Can You Drink and Take Medication?

Why You Should Think Twice Before Mixing Alcohol With Meds

Medication in syrup form being poured into a spoon

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Can you drink and take medication? Probably not. You have probably never seen a label on a medicine package that says "Okay to take with alcohol." Hundreds of medications interact with alcohol, leading to increased risk of illness, injury and, in some cases, death.

The effects of alcohol are increased by medicines that slow down the central nervous system, such as sleeping pills, antihistamines, antidepressants, antianxiety drugs, and some painkillers.

In addition, medicines for certain disorders, including diabetes and heart disease, can be dangerous if used with alcohol. If you are taking any over-the-counter or prescription medications, ask your doctor or pharmacist whether you can safely drink alcohol.

Mixing Alcohol With Medications Can Be Dangerous

Most medications are safe and effective when taken as directed, but if the label says not to take it with alcohol, there is a reason. Using some medications while drinking can produce effects that are merely unpleasant, such as headaches, nausea, drowsiness, dizziness, or loss of coordination.

Other medications, when mixed with alcohol, can cause effects that are very dangerous, such as internal bleeding, difficulty breathing, and heart problems.

This is not the case just for prescribed medications, but for many over-the-counter remedies. Even some herbal or "natural" supplements can cause harm if they are taken while consuming alcohol.

If the label on the medication says that it might make you drowsy, then mixing it with alcohol is dangerous, because alcohol—after its initial stimulating effect—will make you drowsy too.

If the label says the medication contains alcohol, then it stands to reason that taking it while drinking could make you more intoxicated than you intended. Some medications contain up to 10% alcohol.

Women and Older People Should Be Extra Careful

Women who take medications while drinking alcohol are particularly vulnerable for no other reason than their bodies contain less water than men so their blood-alcohol content rises more quickly. Therefore, mixing alcohol with some meds can cause more damage to a woman's internal organs.

Older people are also affected more by mixing alcohol with medications because it can lead to more falls and serious injuries and because older people are more likely to be taking more than one medication that does not react well with alcohol.

In addition, as we age our ability to break down alcohol generally begins to slow.

Check Your Medication Before Drinking Alcohol

Before you take any medication, if you drink alcohol, check this list of medications for possible reactions and side effects if you drink alcohol.

Of course, if you have questions about whether a medication you are taking will interact with alcohol, you can always ask your pharmacist or your healthcare provider.

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  • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Harmful Interactions. Fact Sheets. Revised 2014