Ask the Pharmacist: Can I Drink While I Take My Medication?

Apr 9, 2024 | Ask our Pharmacist, Featured 2

Many adults enjoy a social drink every now and then, but what they might not always be aware of is the potential interactions from mixing alcohol with certain medications. Alcohol can have varying effects on different types of medications, some of which can lead to potentially dangerous consequences. It is extremely important to be aware of the impact alcohol consumption can have on any medications you may be taking prior to drinking.

Understanding Alcohol and Medication Interactions

To understand the importance of following your provider’s instructions, we first must understand how alcohol interacts with different medications. Alcohol can influence how the body absorbs, metabolizes, and eliminates medications, which may lead to altered drug efficacy and potential for a range of side effects. The impact of alcohol on medication can vary based on factors such as the type of medication, the amount of alcohol consumed, individual differences, and overall health.

Types of Alcohol and their Interactions

  • Beer and Wine: Beer and wine typically have a lower alcohol content compared to spirits, so resulting interactions may be milder. However, it is important to keep in mind that even moderate alcohol consumption can have adverse effects when combined with certain medications[1].
  • Spirits (Hard Liquor): Spirits have higher alcohol concentrations, which increases the likelihood of significant interactions. The effects of combining spirits with certain drugs can be more pronounced and potentially harmful and in rare cases, fatal.

Common Medications That Interact with Alcohol

  • Antidepressants (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)): Alcohol is a depressant which can intensify the sedative effects of SSRIs. This combination often leads to increased drowsiness, dizziness, and impaired judgment. Excessive alcohol intake can reduce the overall effectiveness of the medication, potentially worsening symptoms of depression[2].
  • Pain Medications (Opioids): Combining alcohol with opioids, such as codeine or oxycodone, is dangerous and often life-threatening. Both substances depress the central nervous system, which can lead to severe respiratory depression and heightened risk of overdose[3].
  • Antibiotics: Alcohol should never be consumed while taking metronidazole, a common antibiotic used to treat bacterial infections. The interaction between alcohol and metronidazole can lead to severe nausea, vomiting, and potential cardiac complications[4]. Another class of antibiotics, oxazolidinones, can also cause severe side effects when combined with alcohol, including seizures, cardiac arrest, or altered mental state. While other antibiotics may have less severe side effects, there is always a risk of reduced drug efficacy.
  • Blood Pressure Medications: Drinking while taking blood pressure medication can reduce the effects of the medication, which can put you at risk for dizziness, fainting, and heart rhythm problems. It is also possible to experience more serious risks, especially if taking “alpha blockers,” as this combination can cause dangerously low blood pressure[5].
  • Antihistamines: Alcohol can intensify the sedative effects of antihistamines, leading to increased drowsiness and impaired coordination. This combination can be especially dangerous when driving or operating machinery, putting both the patient and those around them at risk[6].

Combining alcohol with medication is a practice that should ideally be avoided entirely, but approached cautiously in cases where this is not possible. The severity of interactions can vary widely depending on the type of medication and the amount of alcohol consumed, so it is critical to consult healthcare professionals before mixing alcohol with any medication, including over-the-counter drugs and herbal supplements.

Be sure to always read medication labels and ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist about potential alcohol interactions. It’s also essential to be honest with your healthcare provider about your alcohol consumption habits to ensure safe and effective treatment. Your health and well-being are always the main priority, and being informed about alcohol and medication interactions is a vital step towards improving health outcomes.







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