All of us can benefit from being moderate about how much alcohol we drink, but the stakes are higher when you have epilepsy. Maybe you’re wondering, “How much alcohol is safe for me to drink without triggering a seizure?”
There’s good news for you, according to Andrey Stojic, MD, Director of Cleveland Clinic Neurological Institute at Lakewood Hospital. “Studies don’t suggest that rare or moderate alcohol use causes any problems for people with epilepsy,” he says.
How much alcohol is “moderate”? Experts define “moderate use” as one or two drinks a day, according to a 2001 study published in the medical journal Epilepsia.
When you should worry
“The biggest risk is with people who binge drink or use alcohol excessively. This can lower seizure thresholds,” Dr. Stojic says.
This is because excessive alcohol can impact the “excitability” of your brain’s nerve cells, Dr. Stojic says. This, in turn, can spur abnormal electrical brain activity that causes a seizure.
4 things you need to know
Here are four things you should know about consuming alcohol if you have epilepsy:
1. Seizures and alcohol withdrawal are associated. “If you’ve been using alcohol to excess, don’t suddenly stop,” Dr. Stojic says. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, most seizures do not occur while a person is drinking. Instead, they are typically tied to alcohol withdrawal and can occur between 6 and 72 hours after you stop drinking. These are most common in people with a history of alcohol abuse who stop use suddenly.
2. Alcohol can reduce your medication’s effectiveness. “Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can affect your liver’s metabolism, altering how you process anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs),” Dr. Stojic says.
These effects reduce your medication’s effectiveness in protecting you against seizures. Also, excessive alcohol can affect a person’s compliance with their AEDs, likewise diminishing their potency. Alcohol can even ratchet up some of the side effects of AEDs and make you drowsy.
3. Disturbed sleep patterns can trigger seizures. Nights out partying can significantly disrupt normal sleep habits, and for people with epilepsy, sleep deprivation is a common cause of seizures.
4. Watch for connections between alcohol and seizure frequency. “If you notice an association between any amount of alcohol and seizure frequency, then you should avoid alcohol,” Dr. Stojic says. This means paying attention to your body and the way it reacts to alcohol in your system, which can vary for different people.
“It’s really about doing things in moderation,” says Dr. Stojic. “Each case is individual, but many people can have an occasional drink and do just fine.”