Drug Abuse as a Seizure Trigger

The effects and risks of so-called recreational drugs vary greatly. They may directly affect the brain and seizures or interact with seizure medications. The effects will vary for different drugs and from one person to the next.

Amphetamines are brain stimulants. When used under a doctor's supervision, amphetamines or other stimulants do not seem to increase the risk of seizures in people with epilepsy. However, there are a few exceptions.

  • If you abuse amphetamines or related drugs like "Ecstasy" (MDMA), you can experience sleep deprivation, confusion, or major psychiatric disorders. When this happens, you are very likely to forget your seizure medicine, which can also trigger seizures.
  • Some researchers have also found long-lasting damage to the brain from the use of some types of stimulants. Very high doses of amphetamines can cause severe tonic-clonic seizures, heart attacks, and death.

There is no evidence that using these two popular legal drugs in usual or ‘normal’ amounts affects seizure control for most people with epilepsy. Occasionally there are stories of susceptible people who experience seizures, especially if they use large amounts.

  • For caffeine, it may be difficult to tell how much you are getting, since many different beverages, foods, and medications include it.
  • Caffeine may affect a person’s seizures by interfering with sleep, rather than triggering seizures directly.
  • Cigarette smoking is likely more dangerous than the effects of nicotine for people with seizures: the loss of consciousness or control of movement can cause you to drop a lighted cigarette and start a fire.

For more information, look in the Drug Facts section of the Office of National Drug Control Policy website, or at: PubMed, a service of the National Library of Medicine.

Authored By:

Steven C. Schachter, MD

Reviewed By:

Joseph I. Sirven MD

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