Drinking Alcohol While on Medications

Learn which medications are dangerous to mix with alcohol, with research that is still too sketchy to make definitive statements about what effects drinking alcohol.

Some interactions between alcohol and medications are well known, and warning labels do an adequate job of informing people of specific dangers. In other cases, however, the research is still too sketchy to make definitive statements about what effects drinking alcohol will have when taking a certain medication. A consultation with your doctor is an opportunity to discuss these concerns. As a rule of thumb, it’s never a bad idea to abstain from alcohol whenever you’re taking a prescription medicine. The most well understood and potentially dangerous alcohol-medication interactions are discussed in more detail below.

Cold and Flu Medications and Alcohol

Whether over-the-counter or prescription strength, most cold and flu remedies contain ingredients that lead to fatigue and drowsiness. Fuzzy thinking is also a common result of the antihistamines present in cold medicine. When combined with even a small amount of alcohol, these side effects can be amplified to dangerous levels. Fortunately, this interaction is well understood and most consumers know better than to mix these medications with alcohol.

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Anti-anxiety Medications and Alcohol

With brand names like Xanax and Valium, anti-anxiety medications are useful in controlling the symptoms of panic disorder, anxiety disorder, and insomnia. Unfortunately, these medications also entail a risk for abuse. People who drink alcohol while taking anti-anxiety drugs experience a synergistic effect, which is best expressed as 1+1=3. For those with a history or predisposition to substance abuse, the euphoric haze created by this combination of alcohol and anxiety medication may lead to a state of addiction.

Antidepressants and Alcohol

Antidepressant medications have shown great success in treating major depression and associated disorders. However, many of these drugs include side effects such as grogginess or a spacey feeling. Some patients have even reported confusion and hallucinations when taking certain antidepressants. These effects may be amplified when a person also consumes alcohol. For these reasons, you should never mix antidepressants with alcohol.

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Ibuprofen and Alcohol

Available over the counter, ibuprofen is commonly used to alleviate headaches and other generalized pain. Doctors often prescribe high-strength ibuprofen to alleviate arthritis and sports injuries, because of the drug’s anti-inflammatory properties. However, ibuprofen can cause irritation to the digestive system. When combined with alcohol, this damage may lead to severe indigestion and upset stomach. Studies also show that ibuprofen can prolong the effects of alcohol. Furthermore, if you have a headache, alcohol will probably only make it worse anyway.

Antibiotics and Alcohol

Most antibiotics have little or no interaction with alcohol. A certain class known as cephalosporin antibiotics, however, can generate profound side effects when mixed with alcohol. Symptoms such as wheezing, sweating, nausea, vomiting, and rapid heartbeat have all been reported by people who drink alcohol and take these specific antibiotics. This interaction may be sudden or delayed by several days. The cephalosporin antibiotics are powerful, and are used in the treatment of resistant or stubborn infections. Be sure to talk with your doctor about the type of antibiotic you’re receiving and whether or not alcohol consumption is a safe idea.

Beta-Blockers and Alcohol

Typically used to manage high blood pressure or heart conditions, beta-blockers may interact with alcohol to slow muscular reflexes more so than alcohol alone. Poor coordination and lack of depth perception may also result from drinking moderately while taking beta-blockers. While these effects usually are not serious, you absolutely should avoid drinking heavily or driving a car.

Diabetes Medications and Alcohol

If you are currently taking medications for the treatment of diabetes, you should avoid alcohol entirely. There is a wide variety of diabetes medications on the market, and they all interact with alcohol in unpredictable ways. In some cases, alcohol reduces the effectiveness of the medicine. In other cases, alcohol may cause the blood sugar to rapidly spike or plummet. The medication Diabinese, when mixed with alcohol, can lead to violent illness and rapid heartbeat. Even if you’re not taking medicine for your diabetes, it’s a good idea to avoid alcohol as much as possible. Alcohol has little nutritional value, while altering blood chemistry in unhealthy ways.

What medication can you not drink alcohol with?

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It is more dangerous to drink alcohol while taking certain medications than others. The most well understood and potentially dangerous alcohol-medication interactions are discussed in more detail below.

Can I drink alcohol while taking medication?

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Whether or not you can safely drink alcohol depends on multiple factors, such as your weight, your body chemistry, the amount of alcohol you’re drinking, and what specific medication you’re taking.

Certain drugs can cause more harm than others when consumed in conjunction with alcohol. For example, alcohol tends to cause symptoms of drowsiness and lethargy, or make people lightheaded. Some types of medications can intensify the effects of alcohol and further enhance these less pleasant symptoms of intoxication. Some medicines even contain alcohol.

How long should I wait to drink alcohol after taking medicine?

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There is no way to tell exactly how long you should wait to drink alcohol after taking medications. The chances of experiencing unpleasant side effects from combining medications with alcohol depend on a medication’s half-life, the amount you drink, your metabolism, and several other factors.

Many researchers recommend waiting at least 48 hours after your last antibiotic dose before drinking alcohol. In the case of drugs with longer half-lives, such as SSRI medications used for depression, it may be best to wait longer than two days.

What painkillers can you take with alcohol?

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There are many different classes of drugs approved for the treatment of temporary and chronic pain. Some of these painkillers are more and less safe to take in conjunction with alcohol.

There is never any way to predict exactly what will happen when you mix alcohol with certain medications. So, it’s best to avoid alcohol when taking NSAID medications and other types of pain relievers, as doing so can increase your risk of stomach bleeding and other adverse side effects. 

Prescription drug abuse can increase the risk of experiencing the adverse side effects of alcohol. For example, opioid medications are classified as sedative drugs, meaning that they suppress the central nervous system and contribute to the slowing of many bodily functions. Alcohol is also a nervous system depressant. The combination of these two drugs can breed critical health outcomes. Typically, doctors recommend that you do not drink alcohol when taking prescription pain medications.