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To drink or not to drink alcohol with MS

By Matt Cavallo

One of the more popular questions people ask me, especially those newly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, is can I still drink alcohol with MS? The most common answer to this question is that alcohol use in moderation is best. There were more than 30 research papers published on the relationship between MS and alcohol with both positive and negative results, so you will get different opinions based on who you ask. 

Rather than say alcohol is okay in moderation, I think the better answer is that each person living with MS is different. From the way we experience symptoms to how we respond to different treatments, our alcohol risk factors are better discussed with our neurologist. It is important to be honest about your consumption with your neurologist and bring up any concerns you may have. Alcohol can also have negative interactions with your medications, including MS treatments, so that is a consideration when talking to your neurologist. 

Many neurologists may have questions about alcohol consumption on their patient intake forms. For me, however, my neurologist’s intake form only gave me options to select if I drink once a day, once a week, or once a month. I tend to drink socially, which is not an option the form, so, if my neurologist wants to know how much I actually drink, he will not find the answer on this form. It is also not a typical conversation that we would have during my appointments. If I have a concern about alcohol, it is my responsibility to bring it to my neurologist’s attention. 

As a person living with MS for nearly 20 years, MS has not affected the way I drink alcohol. I am a social drinker who drinks occasionally when I feel compelled to do so. There are some months I don’t drink at all and there are other months where the calendar is packed with back-to-back social engagements, and I may drink on back-to-back nights. 

I do notice that alcohol does affect me more since I have had MS than before I was diagnosed, especially since my last major relapse in 2016. I find even one drink can affect my walking. Because I developed a bit of a limp and right-side deficits with that last relapse, I noticed that my walking issues are more pronounced when I drink alcohol. Alcohol can also affect your bladder and quality of sleep. As someone who has bladder issues related to MS, I know that if I am drinking, I have interrupted sleep to use the bathroom or not be able through the night. It is these kinds of considerations I make when I decide whether to drink alcohol or not. 

Being diagnosed with MS doesn’t mean you have to give up drinking alcohol, but it is something you should take into consideration if you are concerned with how your alcohol consumption and MS mix. At the end of the day, it is a personal decision, and you have to make the one that is best for you and your MS. Also, if you want to stop drinking, but are unable to do so on your own, know that there are resources that can help. Be sure that you bring up any concerns you have about your alcohol consumption with neurologist.