Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that attacks the central nervous system and typically produces significant physical disability. Some studies suggest drinking moderate amounts of alcohol can decrease the progression of MS and even slow the development of some MS symptoms. However, there are numerous ways that alcohol can negatively affect those suffering from MS, including the increased risk of developing alcoholism

If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to alcohol, Vertava Health has a number of treatment options available. Many of our treatment programs can help individuals cope with alcohol use disorders and equip them with the emotional skills needed to live with MS in sobriety.

What Is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis involves an abnormal response of the body’s immune system that affects the central nervous system (CNS.) The CNS includes the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. When a person has MS, the immune system causes inflammation to the CNS. This results in damage to the myelin, a fatty substance that surrounds nerve fibers.

MS is an unpredictable disease that disrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the mind and body. This results in devastating physical disability in more than 30 percent of people with this condition. Symptomatic episodes can occur months or years apart and affect different locations of the body. 

Types Of Multiple Sclerosis

People with MS typically experience one of four types of the condition. The types of MS are sometimes referred to as multiple sclerosis disease courses or phenotypes.

The following are the different types of MS that a person can suffer from:

  • Clinically Isolated Syndrome (CIS) – Those diagnosed with this phase may never go on to develop MS. CIS is defined as the first episode of neurologic symptoms lasting at least 24 hours and caused by inflammation in the central nervous system. Someone may experience characteristics of multiple sclerosis but does not fully meet the criteria for an MS diagnosis.
  • Relapsing-Remitting MS (RRMS) – This is the most common disease course of MS. Roughly 85 percent of those with MS are initially diagnosed with RRMS. Those in the RRMS phase often have new or increasing neurologic symptoms. Their relapses are then typically followed by periods of remission. During remission, some or possibly all symptoms of MS disappear. Some people may experience permanent symptoms with this course of MS.
  • Secondary Progressive MS (SPMS) – SPMS follows an initial relapse. Most people diagnosed with RRMS will eventually experience worsening neurologic function and, as a result, physical disability over time.
  • Primary Progressive MS (PPMS) – PPMS is characterized by disability without early relapses or remissions. Around 15 percent of people with MS have this diagnosis. 

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Signs And Symptoms Of MS

Symptoms vary from one person to another depending on where and when the damage occurs. The diagnosis of MS requires an indication of at least two areas of damage to the central nervous system that have occurred at different times.

Common symptoms can include:

  • fatigue
  • difficulty walking
  • body/limb numbness or tingling 
  • weakness
  • vision problems (often the first symptom of MS)
  • involuntary muscle spasms
  • dizziness/vertigo
  • cognitive changes
  • emotional changes (clinical depression is very common) 
  • bladder/bowel problems
  • sexual issues
  • pain 
  • itching 

The type of MS and the severity of the condition will determine the type of symptoms a person will experience. The more severe the MS, the worse the symptoms will be.

Can Alcoholism Worsen Multiple Sclerosis?

Alcohol and MS have a somewhat conflicting relationship in terms of research. Some studies claim alcohol (in moderate amounts) could potentially help MS. One theory behind these findings is that alcohol, such as wine, has anti-inflammatory properties, which could help slow the progression of MS or lessen symptoms. Other researchers suggest the reasoning is that alcohol may be neuroprotective.

On the other hand, some researchers have found the opposite to be true and believe that clinicians should be on high alert of problem drinking in MS patients. Results from a 2004 study found that one in six MS patients drink in excess over the course of their lifetime. The study concluded that this could be due to the presence of a family history of mental illness and prominent anxiety. 

Another Canadian study found that 14 percent of MS research participants screened positive for alcohol abuse or dependence. Researchers believe this connection could be due to the fact that MS sufferers may be more prone to drinking alcohol in excess in an attempt to cope with the disease. This could potentially send someone into a downward spiral of becoming dependent on alcohol. 

Ways in which alcohol may worsen MS symptoms include:

  • Increased Imbalance And Lack Of Coordination – These are common symptoms of MS and can worsen after only small amounts of alcohol. 
  • Worsened Sleep Quality – Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of MS, and those with MS often do not sleep well. Alcohol is known to make you sleepy, but the sleep you get is not restful. This could lead to increased fatigue in those with MS.
  • Interference With Medications – Alcohol depresses the central nervous system and can interfere with certain medications that are commonly used to manage MS symptoms.

Alcohol consumption can also increase a person’s risk for other health conditions such as cardiovascular disease and certain cancers, which could potentially worsen MS.

Dependency on alcohol is damaging on its own, but if it co-occurs with MS, it can be especially problematic.

Co-Occurring Treatment Options For Those With MS And Alcoholism

A person suffering from alcohol addiction or dependence may not think that he or she has a problem. On the other hand, individuals who are aware they have a problem may believe that that quitting is impossible. Coping with alcohol addiction while also living with MS can be especially difficult, as both of these conditions can cause a great amount of stress.

However, it’s important to know that help is available and that you are not alone in your addiction. Several treatment facilities offer programs catered to individuals struggling with both alcohol addiction and other health conditions such as MS. Vertava Health has several rehab centers throughout the nation, all of which provide treatment programs that are customized to each patient’s unique needs.

To learn more about if alcohol can worsen symptoms of multiple sclerosis, contact an Vertava Health’ treatment specialist today.


National Multiple Sclerosis Society — What Is MS? 

U.S. National Library of Medicine — Multiple sclerosis and alcohol: a study of problem drinking.

WebMD — Do Multiple Sclerosis and Alcohol Mix?

Multiple Sclerosis News Today — Problem Drinking in MS Associated with Anxiety and Family History

ScienceDaily — Lifestyle study highlights key differences in relapsing and progressive onset multiple sclerosis

MayoClinic — Multiple sclerosis