremens (DTs), which is life-threatening.

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Who Is Most At Risk For Experiencing The Kindling Effect of Alcohol?

Individuals in recovery from alcoholism who have achieved sobriety and relapsed several times are at risk of the kindling effect. In the kindling effect, each successive withdrawal period will have more severe symptoms and come on more quickly than before. Because of the dangers and risks associated with the kindling effect, receiving comprehensive aftercare services for maintaining sobriety from alcohol is imperative for the patient’s safety, health, and well-being.

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How Can Someone Avoid Kindling Alcohol Effects?

Inpatient treatment for alcoholism, addiction to benzodiazepine, and other mental health disorders are crucial for avoiding the kindling alcohol effect. 

When searching for alcohol treatment programs, consider how those programs can help you manage the kindling alcohol effect. Search for programs that:

  • Provide medical assistance, such as medical detox, so that medical professionals can help you monitor and ease alcohol withdrawal symptoms and ensure that you are physically healthy and safe.
  • Support long-term behavioral changes by supporting your mental health through individual therapy and counseling by managing co-occurring disorders, such as depression and anxiety.
  • Promote healthy physical practices, such as yoga treatment for addiction, to help you achieve and maintain better physical health.
  • Encourage family and group therapies. These can give you a focus, make the likelihood of relapse, and discourage behavioral kindling.
  • Offer ongoing programs such as aftercare and sober living situations. These programs can help you avoid a setback in your recovery so that you do not need to go through withdrawal again.
Kindling alcohol
People who cycle through withdrawal and relapse episodes often risk experiencing the kindling alcohol effect.

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Alcohol Kindling Symptoms

Heavy and regular alcohol consumption alters the central nervous system over time, causing the brain to work harder to remain awake and active. Eventually, the brain comes to rely on alcohol to function normally.

As a result, when alcohol is removed from the equation, all of these functions that were sedated spike suddenly, causing withdrawal alcohol symptoms. Furthermore, these symptoms worsen with each subsequent withdrawal episode due to the kindling alcohol effect.

Common alcohol withdrawal kindling symptoms or symptoms of the kindling effect include:

  • Bursts of energy
  • Extreme sensitivity
  • Delirium 
  • Paranoia
  • Fatigue
  • Hallucinations 
  • Body tremors
  • Chest pain
  • Chest pain
  • Impaired mental function
  • Mood changes
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Fever and chills
  • Seizures

Dangers of Alcohol Withdrawal Kindling

Kindling alcohol withdrawal symptoms is dangerous and difficult for two primary reasons. First, as symptoms become more pronounced, an alcoholic attempting to detox alone or cold turkey is more likely to be driven back to drinking, exposing them to the dangers of alcoholism and an increased kindling alcohol effect when they attempt to quit again. This drive to relapse keeps the cycle of alcohol addiction going.

Second, many of the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are dangerous; they can become deadly when intensified through the kindling alcohol effect. Let’s take a look at just a few symptoms that can become life-threatening with the kindling alcohol effect:

  • Seizures: When a powerful seizure takes over the body, it can overwhelm the neurological and cardiovascular systems, inducing death.
  • Disorientation: When disorientation becomes severe, the person can end up gravely injured while attempting to complete mundane activities, like walking down the stairs.
  • Shallow Breathing: When breathing becomes too shallow, the brain fails to get enough oxygen. This can lead to brain damage and even death.
  • Racing Heart: When the heartbeat becomes severely irregular, the alcoholic is at a greater risk of a heart attack and other cardiovascular events that can lead to death.

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How Can Someone Get Help for Addiction and the Kindling Effect?

Preventing and treating the kindling alcohol effect is of the utmost importance because of the severity of the withdrawal symptoms that can be experienced. Those in addiction recovery need to prevent relapse and the likelihood of experiencing these kindling alcohol effects.

Overcoming this effect you have very little control over is difficult. The best way to do so is through an alcohol addiction treatment center. You will get help from professionals who know how to mitigate relapse risks and gain access to therapy, counseling, medical staff, and social workers on top of your family and friends.

You’ll be safely monitored, and medication may even be prescribed to help with symptoms. Should you experience any harmful effects of alcohol or drug abuse rehab, experts will be present at every step to guide you along.

Alcohol Abuse Treatment

Alcohol is the most abused addictive substance in America, as more than 17 million people in the United States are considered to suffer from addiction to alcohol. Moreover, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA), publishes that over 1.5 million American adults are abusing a prescription drug. Kindling alcohol effects are especially likely to occur with hypnotic-sedative drugs such as alcohol, sleeping pills, tranquilizers, and benzodiazepines.

There is a strong link between depression and anxiety and alcohol abuse. People who struggle with mood disorders like depression and anxiety are more susceptible to developing an addiction to drugs or alcohol, often to self-medicate symptoms of their underlying mental health condition. These co-occurring disorders can make each other worse without proper treatment. 

To determine the most effective ways to treat kindling alcohol withdrawals, getting an accurate assessment of all the symptoms is crucial. When a mental health professional has evaluated the symptoms, it may be determined that another form of mental condition is present and needs a particular treatment. 

Medically-Assisted Detox

Medical detox is often considered the first stage of treatment. It will help you navigate the complicated withdrawal process but doesn’t address patterns of thought and behavior that contribute to drug abuse. Various treatment approaches and settings can help provide the ongoing support necessary to maintain long-term sobriety after you complete detox.

Cravings are very common during detox and can be challenging to overcome. This often leads to relapse. Constant medical care provided during inpatient treatment helps prevent relapse. Clinicians can provide necessary medication and medical expertise to lessen cravings and the effects of withdrawals.

Psychotherapy for Depression and Anxiety

Several different modalities of psychotherapy have been used in the treatment of depression, including:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – is an effective treatment that involves changing both the patterns of negative thoughts and the behavioral routines which are affecting the daily life of the depressed person for various forms of depression.
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy – is a comprehensive mental health and substance abuse treatment program whose ultimate goal is to aid patients in their efforts to build a life worth living. The main goal of DBT is to help a person develop what is referred to as a “clear mind.” 
  • Person-Centered Therapy – is a strategy that allows and encourages clients to understand and resolve their concerns in a safe, supportive environment.
  • Solution–focused therapy is an approach interested in solutions that can be quickly implemented with a simple first step leading to further positive consequences.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Substance abuse and mental health disorders often co-occur. In many cases, traumatic experiences can result in a mental health disorder and substance abuse. Dual diagnosis rehabilitation treats both of these issues together. The best approach for the treatment of dual diagnosis is an integrated system. This strategy treats both the substance abuse problem and the mental disorder simultaneously. Regardless of which diagnosis (mental health or substance abuse problem) came first, long-term recovery will depend largely on the treatment for both disorders done by the same team or provider.

Medication-Assisted Treatments

Medication-Assisted Treatments (MAT) for substance use and mental health disorders are commonly used in conjunction with one another. This includes the use of medications and other medical procedures. During your rehab, the staff from your treatment facility will help you identify what caused your addiction and teach you skills that will help you change your behavior patterns and challenge the negative thoughts that led to your addiction. Sometimes, the pressures and problems in your life lead you to rely on substances to help you forget about them momentarily.

 Contact one of our helpful treatment specialists today if you or a loved one are struggling with long-term drug abuse and a co-occurring mental health condition such as depression. We Level Up can provide information on dual diagnosis and detox programs that may fit your specific needs.

Kindling alcohol
Recovery is often a difficult first step for a person with alcohol addiction. If you feel hopeless about the recovery process, it is essential to find a program that treats your specific personal issues related to alcohol use.

[1] NIAAA –

[2] NCBI -

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