Epilepsy and Alcohol: What You Need to Know

Epilepsy is a common neurological condition, impacting 2.2 million to 3 million people in the U.S. and 65 million people worldwide. About one out of every three people with epilepsy struggles with uncontrolled seizures because no available treatment works for them.
epilepsy and alcohol

An increased risk of seizures in people predisposed to seizures is associated with the following five factors:

  • Stress
  • Sleep deprivation or fatigue
  • Insufficient food intake
  • Alcohol use or drug abuse
  • Failure to take prescribed anticonvulsant medications

The Relationship Between Alcohol and Epilepsy

Many studies have focused on alcohol-induced seizures experienced during acute alcohol withdrawal. Few studies have examined the onset of epilepsy as an independent disease or the occurrence of unprovoked seizures among alcohol users. A meta-analysis of existing case-control studies revealed a clear association between alcohol consumption and the onset risk of epilepsy or seizures. Not surprisingly, researchers confirmed the risk of seizures was dose-dependent. Daily alcohol consumption was measured by the number of pure ethanol grams consumed. This meta-analysis did not yield conclusive evidence of a causal relationship between alcohol and the onset of epilepsy as an independent disease.

Alcohol-Related Seizures

The relationship between alcohol and seizures is complex. Long-term alcohol abuse can change the alcohol level seizure threshold and increase the risk of prolonged or sustained seizures. Alcohol can trigger seizures unrelated to withdrawal and impair seizure control in people with epilepsy. An estimated one-third of individuals hospitalized for acute seizures drank too much alcohol prior to a seizure. A mouse model study showed the potential connection between ethanol consumption and activation of mTOR signaling, which induced seizures in the mice. Experts already know the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway may mediate mechanisms that cause epileptogenesis, the gradual process by which a normal brain develops epilepsy.

Drinking Alcohol When You Have Epilepsy

Individuals with epilepsy can consume less than 50 grams (about two drinks) of alcohol without increasing their risk of seizures. If a person consumes more than 200 grams a day, the risk increases 15 to 20 times. It is important to note alcohol withdrawal has been shown to increase the risk of sudden unexpected death from epilepsy. Furthermore, it is believed long-term alcohol abuse is a risk factor for developing epilepsy later in life.

Another important consideration for people with epilepsy is that drinking alcohol when anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) are still in their system can be dangerous. While the interactions vary by type of AED, the combination can severely lower alcohol tolerance, reduce the therapeutic effects of the drug and cause adverse effects such as nausea, dizziness and fatigue.

If you have epilepsy and are struggling with alcohol abuse, it is imperative you seek professional help. Medically supervised detox is the only safe option to prevent the potentially fatal repercussions of withdrawal.

Posted on August 31st, 2018

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