Can You Drink Alcohol if You’re Taking Medicine?

26 February, 2021
Drinking alcohol if you’re taking medicine is a risk. Alcohol and drugs share the same metabolic pathway in the human body. Therefore, it's important to know what possible adverse effects there are. Read on to find out!

The question of whether you can drink alcohol if you’re taking medicine has been asked by almost all of us. It’s a valid question when we’re taking medicine and we think about going to a party, for example. 

We must understand that alcohol is a drug, just like other drugs. If we accept that fact then we’ll realize that they have an inescapable point in common. That point is the way the human body processes and eliminates both substances.

Alcohol and medications enter the body through the mouth, are absorbed in the digestive tract, and are distributed via the blood to the organs. Once the effect is has taken place, they must be removed. To do this, they first pass through the liver, which metabolizes them.

When drinking alcohol, if you’re taking medicine, you create a conflict for your liver. The enzymes of the metabolism must divide their work between two or more substances, becoming less efficient.

Less efficient means that the drug is metabolized slower, increasing its time spent active in the blood and increasing its effect. This slow metabolism appears in acute alcohol intake. 

Another case is that of chronic alcoholism. Here, the effect is paradoxical because the damage that the liver has been suffering has altered the metabolism in the opposite way. The drugs ingested by the person with an alcohol addiction don’t increase its effect, but, in fact, tend to decrease it.

You may be interested in: The Effects of Alcohol on the Nervous System

Risk factors

Not all people have the same reaction when combining alcohol and drugs. There are other factors that can bring about a greater or lesser effect. For example:

  • Gender: Women, in general, have a slower metabolism of alcohol. Women tend to have a lower percentage of body water than men and a lower amount of the liver enzyme that metabolizes alcohol. As such, women are more prone to adverse effects from the combination of drugs and alcohol.
  • Heredity: Genetics play a role in this as well. There are family groups that are more prone to the adverse effects of medications.
  • Polypharmacy: Drinking alcohol if you’re taking medicine is more dangerous when you take several drugs at the same time. Reactions between them and alcohol increase the chances of causing adverse effects.
When you're taking medicine and drinking alcohol.

Effects of drinking alcohol if you’re taking medicine

Let’s have a look at some specific examples of what can happen when drinking alcohol if you’re taking medicine. Medicine has some adverse effects when it comes to this combination.

Benzodiazepines, such as diazepam or alprazolam, pose an especially serious risk. Alcohol enhances its depressant effect on the central nervous system, increasing drowsiness and inattention. Such a combination can even cause traffic accidents.

Among the usual pain relievers, the most common complication is digestive. Paracetamol with alcohol becomes more toxic to the liver than when ingested alone. Ibuprofen, too, becomes more aggressive in the stomach.

When it comes to antibiotics, some myths have no scientific evidence. Some antibiotics are known to actually interact dangerously with alcohol, such as metronidazole and isoniazid. The rest don’t seem to report extremely serious adverse effects, however.

Read also: Medication and Treatment of OCD

Digestive problems.

What to do before a party

We return, then, to the question at hand: can you drink alcohol if you’re taking medicine? There’s no easy answer, because it’s not about the power of the drugs, but rather what’s best to do. And, more specifically, what you should or shouldn’t avoid.

When having a few glasses of alcohol, it will stay in the blood for around six hours. During that time, the liver metabolism will distribute energy between the drugs and alcohol. At that time, the drug can bring about adverse effects.

But the slowed metabolism will also depend on the amount of alcohol ingested. Generally speaking, a glass of wine or a pint of beer shouldn’t cause any big problems. However, the other factor, which is the drug, remains to be determined.

A person medicated with anticoagulants or anticonvulsants shouldn’t risk even one drink. They’re drugs that can’t be temporarily suspended to attend a party, nor is it a good idea to risk a slower metabolism

So, ideally you should postpone drinking alcohol if you’re taking medicine. When it comes to the chronic use of drugs, you should consult your doctor to determine how much is acceptable. This way the effects of the medicine won’t diminish. And, of course, there should be no driving or hazardous work after consuming either of these substances.

  • Comité de Consenso. Segundo Consenso de Granada sobre Problemas Relacionados con Medicamentos. Ars Pharmaceutica 2002;43(3-4):175-184.
  • Talamoni M, Szurpik J. Antidiabéticos orales. En: Talamoni M, Crapanzano G, López Sarmiento C. En: Guía de diagnóstico y tratamiento en Toxicología. Buenos Aires: Eudeba; 2004. Págs. 183-185.
  • Rocha, Rebeca Silveira, et al. “Consumo de medicamentos, álcool e fumo na gestação e avaliação dos riscos teratogênicos.” Revista Gaúcha de Enfermagem 34.2 (2013): 37-45.