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Weighing up the risks of drinking alcohol
Drinking alcohol can affect your epilepsy, so it’s good to understand the risks and how to drink alcohol safely.
Socialising with friends and family can be important for wellbeing and good mental health, so it might be frustrating if your drinking habits need to change.
At certain times in your life, such as young adulthood, or at social events like weddings and parties, it might feel isolating if you are not able to drink alcohol.
Below is some information that could help with managing the risks of drinking alcohol if you choose to do so.
Should I drink alcohol when I have epilepsy?
Drinking small amounts of alcohol is unlikely to make you have more seizures. But heavy drinking over a short space of time (binge drinking) can make you more likely to have a seizure.
People with certain types of epilepsy could be more likely to have seizures as a result of drinking alcohol than others. People who have focal seizures may be more able to safely drink small amounts of alcohol than those with generalised seizures. It can also be difficult to know if the alcohol alone is what has caused a seizure.
What are the guidelines on how much I should drink?
Everyone is different, so how much someone with epilepsy can safely drink varies from person to person. There are no official guidelines about drinking alcohol for people with epilepsy. But if you do choose to drink, you might decide to follow the NHS guidelines about low risk drinking for everyone. These say that adults should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week.
More information on healthy drinking habits and alcohol units can be found on the Drinkaware website.
Will alcohol affect how well my epilepsy medicine works?
Excessive drinking can reduce the amount of some epilepsy medicines in the body. This could make you more likely to have a seizure. Alcohol can also increase the side-effects of some epilepsy medicines. Some people say that drinking alcohol when they are taking epilepsy medicine makes them feel drunk quicker.
As well as this, if you are sick as a result of drinking too much it may affect the levels of medicine in your body. This means they may not work as well as normal in controlling seizures.
The leaflet that comes with your epilepsy medicine should tell you if alcohol interacts with your medicine and what to do if you are sick.
You could also talk to your doctor or epilepsy specialist nurse about your personal level of risk. They may be able to help you with understanding your own situation as everyone is affected differently.
Alcohol dependency and seizures
You could have alcohol withdrawal seizures if you often drink large amounts of alcohol and stop drinking suddenly. You may be alcohol dependent if you have a strong desire to drink and find it hard to control your drinking. People with or without epilepsy can have seizures after heavy drinking. Alcohol withdrawal seizures are most likely to happen between 6 and 48 hours after your last drink.
Sudden unexplained death in epilepsy (SUDEP) is twice as common in people with epilepsy who are also alcohol dependent.
If you think you may be alcohol dependent and want to stop drinking, it’s important to get medical advice about how to stop safely. This is to reduce the risk of seizures and other symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
If you are not alcohol dependent, you could still be at risk of alcohol withdrawal seizures if you drink heavily over a short space of time.
Where can I get help and advice about drinking?
Your GP can give you advice about cutting down or stopping drinking. They may refer you to a service to help you safely reduce the amount you drink.
You can also get information and support from the following websites:
DAN 24/7 (Bilingual support based in Wales)
More information on living with epilepsy
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