Medication and alcohol – what’s the story?

Nothing changes if nothing changes

How's Dry January working out for you?

Are you feeling the benefits of clearer skin, better sleep, weight loss, less money spent, better mental health? Sometimes, these things can take a bit longer to appear, especially if you really overdid it in the lead up to Dry January.

Be patient - remember, Rome was not built in a day - and you may be raising money through sponsorship for valuable research.

In addition and perhaps most importantly of all, you may become aware of poor drinking habits and their effect on your physical and mental wellbeing. You can reset your life - go for it!

Medication and alcohol

Alcohol Concern has raised an important issue to consider when drinking alcohol – that of medication. We've all been prescribed medication at some point or other, or at least used over-the-counter medicines. Mixing alcohol with medications can cause some real problems:

  • Alcohol may stop the medication from working so well, e.g. some anti-depressants, antibiotics and other medications
  • Alcohol may make the side effects of your medicine worse or make them more likely to happen
  • The mix of alcohol and your medicine may make you sleepy or slow your reactions, which could leave you unable to drive to undertake other tasks that need concentration. This is particularly true of prescription-only painkillers such as dihydrocodeine, gabapentin, tramadol, morphine and pethidine
  • The medicine may make you more sensitive to the effects of alcohol, meaning you become more drunk more quickly. Some people might like that idea in theory, but it’s very difficult to control and the chances of becoming unwell or having an accident are high
  • Both paracetamol and alcohol can damage the liver if taken in excess, so it’s worth asking your pharmacist about this, particularly if you’ve ever had any liver problems
  • Your doctor or pharmacist may advise you to avoid alcohol if you’re taking medicines that affect the brain or nervous system, thin your blood, alter your blood pressure, or cause low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia).

Which medicines should we never mix with alcohol?

  • The antibiotics metronidazole and tinidazole
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) antidepressants
  • Disulfiram, which is used to treat alcohol dependency (alcoholism)
  • The antibiotics linezolid and doxycycline can also react badly to alcohol, and so you need to take care with them and seek advice from your doctor or pharmacist
  • Be aware that any medication you’re taking may be labelled with its brand name more prominently than its chemical name, so it’s worth finding out exactly what type of medicine you are taking.

Always read the label

Prescription medicines usually come with a leaflet explaining things like side effects and the reasons you may need to stop taking the medicine. There will also be advice on whether you need to avoid taking other medicines at the same time and whether you need to avoid alcohol.

Speak to your GP if you have any queries and remember the brand names may be different.

Ask your pharmacist

Pharmacists are often amazing people and should know medicines inside out. They will be able to explain to you what you should and shouldn’t do.

If you are collecting your medicine from your local pharmacy, or someone is collecting them for you, ask them whether you can drink while taking it. You can ask to speak privately with them if necessary.

Back to Dry January

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