Home / The Effects of Mixing Drugs & Alcohol / Can Alcohol Lower the Effectiveness of Birth Control?

Birth control refers to the practice of preventing unwanted pregnancies. There are many different methods of birth control, from pills to patches to condoms for men and women.

Recent data would suggest that over 99% of women between the ages of 15 and 44 who have ever been sexually active have used at least one type of contraception. Approximately 60% of all women are currently using contraceptives of some kind.1

Women using birth control to prevent pregnancy may be concerned about whether alcohol may impact how well their contraception works.

Types of Birth Control and Their Effectiveness

There are many types of birth control available to help prevent pregnancy. None of them are 100% effective, as abstinence is the only way to guarantee not getting pregnant. Some types of birth control are over 99% effective, however.

Below are a few different common types of birth control and their corresponding levels of effectiveness:2

  • Condoms are the only method in this list that protect against both pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). With perfect use, male condoms are 98% effective at preventing pregnancy. With typical use, they are about 82% effective. Perfect use of female condoms results in a 95% efficacy rate, while typical use has only 79% efficacy rate.
  • The pill is one of the most well-known types of birth control, and it is about 91% effective with normal use. With perfect use, it is 99% effective. The pill must be taken daily and certain types must be taken around the same time each day.
  • The patch is also 91% effective with typical use (99% with perfect use). It slowly releases hormones that prevent pregnancy and must be replaced every 3 weeks.
  • The birth control shot, also known as the depo shot from the common brand name of Depo-Provera, must be given every 3 months and is 94% effective with typical use. It is safe and convenient but must be used on time to be most effective. If always administered on time, it is 99% effective.
  • IUDs, or intrauterine devices, are small flexible plastic devices that are placed inside the uterus by a doctor or nurse. It is a long-term form of birth control that can prevent pregnancy for 3–12 years, depending on the IUD. They are over 99% effective.
  • The vaginal ring is 91% effective with normal use. It is a small plastic ring that is placed inside the vagina and needs to be replaced once a month, which is something you can do yourself at home. When worn the right way and replaced on time, it is 99% effective.
  • The birth control implant is a small, thin rod similar in size to a matchstick. A doctor or nurse inserts the implant into your arm, and it can remain there for up to 3 years. It is more than 99% effective and a good option for people who don’t want to have to think about taking their birth control daily, weekly, or monthly.

Each of these forms of birth control, apart from condoms, uses the hormones progestin, estrogen, or a combination of the two, in order to stop ovulation and thus prevent pregnancy.

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Will Drinking Impact My Birth Control?

The good news for women taking hormonal birth control pills is that alcohol does not interfere with the effectiveness of birth control. However, there are some alcohol-related risks.

The primary concern with mixing alcohol when taking birth control is the impact alcohol has on your behavior and judgment. This is a particular concern for people using any birth control method that requires regular compliance, such as taking a daily pill or changing a ring. Being drunk or incapacitated by a hangover may make them more likely to forget (or simply neglect) to take their pill or change their ring. This may result in an unplanned pregnancy.

One study found that risky drinking increased the odds of ineffective contraception (whether it was a condom or a scheduled pill) by 1.7 times.3

Alcohol use can also lead to ineffective or inconsistent use of condoms, increasing the risk of both pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). In the previously mentioned study, women who were found to have used condoms ineffectively reported a higher number of binge drinking episodes than their peers.4

There is also the possibility of throwing up from alcohol intoxication shortly after taking the pill, which may impair the drug’s absorption and thus decrease its effectiveness. The general rule is 2 hours; vomiting within 2 hours of swallowing the pill may put you at risk. After that, you are likely safe.4

While alcohol won’t impact your birth control if you are using it correctly, missing doses, failing to replace the device on time, or using condoms incorrectly can increase your risk of becoming pregnant. And if you continue to drink after your become pregnant, your unborn child could be at risk. Many women do not know they are pregnant until 4-6 weeks into their pregnancies and may have been drinking during that time, unknowingly subjecting the forming fetus to harm.5

If you have failed to use your birth control correctly or believe that you might due to alcohol consumption, you may talk your doctor about longer-lasting forms of birth control, for example an IUD.

How Does Birth Control Affect My Response to Alcohol?

While on hormonal birth control, some women may eliminate alcohol more slowly and feel the intoxicating effects longer.6 The liver has to do the work of metabolizing both the hormones in the birth control and the alcohol that is consumed, so the process of eliminating the alcohol gets slowed down.7

The Bottom Line

There are many different birth control options available to women that are all highly effective when used correctly. Selecting the right type of birth control is a personal decision that can be made with the help of an informed medical professional.

In general, alcohol has no direct impact on the efficacy of birth control. The only concern is how alcohol impairs your state of mind and your ability to use your contraception as required. Women who enjoy the occasional alcoholic drink and worry that it will cause them to miss doses or use their contraception ineffectively can discuss different options with their doctors.

Sources:

  1. Guttmacher Institute. (n.d.). Contraceptive Use in the United States.
  2. National Health Service. (2017). How effective is contraception at preventing pregnancy?
  3. Ingersoll, K. S., Ceperich, S. D., Nettleman, M. D., & Johnson, B. A. (2008). Risk drinking and contraception effectiveness among college women. Psychology & health23(8), 965-81.
  4. National Health Service. (2016). What if I'm on the pill and I'm sick or have diarrhoea?
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Alcohol Use in Pregnancy.
  6. UC Davis. (n.d.). Overview of Alcohol.
  7. Leonard, Jayne. (2018). What to know about birth control and alcohol. Medical News Today.