I was very confused and scared. I was 19 years old and never had a seizure before. I didn’t even know what epilepsy was and so my parents and I went and saw a neurologist. The first thing he asked us was if there was a history of epilepsy in the family. My older sister had a couple of Petite Mal seizures when she was very young but that was it. No history of anyone having Grand Mal seizures. The second question he asked me directly was “what were you doing the night before?” I reluctantly told him – I was out drinking the night before with friends. He asked me how much and I only told him it was a few beers, but it was a lot more than a few. The neurologist informed me that alcohol can trigger a seizure. Alcohol makes you dehydrated and alcohol withdrawal can trigger a seizure the next day. He told me that I can have one or two drinks when I’m out with friends, but that’s it.
My friends and I were very close and we liked to “work hard” & “party hard.” I was young, dumb and arrogant. I actually thought I could “beat” or “control” epilepsy, and I didn’t think I had to change my lifestyle because of it. So, throughout college and into my twenties I continued to drink and I continued to have seizures. I would see my neurologist after every seizure and he would tell me the same thing, you have to change your lifestyle. My parents pleaded with me to stop drinking. I didn’t listen, I was too stubborn, I was selfish, and I didn’t want to change my lifestyle. My friends and I were having too much fun.
I was having seizures in front of my family, my friends and even at work. Finally, my neurologist got so mad that he said if I don’t stop drinking that he would take away my driving license for good. One day, my boss called me in his office and told me point blank “you can’t drink anymore. It’s not in the cards for you because you have epilepsy.” He said “you have been very lucky that you haven’t seriously injured yourself or even worse someone else.” Finally, I slowing began to realize what my parents, my neurologist and friends were telling me was right. One seizure I had was at my sister’s house. I was supposed to drive my brother home and right before we left, I had a seizure. What if I had that seizure 5 minutes later while we were driving on the street or highway? I could have seriously injured myself, my brother, and even worse, someone else. This story of a patient who was very cautious about giving his name is one among many we sample every week in what trigger seizures for persons with Epilepsy under medication.
Alcohol and epilepsy
Alcohol is a common trigger for seizures, especially in the hangover period when your brain is ‘dehydrated’. It also disrupts sleep patterns which can be a common trigger for seizures. Alcohol can make epilepsy medication less effective or make the side effects of medication worse. The patient information leaflet that comes with your AEDs (Anti-Epileptic Drugs) may say whether you can drink alcohol with that AED. However, the effect alcohol has on your seizures is individual.
Drugs and epilepsy
Recreational drugs can trigger seizures or increase the frequency of seizures for some people, and can also interact with \medication. Taking recreational drugs increases the risk of seizures and of mental and physical health problems, which in turn make seizures more likely. Learning more about your own epilepsy and treatment means you can make informed choices about your lifestyle.
Doctors and pharmacists are always warning people with epilepsy about alcohol. If you have epilepsy, drinking alcohol can have serious consequences. Most people with epilepsy are told to not drink, but that’s not always realistic. Others are told to drink moderately. So what should people with seizures and epilepsy be aware of?
Alcohol and Seizures: Some Facts
Research has shown that;
- When alcohol is related to seizures, it is often the state of alcohol withdrawal that causes the seizures, not the drinking itself. Your risk of seizures may be much higher after having three or more alcoholic beverages.
- Binge drinking and alcohol withdrawal can even lead to status epilepticus, a life-threatening and potentially fatal problem!
- Seizure medicines can lower your tolerance for alcohol, so the immediate effects of alcohol consumption are greater. In other words, people get drunk faster. Rapid intoxication is a big problem because many of the side effects of these medicines are similar to the acute effects of alcohol itself. If you are sensitive to alcohol or seizure medicines, you may find the combination even worse.
- Some studies have shown that alcoholism, or chronic abuse of alcohol, is linked with the development of epilepsy in some people. This research suggests that repeated alcohol withdrawal seizures may make the brain more excitable. Thus, people who have experienced seizures provoked by binge drinking may begin to experience unprovoked epilepsy seizures regardless of alcohol use.
How should I manage alcohol if I have seizures or epilepsy?
Avoid binge (over-drinking) drinking.
- Binge drinking is drinking too much at once or over long periods of time.
- Alcohol usually does not trigger seizures while the person is drinking.
- “Withdrawal” seizures may occur 6 to 72 hours later, after drinking has stopped.
Don’t abuse alcohol.
- If you have a problem with it, get help.
- Alcohol withdrawal seizures may be different than epilepsy seizures or make epilepsy worse.
- Withdrawal seizures are most common among people who have abused alcohol for years.
- When alcohol is stopped suddenly or is reduced by large amounts over a short period of time, a seizure may occur. This can happen in people with or without epilepsy. The withdrawal seizures are provoked by the alcohol withdrawal and are not due to epilepsy itself.
Alcohol abuse is a medical problem and can lead to epilepsy.
- Long-standing alcohol abuse can increase a person's risk of developing epilepsy.
Talk to your doctor and health care team about alcohol, seizures, and safety!
- Moderate to heavy alcohol use is never recommended for people with epilepsy.
- Alcohol and some seizure drugs have similar side effects. Using both at the same time can lead to bothersome and potentially dangerous problems.
- Driving would be especially dangerous since both alcohol and seizure medicines can affect your awareness, reflexes, coordination, and ability to drive safely
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