In this section
- Drinking alcohol if you have epilepsy
- Drinking alcohol when you take epilepsy medicine
- Alcohol causing seizures
- Further information and getting help
This information was written by Epilepsy Action’s advice and information team with guidance and input from people living with epilepsy, and medical experts.
The information in this section is split into two. The first part gives some facts about drinking alcohol if you have epilepsy. The second part looks at the risks of having seizures as a result of heavy and regular alcohol drinking.
You can find information about the number of units of alcohol in different drinks on the NHS Choices website.
Drinking no more than one or two units of alcohol in 24 hours doesn’t usually increase the risk of having seizures. But if you have a history of alcohol abuse, even drinking small amounts could increase the number of seizures you have. This is also the case if you have had seizures related to drinking alcohol in the past.
Drinking more than two units of alcohol in 24 hours can increase the risk of having seizures. For most people, the risk is highest when the alcohol is leaving their body after they have had a drink. This risk is between six and 48 hours after they have stopped drinking.
This information is relevant for people who live in UK. If you are looking for information about epilesy medicine in another country, please contact your local epilepsy organisation.
It is known that alcohol doesn’t mix well with the epilepsy medicines phenytoin (Epanutin), carbamazepine (Tegretol) and primidone (Mysoline). There is no information available on alcohol and other epilepsy medicines.
- If you take phenytoin, regularly drinking large amounts of alcohol may make it work less well. This will increase your risk of seizures.
- Dizziness and drowsiness are common side-effects of carbamazepine. If you drink alcohol as well, these side-effects may be made worse.
- Primidone can make you sleepy. Drinking alcohol as well is likely to make you even more sleepy.
- Some people say that drinking alcohol when they are taking epilepsy medicine makes them feel drunk quicker.
Whatever you decide to do about drinking alcohol, it’s important always to take your epilepsy medicine as prescribed.
If you are ‘alcohol dependent’, it means you are likely to drink heavily. You may drink at any time and for days at a time. There is a real risk of having seizures if you stop drinking suddenly after a long session of heavy drinking. These seizures are known as ‘alcohol withdrawal seizures’.
Some people have had status epilepticus when suddenly withdrawing from alcohol. Status epilepticus is a seizure that goes on for 30 minutes or more, or one seizure following another without recovery in between. Status epilepticus is serious. It can put a lot of strain on the brain and body. And it can be fatal.
If you want to cut down your drinking, it’s important to do this gradually, to reduce the risk of alcohol withdrawal seizures. It’s also possible to get treatment to stop seizures happening during alcohol withdrawal. Once you have stopped drinking, alcohol withdrawal seizures should not come back, as long as you don’t start drinking again.
If you are worried you are drinking too much, and would like to do something about it, talk to your family doctor. They may be able to refer you to someone who can give you support, and help you to safely reduce the amount of alcohol you drink.
These websites offer advice about cutting down on alcohol:
Epilepsy Action would like to thank Pamela Mantri, Epilepsy Nurse Specialist, County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, UK, for her contribution. Pamela Mantri has declared no conflict of interest.
This information has been produced under the terms of The Information Standard.
Updated October 2011To be reviewed October 2013