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Can Excessive Drinking Cause Seizures?

Can Excessive Drinking Cause Seizures?

Most people are aware that severe alcohol withdrawal can cause seizures. Prolonged heavy drinking causes a rise in the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate and a decrease in the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA. If this imbalance is severe enough, your nerves can start firing haphazardly, causing a seizure, which can be fatal.

Beyond this, the relationship between alcohol and seizures is complicated. Typically, moderate drinking does not increase one’s risk of seizures. In fact, alcohol amplifies the effect of GABA, making seizures less likely. The real danger is in alcohol dependence. If you’re always in danger of going into withdrawal, you may end up having seizures. So it’s not that you drink yourself into a seizure, but that you drink heavily, aren’t able to drink–for whatever reason–the next day or two, and then have a seizure. The risk is still greater even if alcohol doesn’t cause a seizure directly.

There is a statistical correlation between drinking and epilepsy. In Western industrialized nations, heavy drinkers are three times more likely to have epilepsy than the general population. However, alcohol addiction is no more likely among epileptics than it is in the general population. That suggests that alcohol abuse may be a risk factor for epilepsy, but we don’t know exactly how they are related. It’s possible that repeated withdrawal seizures might make the nervous system more excitable, which eventually develops into epilepsy. It does not seem that alcohol directly causes seizures, though.

Another issue is that alcohol can interfere with anti-seizure drugs, or ASDs. Alcohol can make carbamazepine and phenobarbital less effective. Chronic drinking can also reduce blood serum levels of phenytoin. If the levels of effective medication are too low, there is greater risk of seizure. Excessive drinking can also make you more likely to forget to take the medication at all. It may also disturb sleep. Both of these greatly increase risk of seizures in epileptics. Seizure medications can also increase the effects of alcohol. This doesn’t necessarily increase the risk of seizures, but anyone taking seizure meds should be extra cautious when drinking.

Aside from direct causes and interaction with ASDs, excessive drinking may lead to injuries and health problems that can cause seizures. Excessive drinking puts you at greater risk of accidents that might cause traumatic brain injury. Malnutrition and dehydration may also increase your risk of seizures. Drinking also increases your risk of stroke, which thereafter will increase your risk of seizures.

Moderate drinking does not increase your risk of seizures, even if you have epilepsy, but heavy prolonged drinking certainly increases your risk of seizures, which can be both frightening and dangerous.

Located in downtown Midland, The Springboard Center’s mission is to offer programs and services to treat alcohol and drug addiction treatment using an evidence based curriculum, 12 step programs, diet, nutrition, exercise, emotional, mental and spiritual development for a long recovery. For more information, please call us at 432-620-0255 as we are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.