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MS, Alcohol, and Me

During a typical week, other than hanging in my yard with my dog, I manage to get out of the house about one to two times. When I do get to venture past my borders, it’s usually to go attempt to be social and meet up with some friends for a few drinks at a local watering hole. Yes, me, a disabled person with Multiple Sclerosis likes to go out and have a couple of alcoholic beverages. That fact can make some people a little skittish and a bit judgemental, too. So, let’s talk about MS and alcohol!

Concerns about drinking alcohol with MS

Obviously, drinking with MS can seem troubling to some. After all, many people with MS already have issues with their balance and coordination. Becoming inebriated doesn’t typically improve those, so getting a bit tipsy with your MS symptoms can be downright dangerous. Another serious issue with alcohol consumption and MS has to do with medication. Mixing alcohol and certain medications can be extremely dangerous. You really need to know and heed any warnings when it comes to mixing alcohol and your various medications. Aside from those concerns, drinking too much is bad for your health in a lot of ways that you likely already know. To put it simply, doing something that has a negative impact on your overall health will absolutely have a negative effect on your MS as well.

The possible health benefits of alcohol

For some people, however, there can be a few benefits that come with moderate alcohol consumption. You’ve likely heard about numerous studies that show that there are potential positive effects on heart health. While that is still being debated, alcohol does have anti-inflammatory effects, and MS is an inflammatory disease. It hasn’t been shown to help those with MS yet, but a recent study suggests that it could potentially help as a preventative measure against MS.

The social aspects of drinking alcohol with MS

Those are not the benefits I’m most concerned with here though. I am speaking more on the social aspects often associated with alcohol. MS is a lonely disease; it greatly affects people’s ability to socialize. It can also negatively impact the chances for people to find some enjoyment. If having a couple drinks is pleasant to you and maybe aids in your socializing or your enjoyments of life, then have at it. Remember, you never need to apologize for having some fun, trust me, you deserve it. You certainly don’t need alcohol to be social or have fun, but, for some people it is helpful, and that’s OK.

Moderation and triggers

Like most things in life, moderation is key. When I am talking about alcohol here, I am talking about moderate consumption. When I say it’s OK to have a couple drinks, it’s important not to overdo it, just like it’s important to be aware of the impact it may have on your medication. When you live with Multiple Sclerosis, another significant aspect to living well, is knowing what your triggers are, knowing what environmental conditions might cause a temporary increase in the severity of your symptoms. There are a great many people who I’ve spoken to that list alcohol as one of those triggers.

My experience with alcohol consumption and MS

Drinking isn’t a daily thing for me; I suppose I’d describe myself as a “social” drinker, usually just during those rare moments I get out of the house and can meet folks for happy hour or some similar activity. I do admit though, that sometimes a couple turns into a few, that turns into several. That isn’t too often though. I do feel compelled to mention, that while many folks with MS have a worsening of symptoms while drinking, I seem to have the opposite experience. I’m a little better on my feet, my speech is much better, and overall, I seem to function in a way that I don’t when I haven’t had a couple drinks. My friends and family have even remarked that I look like a younger me in the way that I walk and move after I’ve had a couple drinks. I’ve also had more than one neurologist give me the “OK” to have a couple drinks on occasion, as long as I don’t overdo it.

Each person may have a different experience

So like most things with MS, each person may have a different experience when it comes to imbibing alcohol. It’s important to know the effects it will have on you as an individual, and that includes knowing when to stop and when to not even start (particularly if you have a medication that warns against it). That said, it can also be a slight enhancement for many people, and it’s important not to judge them either.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with MS and alcohol, so hit up the comments!

As always, thanks so much for reading and feel free to share!

Devin

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • paizley
    4 weeks ago

    When I wake up in the morning, I usually am symptom-free. About 3-5 hours later, the paresthesias start. This escalates quickly with dystonia, spastcity, dysphagia, and other symptoms joining the onslaught. I can tell if it’s going to be a “bad” day. I’ve found that 2-3 glasses of wine calm those symptoms down to the point that I can “function.” There are days it doesn’t help when the symptoms are just too overpowering. I live alone so any amount of time I can be minimally productive is welcome…like washing dishes, scooping the cat box, taking out the trash, taking a shower, etc.

    QOL. Mine sucks but I try to enjoy what I have whenever I can.

  • paizley
    4 weeks ago

    *spasticity

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    4 weeks ago

    Thank you for sharing @paizley, sometimes you have to do whatever you can to be a little productive. Thing is, what may seem minimally productive to many, even to ourselves, is still pretty amazing given our situations. Nothing wrong with being a proud of that. Reminds me a little of this: https://multiplesclerosis.net/living-with-ms/worth-doing-poorly/

  • Keashashanell
    3 months ago

    After a month or two of being diagnosed i forgot about hot showers. One morning i took one and it caused me to feel like electricity was going threw my limbs. At first i didn’t realize what was happening. I called my daughter in the bathroom saying baby im having a episode. It was scary from now on i will never forget about heat and MS. In the beginning soon after my diagnosis. I knew what thing’s were but i couldn’t remember what it was called, one day i was sitting on the side of my bed i saw my pillow had fallen on the floor, my mind told me to pick it up and place it on my bed. When i looked down again the pillow wasn’t there i looked and it was on my bed

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 months ago

    Thank you @Keashashanell Our minds can certainly play tricks on us, it’s incredibly frustrating! Also, I still forget and have issues with regards to showering: https://multiplesclerosis.net/living-with-ms/the-unexpected-perils-of-showering/

  • Drewicf
    3 months ago

    It really seems as if though alcohol was never a good choice for myself. I already don’t have a great gait as it is and alcohol just makes it worse with cognition and walking. I trip myself up a lot and always feel horrible for days afterwards. I do enjoy a good IPA but I just revert back to my pre-diagnosis days and drink it to quickly and then want another. So as of now I just try and stay away from it. Plus, with my budget, it doesn’t really mesh at all.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 months ago

    Thanks @Drewicf, it’s certainly not for everyone! You bring up a pretty good point about budget too!

  • Lupe
    3 months ago

    I have always enjoyed imbibing; beer, mixed drinks and my favorite, vodka and martinis. Despite the meds I take for MS, I do have a few every day. It helps calm me down and unwind after a long day at work and driving to and from. Like you Devin, it seems to affect me in a positive way and am able walk and function a bit better.

    However, there are certain times I cannot. For instance, if I am out in the sun and heat, it’s a huge NO-NO! I pay dearly if I do, not being able to walk at all, worse than usual considering that I have foot-drop. My cognitive thinking becomes non-excistent as well as my speech. The first time I experienced this was such a shocker to me, my boyfriend and family members who, if it weren’t for them I would not have been able to make it to the car! I have learned to limit my drinking, and certainly not outside nor in the heat. (Living in FL does not help the situation!) I only drink in the evening either after the sun has gone down or indoors and I must drink lots of water.

    Like with everything else for a person who has MS, it’s a matter of changing the way you are accustomed of doing things, workarounds so to speak, just to try to live a semi-normal life. I am blessed to have such understanding and supportive friends and family members. Godspeed to all!

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 months ago

    Thanks Lupe! I agree with you about the sun, or in my case, even if it’s simply humid out. Weather and temps can have such a dramatic effect on every aspect of my disease!

  • asapcynthia
    4 months ago

    Maybe it’s the meds, maybe it’s just my inability to drink like my friends do, but I never had a great tolerance for alcohol. I was always the first one to puke, and I suffered hangovers that lasted for days. So booze and I have love/hate relationship. I’m older now, so I know better, but when I was younger I would max out at three. Any more and I suffered, oh how I suffered. Now I have an ‘arrangement ‘ with my family. Usually when you go to dinner you have a drink at the bar first. I don’t have a glass of wine like I used to, I order a club soda with a splash of cranberry with a lime. When we are seated, everyone has another round except me. When we order dinner, I order a glass of wine but ask them to bring it with my meal. And I have to use my wheelchair for my husband’s peace of mind. I might have a second glass if we are just sitting around because I’m done and I want to go home. I ask for a glass of ice and dilute the wine. It’s much better and my family can relax because I can go from stiff as a board to limp as a noodle in about a minute, and nobody wants to deal with that. So for the sake of everyone I have refined my behavior. They can relax and enjoy their dinner and not have to keep a side eye on me, and I get a glass of wine. I only get one so I make sure I enjoy it.

  • chong61
    4 months ago

    Dang it, I would love to share a glass of wine with my children at dinner. I take 3 medicines and they all so NO. I was the only person that could not even have a glass of champagne at one of my granddaughter’s wedding.

    Good for you Devin I feel happy that at least you have that outing to look forward to. It takes so little to make a MS person happy. We just have to acknowledge the things that we can enjoy no matter how small. For sure the pain will take care of the rest.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    4 months ago

    Thanks so much @chong61, very much appreciated! The smallest of joys become so important these days!

  • brewlabs
    4 months ago

    As an avid aficionado of beer and whiskeys for the past 35+ years (over 8000 unique beers/whiskeys sampled), as my MS has progressed in the past few years I have had to modify my habits.
    I have found that for me a big trigger is dehydration (exacerbated in Colorado’s high altitude and low humidity) so alcohol use has to be balanced by water and protein intake to offset the dehydration and carbohysdrate overload (which are both inflammatory). In addition, I make sure to not engage in other behaviors/activities that would “double-down” on dehydration/inflammatory triggers before and after consuming alcohol.
    Totally agree that the benefit of socialization outweighs most everything else. Sampling some beers and having some conversation with folks is a primary social outlet for me and I almost never drink while alone at home anymore and instead make a point to go out once a week to a pub.
    As always, every one of us is different, but I find it fascinating how aware so many of us become to our situational body performance. Cheers!

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    4 months ago

    Thank you @brewlabs! I’d say that hydration is also very important for me as well, and anyone really, but particularly when drinking. Sounds like we are very similar in just how important drinking can be to our social activities!

  • robin2877
    4 months ago

    I am on tysabri and neurologist gave me the ok to have a couple drinks, as long as I know my limit and stay within that I am I can enjoy myself without experiencing worsening symptoms. BUT If I do have one too many I will have my cane at the ready to steady my walking lol :>

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    4 months ago

    Thanks @robin2877, very happy to hear that!

  • KittyG
    4 months ago

    I decided to have an alcohol free April to see how my body reacted. I’ve noticed that I seem to have more numbness in my feet than I did when I had a couple of drinks in the evening. On the plus side, I’ve lost almost 10 pounds and there is less strain on my knees .and hips. Tomorrow evening I’ll have a glass or two of wine and see how it goes.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    4 months ago

    Thanks @KittyG! If you want, feel free to report back, I’m very curious!

  • PennyAnn
    4 months ago

    I am always cautious about drinking because of the MS, I don’t walk very well sober. I do enjoy having a drink or two. I just don’t do it very often.

  • Donna Steigleder moderator
    4 months ago

    That’s using your head. Enjoy your time and be smart. That way you enjoy your relaxing time safely. Thanks for sharing.

  • natalee
    4 months ago

    My neurologist suggested tonic water for helping with spasticity, and that sometimes moderate alcohol consumption can settle essential tremors. Well lookie there, Gin and tonic with lots of lime just so happen to be one of my favorites lol! It actually does help with my tremors, moderately meaning like 1 or 2. There’s been I believe 3 times when I had my 3 limit and I was INEBRIATED!!! It was like I had multiple shots with it. I couldn’t walk, hubby carried me to car, slurred speech, making no sense, passed out on bathroom floor, hubby got me to bedroom and I curled up on floor with a bowl. My best friend that was with us was so worried. She never seen alcohol hit me like that. She knew I only had 3. My husband knew it was part of my MS BS and explained it to her. He warned her. If it was from it chances tremors, spasticity and pins and needles will be pretty violent the next day or so. Her explained to her When I notice 1 feels like 2 and 2 is 4 or 5. I usually tell him and don’t finish the second…. But we were out having a great time visiting, entertaining and … I wasn’t paying attention to how I was feeling. Now my bestie, hubby and daughter have made a rule; only 2 and wait, then the 3rd is only half and ABSOLUTELY no more. Unless I can give myself SFST’s Hahaha! (inside joke from Christmas party. No we weren’t driving. I convinced them I could have another shot because I did SFST’s on myself )
    But seriously, I’ve noticed times where I can enjoy 1, 2 a few, several more and sure let’s do more on some rare socializing occasions. Then other times I can’t get past a second because symptoms hit and I could swear the alcohol is 200 proof. The next day the symptoms are insanely enhanced too. For instance, Saturday afternoon working on chicken coop I had 1 red beer. It felt like 3. Definitely didn’t have another.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    4 months ago

    Thanks @natalee, I’m always interested in hearing how alcohol affects others! Seems we can be all over the place!

  • Donna Steigleder moderator
    4 months ago

    Sounds like you have your limits almost down to a formula. It great you have your family there as your wing man so you know you always have a safety net. Thanks for sharing your story and stay safe.

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