Author: Gary Jackson

Alcohol as a Seizure Trigger

Human and animal data have shown that acute alcohol intake has a biphasic effect on the central nervous system (CNS). Initially, the inhibitory gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)-ergic effect of alcohol exerts CNS depressant and anticonvulsant properties (4, 5). In the post-alcohol state, however, when alcohol blood levels decline, neuronal excitability is increased which may facilitate the occurrence of seizures in patients with epilepsy (6, 7). Heavy alcohol use can lead to seizures, especially when you stop drinking and start to enter a period of withdrawal. However, if you have a seizure disorder or epilepsy, you also face risks when drinking alcohol—both from the increased risk of seizure activity and potential interactions with seizure medications.

  • Light, infrequent drinking isn’t linked to seizures, but people who are regular or heavy alcohol users have an increased risk of alcoholic tremors or seizure activity.
  • Doctors tailor specific treatments and alcohol abstinence programs to the individual.

The data was collected by a standardized questionnaire (see Supplementary Material). Only subjects ≥18 years who had suffered from epilepsy for at least 1 year were included. Epilepsy types and seizures were classified according to the International League Against Epilepsy (16). Out of 310 interviewed subjects, 204 (65.8%) had used alcohol within the last 12 months, 158 (51%) within the last 30 days, and 108 (34.8%) within the last 7 days.

What happens when seizure medication is mixed with alcohol?

Symptoms can develop just 5 hours after the last drink and persist for weeks. Heavy, long-term alcohol use and withdrawal from alcohol can lead to seizures. Alcohol can also trigger seizures if you have epilepsy and often interacts poorly with anti-seizure medications. Alcohol consumption or withdrawal may trigger seizures in those with epilepsy. Some experts link excessive alcohol consumption to the development of epilepsy.

By contrast, data from the general adult German population showed that a proportion of 19.7% is AUDIT positive (9). Yet, there is currently little knowledge on the alcohol-drinking behavior of epilepsy patients. In the 1940s, William G. Lennox comprehensively analyzed alcohol consumption and the occurrence of alcohol-related seizures in 1,254 subjects with epilepsy (1). However, only about 30% of patients used alcohol, thus excluding 70% from any analysis of potential alcohol-related effects on the disease.

How Alcohol Affects the Brain

This article looks at the connection between alcohol, seizures, and epilepsy, as well as treatment options and support. The answer to whether alcohol can trigger seizures is more complex than you might think. Ninety-five patients (30.7%) were alcohol-experienced but had been abstinent in the last year. Alcohol consumption usually represents a taboo in the doctor-patient relationship and questions on the smoking status are answered more easily. Therefore, subjects were first queried about nicotine consumption and only later asked to give details on alcohol use.

Alcohol and Seizures

As a consequence however, alcohol-related seizures may have also occurred after smaller amounts of alcohol intake or in other circumstances that were not taken into account in the present study. Binge drinking and alcohol withdrawal together can cause seizures, even in people not previously diagnosed with epilepsy. Binge drinking refers to a scenario where you drink a lot in a short period of time, and the seizures related to binge drinking can stem from withdrawal. Even if you’re not a chronic drinker, in some cases, you may also experience withdrawal seizures after binge drinking.

Types and symptoms of alcohol-related neurologic disease

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. Alcohol seizures may share symptoms with seizures that are not linked to alcohol. This section answers some frequently asked questions about alcohol and seizures.

  • By contrast, data from the general adult German population showed that a proportion of 19.7% is AUDIT positive (9).
  • Seizure types vary by where they begin in the brain and how far they spread.
  • While epilepsy can develop on its own in people who do not use alcohol, long-term alcohol use will increase the risk of epilepsy developing in some people.
  • A seizure is a sudden, uncontrolled burst of electrical activity in the brain.

In several test-interviews, patients were intimidated when being asked about nicotine, alcohol, and illicit drug intake in front of their companions. Therefore, all interviews were held in a separate study room where only the interviewer and the patient were present. To ensure a standard and informal interview situation all patients were interviewed by the same person (MiHa) who was not one of the treating physicians at the Epilepsy Outpatient Clinic. A classification system distinguishes the different types of seizures. Health care professionals typically classify seizures as focal or generalized. Seizures are classified based on how and where the brain activity causing the seizure began.