Restless leg syndrome is an uncomfortable and poorly understood disease. Alcohol use and abuse will probably make the symptoms worse.

Currently, there is no clear link between alcohol abuse and restless leg syndrome (RLS). If a person has RLS or experiences symptoms of RLS when they drink alcohol, they should consider ceasing alcohol use to help alleviate any uncomfortable side effects and avoid worsened RLS symptoms.

Article at a Glance:

Important takeaways about alcohol and RLS include:

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a disease of the nervous system. It includes strong urges to move the legs, especially at night.

Alcohol probably does not cause RLS, but it can make the symptoms worse.

Alcohol withdrawal can mimic many of the symptoms of RLS.

Control the symptoms of RLS with a healthy diet, exercise and good sleep.

What Is Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)?

Restless leg syndrome, commonly shortened to RLS, is a disease of the peripheral nerves. The main symptom is an unpleasant tugging or pulling feeling in the legs accompanied with an overwhelming urge to move the legs.

Someone with RLS usually feels the urge to get up and walk, often at inconvenient times. Because the symptoms of RLS usually happen at night, it can interfere with normal sleep patterns.

With the frustration and discomfort of RLS, it may be tempting for some people to have an alcoholic drink to help get to sleep. However, this might make symptoms worse.

Symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome

The primary symptom of RLS is the urge to move the legs. Other symptoms that a person may notice are:

  • Urges to move the legs usually begin at night or when one is already in bed
  • Urges get worse when sitting still for a long time
  • The urges get better and are relieved by getting up and walking around
  • Twitching or kicking of the legs during sleep

Can Alcohol Worsen Restless Leg Syndrome?

Alcohol use probably worsens RLS, but more research is necessary to say with certainty. Restlessness and twitching are certainly symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, too. Even though no one currently knows for sure if alcohol causes RLS, drinking alcohol can either worsen or mimic RLS symptoms.

Alcohol use and RLS are interrelated in several ways, including through alcohol withdrawal, how alcohol affects sleep and how alcohol use at night can worsen RLS symptoms.

Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal has a wide range of unpleasant effects on the body. After detox, the body tries to correct some of the changes that happened with chronic alcohol consumption. During withdrawal, a person can experience neuropathy (painful tingling in the legs and arms) that may imitate RLS or make it worse.

People who are going through alcohol withdrawal usually have a harder time sleeping because common symptoms include nightmares and sweating, both of which make it difficult to sleep.

Alcohol’s Impact on Sleep

Drinking alcohol disrupts rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. An important type of rest, REM sleep is the deep restorative sleep that people need to function normally during the day. When someone abuses alcohol, they usually get poor sleep and can feel tired all the time. A lack of restorative sleep can make RLS symptoms feel more intolerable and annoying, especially when RLS symptoms flare up at night and when a person is trying to sleep.

Drinking Alcohol at Night

Some people drink alcohol before going to bed, thinking a drink or two will help them sleep. However, alcohol use harms healthy sleep, in most cases and for most people. While alcohol may help a person fall asleep initially, alcohol decreases the quality of sleep and makes a person feel more tired. Drinking alcohol at night not only disrupts sleep quality but may worsen RLS symptoms, too. When a person’s sleep is disrupted, their RLS symptoms may be affected also.

How to Relieve Restless Leg Syndrome Symptoms

For most people, RLS is uncomfortable, annoying and sometimes unbearable. Some tips to help a person deal with RLS symptoms include:

  • Avoid alcohol, especially around bedtime
  • Avoid caffeine
  • Exercise every day
  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule
  • Massage the legs regularly
  • Review medications with a prescriber or doctor

If you or someone you know needs treatment for alcohol abuse or addiction, The Recovery Village can help. Alcohol rehab treatment may also help control symptoms of RLS and make it more manageable. The Recovery Village has facilities located across the country and offers comprehensive treatment programming tailored to each client’s unique needs. To take the first step toward recovery, call The Recovery Village today.

Camille Renzoni
Editor – Camille Renzoni
Cami Renzoni is a creative writer and editor for The Recovery Village. As an advocate for behavioral health, Cami is certified in mental health first aid and encourages people who face substance use disorders to ask for the help they deserve. Read more
Conor Sheehy
Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Conor Sheehy, PharmD, BCPS, CACP
Dr. Sheehy completed his BS in Molecular Biology at the University of Idaho and went on to complete his Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) at the University of Washington in Seattle. Read more
Sources

Mackie, Susan E., et al. “Prevalence of Restless Legs Syndrome during Detoxification from Alcohol and Opioids.” Feb. 2017. Accessed 14 May 2019.

Mary Jo DiLonardo. “Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS): Know Your Triggers.” WebMD, June 2014. Accessed 14 May 2019.

The Mayo Clinic. “Restless Legs Syndrome – Symptoms and Causes.” 2018. Accessed 14 May 2019.

Restless Leg Syndrome Foundation. “Triggers for Restless Legs Syndrome.” 2016. Accessed 14 May 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.