Alcohol and Epilepsy

14th January 2019

If you have been recently diagnosed with epilepsy, you might wonder how safe it is to drink alcohol. One of the chief concerns is whether alcohol can increase the risk of seizures and how it might react with the medication you have been prescribed. Please note, the information in this post is general and you should consult with a healthcare professional or your neurologist for more detailed information and advice on drinking alcohol that’s tailored to yourself.

Can alcohol cause seizures?

For most people, a small or modest amount of alcohol intake will do very little to increase the risk of a seizure. However, heavy drinking over a short space of time, commonly known as binge drinking, can make a person more likely to have a seizure. Seizure likelihood is at its highest between 6 and 48 hours after you have stopped drinking.

Alcohol can also affect sleep, particularly REM sleep, which is important for the brain and the management of epilepsy. It can also lead to a disruption in the routine of taking medication. Both of these things can increase the likelihood of a seizure through alcohol.

How much is too much alcohol?

There are no official guidelines on how much alcohol is safe to drink for people with epilepsy. The amount a person can drink without increasing the risk of seizures will vary from person to person and can be affected by size, age and general tolerance, as well as a variety of other factors. NHS guidelines, which are suggested for everyone, state that men and women should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week. 14 units is the equivalent of 14 single measures (25 ml) of spirits, 7 pints of regular strength lager or 7 (175 ml) glasses of wine.  

How can alcohol affect epilepsy medication?

Alcohol can have a few effects on the medication a person is taking to control their epilepsy. Firstly, alcohol is a diuretic that leads to increased urination, this means that excessive alcohol consumption can reduce the amount of medication within the body as more than average is passed in urine and sweat.

There have been reports that drinking alcohol can also increase the side effects of some medications. Many people also report that drinking alcohol whilst on epilepsy medications leads to them getting more drunk than they used to before taking medication.

Alcohol induced seizures without epilepsy

It’s possible to experience seizures as a result of drinking without being diagnosed with epilepsy. These are known as alcohol withdrawal seizures and should not be confused with epileptic seizures. An alcohol withdrawal seizure might occur in a person who has been alcohol dependent and stops drinking suddenly. This can also happen to someone who is not alcohol dependent, but has drunk heavily over a short space of time, such as on a stag or hen do weekend.

If you are alcohol dependent and want to stop drinking, it’s important that you seek medical advice on how to stop drinking safely. You can also get in touch with the following organisations for additional advice and guidance:

Drinkaware

Alcoholics Anonymous

National Epilepsy Training can help

For more advice on alcohol and epilepsy or to enquire about any of our services, please call us on 01706 373075 or email admin@nationalepilepsytraining.co.uk.