The Danger of Using Alcohol for Pain Relief

Light through a whiskey
Don't mix alcohol with painkillers. © Getty Images

The use of alcohol to depress the effects of pain is as old as the fermentation process itself. Alcohol is believed to be one of the oldest and probably the most widely used drugs in the world.

Have you ever watched old Westerns? Somebody needed a leg amputated? No anesthesia? No problem. Break out a bottle of whiskey and take a few swigs. Need to pull that arrow out of the guy's chest? No need for morphine, we have whiskey.

Many people still turn to the use of alcohol for pain relief due to its ability to depress the central nervous system. By slowing down the brain and nervous system, alcohol delivers a certain amount of relief.

You Can Build Up a Tolerance for Alcohol

The continual use of alcohol to lessen pain can cause problems if the amount of alcohol used becomes excessive and if it is used in conjunction with other pain-killing drugs.

One problem is that the body begins to build up a tolerance to the effects of alcohol. In other words, it takes more alcohol to produce the same results over time.

Even without the tolerance factor, the amount of alcohol it would take to actually relieve severe pain would probably be more than the recommended guidelines for safe alcohol consumption.

Causing More Health Risks

Ingesting an excessive amount of alcohol over an extended period of time can cause its own set of health problems, including everything from various types of cancer to life-threatening liver ailments.

Besides the long-term health problems that can develop, prolonged use of alcohol can lead to a chemical dependency on alcohol itself, which can bring about a whole set of problems of its own.

Alcohol Doesn't Mix Well With Medication

Those who suffer from chronic pain can face more immediate problems from the use of alcohol, if they are taking some other form of pain-killing drugs including over-the-counter medications, like Tylenol (acetaminophen).

Mixing alcohol and opioids can be lethal, making you drowsy, causing memory problems, and in some cases, breathing problems that can lead to an accidental overdose.

While most of us are aware of the dangers of mixing alcohol with other depressants like tranquilizers, the labels on almost all over-the-counter pain relief medications also contain warnings concerning their use along with the use of alcohol. Alcohol and aspirin can damage the stomach lining. Alcohol and Tylenol can increase the risk of damage to the liver. Alcohol and Advil (ibuprofen) can cause ulcers and stomach bleeding.

Here's a list of some common drugs and the side effects which can develop if they are used in connection with alcohol:

Medications Side Effects With Alcohol
Demerol, Darvon, Codeine Impaired central nervous system function. Possibly fatal in certain strengths and combination.
Bufferin, Aspirin, Excedrin, Anacin, Alka-Seltzer Possible irritation and bleeding in stomach and intestines.
Valium, Librium Decreases alertness, impairs judgment. Possibly fatal combination.
Sominex, Sleep-Ese Greatly increases drug's potency, depressing central nervous system.
Dalmane, Seconal, Nembutal Very possibly fatal. Should never be combined.
Dristan, Coricidin, Nyquil Drowsiness and loss of alertness.
Insulin, Orinase, Tolinase Severe and unpredictable reactions. Should never be combined with alcohol.
Tetracycline, Seromycin, Fulvicin Can cause nausea and vomiting. Renders medication less effective.
High Blood Pressure Medications  Increases potency, reducing blood pressure to dangerously low levels.
Anticoagulants Increases the anti-coagulating potency of drugs, leading to potentially life-threatening bleeding.

Simply put, there just are not many medications out there that mix well with alcohol. If you are a drinker and taking any other medication, play it safe and ask your physician about the possible side effects.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Understanding Alcohol Use Disorders and Their Treatment. American Psychological Association.

  2. Llerena S, Arias-loste MT, Puente A, Cabezas J, Crespo J, Fábrega E. Binge drinking: Burden of liver disease and beyond. World J Hepatol. 2015;7(27):2703-15. doi:10.4254%2Fwjh.v7.i27.2703

  3. Gomes T, Juurlink DN, Mamdani MM, Paterson JM, Van den brink W. Prevalence and characteristics of opioid-related deaths involving alcohol in Ontario, Canada. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2017;179:416-423. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2017.07.008

  4. Holton AE, Gallagher P, Fahey T, Cousins G. Concurrent use of alcohol interactive medications and alcohol in older adults: a systematic review of prevalence and associated adverse outcomes. BMC Geriatr. 2017;17(1):148. doi:

Additional Reading

By Buddy T
Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism.