Is Mixing Alcohol with Medication Really Harmful?

By , Category : General Health

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Alcohol and Medication InteractionsIt’s the end of the week and you’ve had a tough day at work. All you want to do is just turn on the TV, drink a couple of beers—perhaps a glass or two of wine—and call it a night.

“It’s just a few drinks,” you think—“and it will help me relax!” But then you remember that you forgot to take your medication.

You’ve already had a few drinks anyway, so you decide to chase down your pills with a glass of water to be “on the safe side.”

You see the tiny warning label on your medication box to not mix with alcohol, but you reason that you finished your third beer a while ago—you might even chug another beer later—so you’re not really “mixing.” Are you being safe? Not necessarily.All medications are different, but consuming any type of medication, even “common” medications, alongside alcohol could possibly have detrimental effects.

What Happens If I Mix Alcohol with Medication?

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, mixing certain medications with alcohol can make the medication you are taking less effective or even harmful to your body. Other potential complications include:

  • Internal bleeding
  • Heart problems
  • Difficulties breathing
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Drowsiness
  • Fainting
  • Loss of coordination

But despite the warnings, many Americans continue to mix alcohol with medications, including over-the-counter and prescription medications.

In a recent analysis published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, researchers found that about 42% of adult drinkers—including 78% of adults over the age of 65—use medications with alcohol.

The study observed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) database, and over 26,000 adults were asked about prescription drug use in the past month, as well as alcohol-use during the previous year and throughout their lifetimes.

The NHANES survey database listed about 600 prescriptions with alcohol interactions, including sleeping pills, pain medications, cholesterol and diabetes drugs, blood pressure medications, muscle relaxers, antipsychotics, and antidepressants.

Common Alcohol/Medication Interactions

The study is an eye-opener for those who take multiple medications and consume alcohol on a regular basis. There are several over-the-counter and prescription medications for common health conditions. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about alcohol interactions with the following drugs:

  • Cold, flu, or allergy medications, like Claritin, Benadryl, or Tylenol
  • Dextromethorphan, guaifenesin, or codeine for coughs
  • The angina (chest pain) drug, Isordil
  • Anxiety and epilepsy drugs, such as Xanax and Valium
  • Arthritis drugs, including Voltaren, Naprosyn, and Celebrex
  • Warfarin for blood clots
  • Medications for heartburn, enlarged prostate, infections, seizures, nausea, or postsurgical care

Should You Limit Your Alcohol Intake?

Since April is “Alcohol Awareness Month,” I wanted to touch a bit on alcohol dependence.

A few years ago, I decided to quit drinking alcohol for health reasons, although I never really drank a whole lot to begin with anyway. For others, giving up alcohol can be the most difficult decision to make. After all, alcohol has supported many during the good times and the bad.

Alcohol consumption is second nature to many Americans—but how much is too much? It doesn’t take a considerable amount to be considered a regular drinker. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heavy alcohol drinking is considered to be 15 drinks or more per week for men and eight drinks or more per week for women.

Excessive alcohol consumption is associated with heart disease, cirrhosis, metabolic damage, pancreatitis, psychiatric disorders, infertility, and nutrient deficiencies.

In general, alcohol consumption can lead to hypoglycemia, prostate enlargement, and gout attacks. Hypoglycemia-induced alcohol consumption can also lead to emotional and mental problems. Furthermore, it can aggravate symptoms like depression, confusion, anxiety, dizziness, and headaches.

Nutrition for Alcohol Dependence

Several nutrient deficiencies are very common in people with alcohol dependencies. Whether you drink alcohol or not, it’s important to ensure that your diet is always well-rounded and balanced. Appropriate supplementation or nutrient-dense food can help add necessary nutrition to your diet:

  • Minerals, such as zinc, selenium, iron, calcium, and magnesium
  • Vitamins A, C, D, and E, as well as essential B vitamins, such as B1, folate, and B12
  • Other supplementation may include carnitine, essential fatty acids, and amino acids, like glutamine
  • Herbal remedies, such as milk thistle and kudzu, are helpful for alcohol abuse problems

Sources:
Murray, M., et al, The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (New York: Atria Paperback, 2012), 265-275, 726, 917.
“Many at Risk for Alcohol-Medication Interactions,” National Institutes of Health web site, February 9, 2015; http://www.nih.gov/researchmatters/february2015/02092015medication.htm.
Breslow, R.A., et al., “Prevalence of Alcohol-Interactive Prescription Medication Use Among Current Drinkers: United States, 1999 to 2010,” Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 2015; 39(2): 371-379.
“Alcohol Use,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site; http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/alcohol.htm, last accessed April 30, 2015.
“Harmful Interactions: Mixing Alcohol With Medicines,” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism web site; http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/Medicine/medicine.htm, last accessed April 30, 2015.
DiPlacido, L., “What Are the Effects of Alcohol on Vitamins & Minerals?” LIVESTRONG.com, October 24, 2013; http://www.livestrong.com/article/375909-what-are-the-effects-of-alcohol-in-vitamins-minerals/.




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About the Author, Browse Jeffrey's Articles

After receiving athletic and academic awards at Yale and Stanford, Jeff has coached those seeking peak wellness, appeared on ABC News 20/20 and served as a consultant for CBS News 60 Minutes and The Late Show with David Letterman. As the author of many research studies and practicing anesthesiology/critical care medicine for more than 20 years, Jeff can be your guide to common sense decision making regarding drugs, supplements and vitamins. With no corporate sponsors and no vitamins or supplements... Read Full Bio »