Many people with epilepsy wonder if they can drink alcohol. There is no single answer for all epilepsy patients, as everyone is different, with varied needs and unique experiences.
This article is designed to guide those wondering about alcohol and epilepsy, but professional medical advice is vital before you or your loved ones make any decisions regarding your health.
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Drinking alcohol can cause changes in the brain's electrical activity, particularly when the body is going through the withdrawal process from alcohol. If you don’t drink, starting drinking with epilepsy is not a good idea, as your body is probably more sensitive to alcohol and its impact.
But if you have epilepsy and already consume alcohol, drinking a little, such as one or two small non-high alcohol content drinks a day, is not likely to increase your chance of having seizures. However, moderate or heavy alcohol consumption may increase your risk of having a seizure. It is important to monitor any warning signs or physical, mood, or cognitive changes up to 48 hours after drinking, as you are most likely to have a seizure related to alcohol consumption during the withdrawal period.
Moderate to high alcohol consumption has also been found to increase the risk¹ of seizure, even in those who are not epileptic. The higher the dose of alcohol consumed and the longer the duration of its consumption, the higher the association with the onset of seizures.
Here are some general guidelines for drinking alcohol when you have epilepsy:
If your medication allows drinking, only drink a few drinks, and make sure to drink slowly.
Usually, people with epilepsy can safely drink one to two drinks per day without making their seizures worse or altering the amount of seizure medication in the bloodstream. Moderate to heavy alcohol consumption is never recommended for people with epilepsy.
Sometimes alcohol consumption and some epileptic seizure drugs can have similar effects, so consuming both simultaneously can potentially cause serious problems. At the very least, it can be very uncomfortable to deal with the effects of both.
Plus, an important issue to consider is driving. Usually, epileptic medication can impact your ability to drive safely, so you should discuss this with your doctor.
Consuming alcohol makes it even more dangerous, and it is never a good idea to combine drinking and driving, even in small amounts.
Sometimes drinking alcohol can make you less likely to get a good night's rest and contribute to fatigue. It can also potentially cause you to forget to take your epilepsy medication, increasing your likelihood of having seizures.
Excessive drinking should be completely avoided, especially for those on prescribed epilepsy medication.
It is generally safe for people with epilepsy to drink a small amount of alcohol up to a certain level.
So, if you choose to drink, it may be a good idea to follow the CDC guidelines² for alcohol consumption. These guidelines suggest men should not exceed two drinks a day, while women should consume a maximum of one alcoholic drink per day.
For people with epilepsy, drinking can reduce the amount of medication in the body. This can increase your chances of having a seizure. It is also possible for alcohol to increase the severity of the side effects associated with epilepsy medicines.
Similarly, it is common for people to feel drunk faster when they consume alcohol while on epilepsy medication, as both alcohol and anticonvulsant drugs have a sedative effect — hence, the impact could be compounded.
If you have epilepsy, it is crucial to consult with your physician regarding alcohol consumption and your specific condition. Your doctor can tell you how alcohol may interact with your medications. This way, you will receive the best advice for you.
There is plenty of general information available, but getting personalized care and advice can help you understand your limits and allow you to work out the best plan for your needs while avoiding any dangerous side effects.
When you begin epilepsy medication, you should receive a leaflet that outlines the guidelines for taking this medication. For example, this leaflet should also advise you if drinking alcohol is safe or not and what level of drinking is considered safe.
However, it's key to keep in mind that it's usually the alcohol withdrawal that triggers seizures in epileptic patients rather than the alcohol itself. That is why you must keep an eye on how you feel after a few drinks, as this is when you are most at risk of a seizure.
Plus, it’s essential to look after yourself and ensure your alcohol consumption doesn’t stop you from taking your epilepsy medication.
It can be easy to forget once you start drinking, but it is always in your best interest to set a reminder or tell a friend to remind you to take your medication. Otherwise, missing a dose can increase your risk of having a seizure.
Drinking alcohol is not strictly forbidden for those with epilepsy, but there are many key pieces of advice to be aware of before drinking. First and foremost, it is vital you talk to your doctor about alcohol consumption and whether or not your course of medication permits it.
Plus, it's a good idea to limit your alcohol intake to small low alcoholic drinks to avoid triggering seizures due to alcohol withdrawal. Being informed is the best way to help look after yourself or loved ones and balance alcohol consumption and epilepsy.
Dietary guidelines for alcohol | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention