Alcohol and Your Medications: What to Know Before You Drink

Published: May 07, 2024
Barbara Young
By Barbara Young, PharmD

Did you know that certain medications can interact with alcohol and cause serious adverse effects? In a recent year, it was estimated that 40% of adults took a medication that could potentially interact with alcohol. Therefore, it is important to check for interactions before you begin a new medication.

What are the types of medication-alcohol interactions?
Taking medications along with alcohol can cause different types of interactions.

  • Alcohol can speed up the removal of the medication from the body causing lower blood levels of the medication. Alternatively, it can slow down the removal of the medication causing increased blood levels in your body.
  • The medication can change how the alcohol is absorbed and processed in the body which could result in higher blood alcohol levels.
  • Alcohol can change the actions of the medication and increase or decrease the effect on your body.

Are any of these interactions dangerous?
Yes! Here are a few examples of potentially dangerous interactions:

  • Drinking alcohol along with opioid medications (e.g., hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone, or morphine) or benzodiazepines (alprazolam [Xanax®], clonazepam [Klonopin®], diazepam [Valium®], and lorazepam [Ativan®]) combine to affect the brain and may result in significant drowsiness, decreased breathing, coma, or death.
  • The combination of drinking alcohol and taking certain medications such as antidepressants, opioids, or medications for anxiety can increase the risk of suicide.
  • An increased risk of falls and accidents can occur due to increased dizziness and drowsiness when drinking alcohol and taking medications for anxiety, sleep, or depression.
  • Drinking alcohol along with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) including ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®), naproxen (Aleve®, Naprosyn®), and aspirin can increase the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding.
  • Drinking alcohol and taking acetaminophen (Tylenol®) can cause liver toxicity and in some cases, liver failure.
  • Taking warfarin (Coumadin®) and drinking alcohol can increase the risk for bleeding.

Does the amount of alcohol make interactions more dangerous?
Yes, the greater amount of alcohol consumed increases the risk for alcohol and medication interactions. In some cases, any amount of alcohol can result in a serious interaction.

Are these interactions more dangerous for certain people?
People 65 years of age and older are at higher risk for potential interactions due to age-related changes in their body’s response to medications and alcohol. This age group also takes more medications on an ongoing basis placing them at increased risk. Approximately 80% of those over 65 years of age take medications that could interact with alcohol.

How do I know if my medication interacts with alcohol?
The best way to know is to ask your pharmacist about interactions with alcohol when a new medication is prescribed. Be sure to also let them know which other medications you are currently taking. Be very candid with your doctor and pharmacist when answering questions about how much alcohol you drink.

The combination of alcohol and certain medications can cause serious risks and potential adverse reactions. Be sure to ask your pharmacist about the risk of drinking alcohol when taking your medications.

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