No, I’m Not Drunk! I Have MS

Jamie Tripp Utitus
Written by
Jamie Tripp Utitus

By now you must have seen a coffee mug or a shirt somewhere that reads, “I am not drunk, I have MS.” If you have MS and have ever seen a drunken person’s gait (perhaps that person was YOU) you probably can relate. The symptoms of MS and inebriation do tend to overlap – loss of coordination, balance, etc. All joking aside though, if the symptoms of MS mimic those of inebriation, can we safely drink while having multiple sclerosis?

Before we get to the clinical aspect, let me tell you about my personal experience and observations with alcohol and MS. Personally, I’ve learned that I can’t drink. It’s like I have become super-sensitive to the effects of alcohol. If I have a sip of anything, my legs, which are already wonky and unsteady, become wonkier than wonky. I’ll walk into things even more so than I already do. How is that fun? Literally I can sometimes look like someone who drank a bottle of vodka after having only a few sips of wine, which makes me mad. It’s rather unfair, no?

But the flipside is … I have many friends with MS that drink, in moderation. They’ll have a glass of wine with dinner and not feel a thing. I have another friend with Lou Gehrig’s disease (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS) who either, drinks like a fish, and feels nothing or, at other times, takes a single sip and feels completely inebriated. On those nights, she’s honest and says she can’t drink anymore.

I’m not a doctor, but I assume it may have something to do with what her body is going through at the point of consumption. But that’s just me, and them. You are you.

No one knows you or FEELS you the way that you do! That sounded bizarre, yes? But I stand by it. We each are so individualized in our diseases and how they present and what presents at what point (triggers). So, this conversation should begin with YOU and your doctor.

The first thing to consider is your medications. Depending on your medications, you may not be able to drink. Discuss the medications with your doctor. If he or she says it shouldn’t be a problem mixing them, then you get to go to the next step – discovering what works for you, and what doesn’t.

I knew early on that I didn’t like the way drinking made my MS feel. Exaggerating all of my symptoms didn’t appeal to me. SO, I stayed away. However, I have many friends who manage to drink and do just fine with it. They also learned their limits. Like any process in the course of managing our MS, they learned slowly and gradually what worked for them. Name your beverage of choice – beer, wine, or liquor – it’s all about what works for you and only you know the answer to that.

Depending on the dosage, not all drinks are considered harmful. For instance, did you know that red wine has more antioxidants than Acai Juice? Antioxidants are those lovely little go getters that go find perilous free radicals that can damage our cells, and blast them. Antioxidants are our friends!

More Good News for Drinkers

A study in The New England Journal of Medicine discovered that women who drank alcohol in moderation experienced a boost in brainpower. Sorry men! The study evaluated more than 12,000 women between the ages of 70-81. Surprisingly, moderate drinkers scored better on tests of mental function, and researchers found a boost in brainpower in people that had one drink per day. In addition, moderate drinkers had a 23% reduced risk of mental decline compared with nondrinkers. So perhaps drinking in moderation might have some benefit, huh?

This is the age of the e-patient. I urge you to do some research on your own, talk to your doctor and be honest with yourself and your body. Take note on how certain types of drinks impact your symptoms and how much. Do you feel calm and in control? Do you lose your faculties as if you were in an MS relapse? How do you feel the next day? Later that week? Nobody knows your body as well you do. Empower yourself, talk to your doctor, do some of your own research and go slowly, noting what works for you and what doesn’t.

Cheers!

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