These pages are about alcohol and epilepsy in the UK. If you are looking for information about alcohol and epilepsy in another country, please contact your local epilepsy organisation.
In this section
The information in this section is in two parts. The first part gives some facts about drinking alcohol if you have epilepsy. The second part looks at the risks of having seizures because of heavy and regular alcohol drinking.
Several studies show that drinking small or modest amounts of alcohol does not 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 modest amounts 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 highest between six and 48 hours after they have stopped drinking.
Alcohol can reduce the amount of some epilepsy medicines in the body. This can make you more likely to have seizures. Alcohol can also increase the side-effects of epilepsy medicines. And 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’.
If a person with epilepsy dies suddenly and unexpectedly, and no obvious cause of death can be found, it is called sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP). Suddenly withdrawing from alcohol can increase your risk of SUDEP.
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.
Organisations that offer advice about cutting down on alcohol:
If you would like to see this information with references, visit the Advice and Information references section of our website. See Alcohol and epilepsy.
Epilepsy Action would like to thank Consultant Neurologist Dr John Paul Leach and of Southern General Hospital Glasgow for his contributions to this information. He has declared no conflict of interest.
This information has been produced under the terms of The Information Standard.
- Updated October 2013To be reviewed October 2016