Updated analysis helps clarify relationship between alcohol consumption and epilepsy

Epilepsy, a common neurological disorder associated with stigma, psychiatric comorbidities and rising healthcare costs, affects approximately 50 million people worldwide. A common risk factor associated with the development of epilepsy and seizures is alcohol consumption.

Various studies have focused on how alcohol consumption leads to provoked seizures, usually occurring due to alcohol withdrawal or heavy alcohol intoxication. However, very few focus on the link between alcohol consumption and unprovoked seizures. One such study was a meta-analysis conducted in 2010, which analyzed six case-control studies and found that alcohol users were more prone to developing unprovoked seizures.

Interestingly, data from recent cohort studies contradict these findings, implying that there is no association between alcohol consumption and epilepsy.

Now, using more accurate diagnostic methods and recent data, a team of scientists led by Prof. Kyoung Nam Woo and including Prof. Yun Hak Kim of Pusan ​​National University, South Korea, have conducted a meta -updated analysis to conclusively clarify the relationship between alcohol consumption and unprovoked seizures and epilepsy.

For this meta-analysis, which was posted online in the Drug and alcohol addiction journal on January 11, 2022, the team included a total of 8 studies, including 5 case-control studies and 3 cohort studies. In addition, they performed cubic spline analysis on the data extracted from these studies, to assess the dose-response relationship between alcohol consumption and epilepsy.

The results suggest that, overall, alcohol drinkers are at a significantly higher risk of developing epilepsy, compared to non-drinkers. A significant positive dose-response relationship was found when analyzing case-control studies, implying that the risk of epilepsy increases with increasing alcohol consumption. These results are consistent with previous meta-analyses.

An important finding was that cohort studies did not show a positive association between alcohol consumption and epilepsy. In fact, 2 out of 3 cohort studies have suggested that drinking alcohol reduces the risk of epilepsy.

Further large-scale cohort studies of the general population are needed to affirm a precise causal relationship between alcohol consumption and epilepsy and to identify a potential threshold..”

Yun Hak Kim, Professor, Pusan ​​National University

Moreover, since cohort studies include more subjects and are less prone to bias, they comparatively provide more accurate relationships between exposure and the development of a disorder.

“An assessment of the risk of alcohol use in various clinical situations, such as types of CNS involvement and the temporal relationship between alcohol use and seizures, will be important for primary prevention. To increase applicability to the general population, future studies should be conducted in which potential confounders such as age, gender and smoking status have been adjusted for,” says Professor Woo, outlining the long-term implications of this work.

Once clarity is achieved, assessing the risk of alcohol consumption in different clinical situations will be an effective step for the prevention of epilepsy in the general population.


Pusan ​​National University

Journal reference:

Woo, KN, et al. (2022) Alcohol use on unprovoked seizures and epilepsy: an updated meta-analysis. Drug and alcohol addiction. doi.org/10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2022.109305.

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