Moderate alcohol consumption typically does not cause epilepsy. However, excessive alcohol use and alcohol addiction may lead to the development of epilepsy if a person struggles with recurring seizures from their alcohol use. Over time, alcohol harms the brain, increasing the brain’s reactivity and volatility.
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder linked with irregular electrical activity in the brain, tremors, loss of consciousness and sensory interference. Epilepsy is a chronic condition distinguished by random, erratic seizures that result from increased electrical activity in the brain. This heightened electrical activity results from the continuous and rapid firing of neurons.
When an individual drinks alcohol, there is also a direct impact on the brain. Alcohol use changes the way that neurons and chemicals in the brain function, primarily impacting the number of chemicals present, the rate at which neurons fire and the signaling between them. Being that alcohol and epilepsy both have a significant impact on the brain, it is reasonable to wonder if alcohol can cause a person to develop epilepsy.
The moderate consumption of alcohol, classified as one to two servings, does not cause seizures in itself. Small amounts of alcohol do not intensify seizure activity in the brain and do not affect the levels of seizure medications that are present in the blood.
Alcohol-related seizures can stem from:
- An intolerance, or “allergy,” to alcohol: seizures may be a side effect if they drink. These types of seizures are similar to those that result from alcohol poisoning.
- Alcohol withdrawal: Withdrawal from alcohol can have many uncomfortable and dangerous side effects, including seizures. Because alcohol withdrawal can be life-threatening, if seizures occur during this time, immediate medical attention should be sought.
- Excessive alcohol consumption: A person’s risk of having a seizure increases after three or more alcoholic drinks are consumed. Extreme alcohol use can prompt a drop in a person’s blood sugar, which can trigger seizures.
Alcohol Withdrawal and Seizures
Alcohol withdrawal, especially when alcohol is abused for a long time, can become dangerous or life-threatening due to sudden changes in a person’s brain functioning. Long-term alcohol abuse can permanently change the way that the brain’s chemicals operate. When a person abruptly stops drinking, the change in brain chemistry can lead to symptoms of withdrawal, or a dangerous condition called delirium tremens.
Individuals are most at risk of experiencing a seizure approximately 12 to 48 hours after they stop drinking. People who experience seizures due to alcohol withdrawal have a greater risk of experiencing seizures again in the future if there is another change in the brain’s chemistry.
Alcohol and Epilepsy Drugs
A person who is diagnosed with epilepsy and who is prescribed anti-epileptic drugs should always consult with their physician before drinking any alcohol. Someone may become more sensitive to the effects of alcohol while taking anti-epileptic drugs. Many seizure medications can lower alcohol tolerance.
A person should always remain on their anti-epileptic medication, even if they have plans to consume alcohol. However, before planning to drink, a person should talk with a doctor to understand whether it’s safe to consume alcohol while taking specific anti-epileptic drugs.
Key Points: Alcohol and Epilepsy
There are several key takeaways about alcohol and epilepsy, including:
- Epilepsy and alcohol both have a significant impact on a person’s brain functioning
- Moderate consumption of alcohol will not cause a seizure or result in epilepsy
- Excessive consumption and alcohol withdrawal can result in seizures and other life-threatening conditions
- Alcohol abuse and long-term alcohol dependence may be linked to the future development of epilepsy due to increased brain reactivity and volatility resulting from recurrent seizures
- Drinking while taking anti-epileptic drugs may not be safe, and a doctor should be consulted before alcohol is consumed
If you or someone that you know is struggling with alcohol dependence, The Recovery Village can help. Licensed staff experienced in addictions and co-occurring conditions can assist you. Call The Recovery Village today to learn more about treatment options for alcohol addiction.