Alcohol consumption or withdrawal may trigger seizures in those with epilepsy. Some experts link excessive alcohol consumption to the development of epilepsy.
Heavy drinking, particularly withdrawal from heavy drinking, may trigger seizures in those with epilepsy. Alcohol may also affect anti-seizure medications, which could trigger seizures.
Doctors diagnose epilepsy when a person has had two or more seizures.
Heavy alcohol consumption is a common trigger for seizures in those who already have epilepsy.
This may be due to alcohol’s effect on the brain, sleep, and anti-seizure medications.
Alcohol may negatively affect sleep, and sleep disruptions may trigger seizures. For people with epilepsy, alcohol may interact with epilepsy medications and worsen their side effects or make the medications less effective in preventing seizures.
In some cases, excessive alcohol consumption may lead people to miss meals or medication, which can also make seizures more likely in people with epilepsy.
Other alcohol-related seizures in people with epilepsy could be due to:
It is possible for chronic alcohol consumption to cause seizures in people without a history of seizures.
According to the Epilepsy Foundation, some studies have linked chronic alcohol misuse to the development of epilepsy.
It is also possible to experience seizures as a result of alcohol withdrawal. This can happen after someone who has misused alcohol for a long time stops consuming it.
Alcohol works as a depressant on the central nervous system and alters the function of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. Inhibitory neurotransmitters prevent certain chemical messages from passing on.
When people stop consuming alcohol after chronic use, they lose the inhibitory effects of the GABA receptors, resulting in the central nervous system being overstimulated.
According to older research, alcohol consumption may have a causal relationship with seizures, and people who drink 200 g or more of alcohol daily may have up to a 20-fold increase in seizure risk.
A person with epilepsy should speak with their doctor to determine how much alcohol, if any, is safe to consume with their condition.
Alcohol-related seizures in those with epilepsy mostly occur due to alcohol withdrawal rather than the act of drinking itself.
Seizures may occur in around 5% of people with alcohol withdrawal syndrome.
According to a
The authors report that over 90% of alcohol withdrawal seizures occur within 48 hours after the last drink.
Over 50% of alcohol withdrawal seizures may relate to additional risk factors, such as preexisting epilepsy, structural brain lesions, or drug use.
Unprovoked seizures that occur more than 48 hours after a person’s last drink may be due to another cause, such as head injury or withdrawal from other drugs.
Over half of those with alcohol withdrawal seizures may have repeat seizures, and up to 5% of cases may lead to status epilepticus.
Status epilepticus is a life threatening condition in which a person has a seizure lasting longer than 5 minutes without regaining normal consciousness or has more than one seizure within 5 minutes.
Long-term alcohol misuse can increase the risk of developing epilepsy.
In people with epilepsy, drinking three or more drinks may increase the risk of seizures.
A 2017 review found that a history of alcohol misuse increased the risk of post-traumatic epilepsy in people with traumatic brain injury.
Due to the potential risks for seizures, it is important that people wanting to withdraw from chronic alcohol use do so under medical supervision.
Treatment and management of alcohol-related seizures or epilepsy
- benzodiazepines, a type of depressant to reduce seizures
- antiepileptic medications
- propofol, which works as a sedative
- talk therapy to develop strategies to reduce or stop drinking
- medications to help treat addiction
People may find the following resources helpful for managing alcohol misuse and alcohol-related seizures:
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): a 24-7 free and confidential helpline for people with substance use disorders
- FindTreatment.gov: a searchable database of treatment options and support resources
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: information and resources for finding help with alcohol problems
- Epilepsy Foundation: a 24-7 helpline for guidance and support around seizures and epilepsy
This section answers some frequently asked questions about alcohol and seizures.
What does it feel like to have an alcohol-related seizure?
Alcohol seizures may share symptoms with seizures that are not linked to alcohol.
Before a seizure, people may experience an aura or feel a change in sensation — such as smell, taste, sound, or vision — due to abnormal activity in the brain.
During the seizure, a person may feel a change in awareness or a lack of control over their body.
Can a person die from an alcohol-related seizure?
According to the Epilepsy Foundation, seizures by themselves typically are not fatal. However, they may cause people to fall and sustain potentially serious injuries, such as head injuries.
Additionally, if a seizure cannot be stopped or multiple seizures occur in rapid succession, it could result in permanent injury or prove fatal.
Inhaling vomit during a seizure could be life threatening. It is important to turn a person on their side as soon as possible during a seizure so they do not choke on any vomit or saliva.
Alcohol misuse is a risk factor for status epilepticus. Status epilepticus is a medical emergency that may lead to lasting brain damage or death.
Excessive alcohol consumption may cause seizures, particularly alcohol withdrawal after heavy drinking. Heavy drinking may also increase the risk of epilepsy.
For people with epilepsy, alcohol may interfere with anti-seizure medications and increase the risk of seizures.
Certain medications may help treat alcohol-related seizures. Talk therapy and anti-addiction medications may help people manage their alcohol intake.
If people have an alcohol use disorder, they can talk with a healthcare professional about treatment options. If people withdraw from alcohol after heavy use, it is important to do so with medical supervision.