Epilepsy and Alcohol
Smarmore Castle in Ireland Offers Detox and Rehab Treatment for Epilepsy Triggered by Addictions
Table of Contents
Alcohol and Epilepsy. Is It Ever Safe?
Epilepsy is a condition that causes unusual electrical activity in the brain, and this can result in seizures, which are also known as fits. During these seizures, your body may jerk uncontrollably, and you may bite your tongue. You may lose consciousness and be unaware of what is happening.
Epilepsy is not entirely understood. It can run in families and can also be caused by damage to the brain from a stroke or brain tumour, a head injury, or an infection such as meningitis. You can also develop epilepsy if you abuse alcohol or drugs for a long time.
While epilepsy can be managed with medication or surgery, and you can continue living normally, drinking alcohol can make epilepsy worse. This is because it can interact with certain epilepsy medications and/or cause you to forget to take your medication, and this affects the number of seizures you have and their severity.
It can also trigger alcohol-induced seizures on top of the fits you’re having due to your epilepsy.
For these reasons, it is probably safer not to drink alcohol if you have epilepsy.
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Can I Drink Alcohol When I Have Epilepsy?
There are no official guidelines about how much you should drink if you have epilepsy, and no blanket rule that says don’t drink. There will be many people with epilepsy who enjoy a few drinks every now and again and it has no effect on their condition.
However, not everyone responds to alcohol the same way and not everyone has the same tolerance. So while drinking alcohol alongside your epilepsy is a personal choice, you must understand that there are risks involved.
Studies show that three drinks a day are all you need to trigger alcohol-related seizures (these are different from and on top of your usual seizures) in people with epilepsy. That is equivalent to around two-thirds of a bottle of wine or two and a half pints of beer or lager. It’s not a lot, is it?
Even if you only drink once in a blue moon, when you do you get drunk, you are putting your epilepsy at risk. This is because during the hangover period, when you might feel like death but believe any-alcohol-related danger is now over, your brain is dehydrated and your sleep is disrupted and this can be a trigger for seizures.
If you think you’re drinking regularly or in large amounts and have found that you’re struggling to stop, or when you do the withdrawal symptoms are so bad you find yourself reaching for a drink again, you have an alcohol addiction, and you need help. If you have epilepsy, drinking like this could put you in a life-threatening situation.
If you have epilepsy you need to limit your alcohol intake, or ideally stop it altogether. By doing this you are giving yourself the best chance to manage your condition safely. Even a small amount of alcohol is endangering your life.
At Smarmore Castle, we understand the effect alcohol can have on your condition; we can help you kick your addiction so you can manage your epilepsy safely.
What Is the Risk of Mixing Epilepsy and Alcohol?
There are a number of risks associated with mixing alcohol with epilepsy. These include:
- Alcohol interfering with epilepsy medicine. Drinking a lot of alcohol can reduce the amount of some epilepsy medicine in the body. This can mean you don’t have the protection your medication normally provides and you’re more likely to have a seizure.
- Forgetting to take your epilepsy medication. Maybe you’re enjoying the party too much to stick to your regular routine or you’ve fallen asleep or passed out and missed your dose. Epilepsy is largely managed by medicine and if you fail to take your medication at the right intervals, you may trigger a seizure.
- Getting less sleep. If you’ve had a night on the drink you tend to sleep lighter and have less REM (rapid-eye movement) sleep. If you have seizures at night (and some people with epilepsy only have seizures when asleep), they will happen in those lighter periods. By drinking, you are increasing the amount of time you spend in the REM period and thus increasing the chance of having a seizure.
- The after-effects of drinking triggering a seizure. You are most at risk of having a seizure six to 48 hours after you’ve stopped drinking. You don’t even need to have a noticeable hangover for this to happen. When your body expels alcohol from your system, it is known as the withdrawal period and seizures are a common side effect of alcohol withdrawal.
- Teenagers being particularly vulnerable. Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy is sensitive to even small amounts of alcohol. And as younger adults are more likely to get carried away at parties and drink more, succumb to peer pressure to drink more, or forget to take their medication as they nurse their hangover, they are particularly at risk.
- Seizures increasing in their severity. Binge drinking and alcohol withdrawal can lead to status epilepticus, a potentially life-threatening situation where seizures are multiple and/or prolonged (for over five minutes). These often require urgent medical attention and if you can’t access that, they could be fatal.
- Dying. You are five times more likely to die from alcohol-related death if you have epilepsy than if you do not. This could be because if you have epilepsy you may be more likely to self-medicate or abuse alcohol. It is also possible that serious alcohol misuse can contribute to the development of epilepsy. It is a Catch-22.
Is It Safe to Drink Alcohol With My Epilepsy Medication?
This depends on a few factors including how much you’re drinking and what medication you’re taking.
If you are drinking regularly or in high amounts, or both, you may already have an addiction to alcohol and you need help and support with this. If you ask yourself what are the stages of addiction, you may find that you have already moved from occasional use to dependency.
There is a strong link between epilepsy and addiction. Binge drinking and alcohol addiction can result in seizures, and alcohol abuse can contribute to the development of epilepsy. Living with epilepsy and the challenges it brings may mean you turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism, and this can lead to an addiction.
A high percentage of people with epilepsy who also drink alcohol would qualify for the criteria of alcohol dependence. This means it’s even more important that you receive dedicated addition treatment at a rehab centre such as Smarmore. We’re experienced in dealing with alcohol addiction on its own and when it is combined with another issue, such as epilepsy. Not sure whether you have an addiction? Take this test here to find out.
Epilepsy medication can lower your tolerance to alcohol so you get drunk more quickly and this can increase your risk of accident or injury and having a bad hangover that results in a seizure.
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Drinking alcohol can also exacerbate the side effects of some seizure medicine.
Side effects include:
- Stomach ache
- Lack of energy
- Shaking (tremor)
- Blurred vision
As some of the side effects of anti-seizure medication can be similar to the effects of drinking alcohol – for example heightened feelings of anger and aggression – drinking while taking this medicine can put you and others at risk.
Can Alcohol Cause Seizures in People Who Don’t Have Epilepsy?
Yes it can. Alcohol-related seizures are a common withdrawal symptom of drinking large amounts of alcohol. This doesn’t necessarily mean getting blotto, it can mean half a bottle of wine every day with dinner. You can have an alcohol use disorder and never even get tipsy, let alone drunk.
Half of all people with an alcohol use disorder will experience withdrawal symptoms and some of these will require hospitalisation. Around 15% of those who find themselves in hospital do so because of an alcohol-induced seizure.
This means if your alcohol intake means you are at risk of having an alcohol-induced seizure, and you also have epilepsy, you are in danger of increasing the number of seizures you have. As seizures are dangerous and can be fatal, you could be putting your life at risk.
If you have epilepsy and you continue to drink alcohol, you could be putting your life at risk. Call Smarmore Castle today at 041 214 5111 to see how we can help you kick your addiction and manage your epilepsy safely.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Drinks Should Be Avoided With Epilepsy?
Any alcoholic drink can interfere with your epilepsy medication or make your seizures worse.
What Makes Epilepsy Worse?
Stress, tiredness, alcohol and not taking your medication can all make epilepsy worse.
Can You Live a Full Life With Epilepsy?
Yes you can, as long as you take care of your health and manage your medication safely.
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- Epilepsy Society, Alcohol, Drugs and Epilepsy
- Epilepsy Action, (2023), Can I Drink Alcohol When I Have Epilepsy?
- Epilepsy Action, (2023), Sleep and Epilepsy
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- Epilepsy Foundation, Teens: Drugs and Alcohol
- Epilepsy Foundation, Status Epilepticus
- Gorton H C, Webb R T, Parisi R, et al, (2020), Alcohol-Specific Mortality in People with Epilepsy: Cohort Studies in Two Independent Population-Based Datasets, Front Neurol
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- Mirijello A, D’Angelo C, Ferrulli C, et al, (2016), Identification and Management of Alcohol Withdrawal, Drugs: 75 (4) 353-365