Before taking an alcoholic drink for the holidays, consider the risks of mixing alcohol and drugs. Commonly taken medications, such as antibiotics and blood pressure medications, can interact with alcohol. Holiday drinks are often part of the festivities, and you might indulge in a few of them. However, if you are taking medication, consider the risks of mixing alcohol and medication before filling your glass with alcohol.
For most drugs in the prescribed dose, when combined with alcohol, the person will not immediately feel or realize the potential damage to their body, which can be serious and permanent. This is one reason why people may be less aware of the dangers of alcohol over drugs. In fact, people are more likely to be aware of the risks of falling associated with certain medications than of the dangers of mixing alcohol and medication. By being well informed about your health and the medications you take, you will have more control and be able to make good decisions.
While many drugs can interact negatively with alcohol, the following three are the most common.
Blood pressure medications
Alcohol can temporarily raise blood pressure, especially if you drink more than the recommended amount, which is two drinks or less a day for men and one drink or less a day for women. These temporary increases in blood pressure will become permanent with heavy and regular use, making it harder for your blood pressure medication to work. The combination of alcohol and drugs used to treat high blood pressure can also cause harmful side effects, including dizziness, fainting, drowsiness, and arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat).
While most antibiotics are unaffected by alcohol, alcohol can potentially reduce the effectiveness of some antibiotics. Also, some antibiotics, when combined with alcohol, can cause severe nausea and vomiting, hot flashes, headaches, and in some cases damage to the esophagus. It is important to speak with your pharmacist each time you receive an antibiotic to learn about possible side effects, interactions, and activities to avoid.
Also, antibiotics are used to fight an existing infection or prevent it from occurring, while alcohol can reduce the ability of the immune system to fight infection.
Antimicrobial agents also include antiparasitic and antifungal drugs. Most people make the common mistake of only worrying about antibiotics and antivirals.
If you are living with depression, chronic alcohol consumption can make depression symptoms worse, regardless of the medications you take, by affecting neurotransmitters in the brain and changing the balance of stimulatory and inhibitory molecules.
You should avoid alcohol if you are taking an antidepressant that belongs to a class of drugs called monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). Alcohol causes a sudden and dangerous spike in blood pressure due to the levels of tyramine present. If you take these medications, tell your doctor about foods and drinks that contain tyramine that you should avoid, such as aged cheeses, nuts, soy sauce, and jerky. Interestingly, tyramine levels increase as foods age, so eating fresh foods is the best way to reduce the level of tyramine in your diet. So be sure to avoid the cheese platter at the end of the year party if you are taking any of these drugs.
Don’t stop taking medicine so you can drink alcohol
There are many drugs that reach their maximum effectiveness after reaching a stable level of the drug in the body. Stopping a drug will reduce the concentration in the body and take time to return to an effective concentration, which may impact the effectiveness of the drug. With some drugs, such as some antibiotics, missing doses can allow bacteria to grow and mutate, rendering the antibiotic ineffective.
Contraceptives are another example: they are most effective when taken at the same time every day. Skipping a dose or taking it later than usual may reduce its effectiveness. Stopping a drug that controls seizures or heart problems can also be extremely dangerous.
Be careful with over-the-counter medications if you also drink alcohol. Since acetaminophen is found in a wide variety of over-the-counter products to treat colds, flu, and trouble sleeping, be careful.
The pharmacist can provide useful information regarding drugs that are contraindicated with alcohol or the acceptable time between drug administration and alcohol consumption. This is also a good opportunity to ask questions about the effects of alcohol on your medical conditions.
Call for help, if necessary
If you decide to drink alcoholic beverages while taking medication and you begin to experience unexpected physical symptoms, contact the emergency room.
Likewise if a person is unconscious, having convulsions or not breathing.
To be prepared for a potential emergency, whether you are taking a short course of antibiotics or a long-term disease-modifying medication, it is a good idea to always carry a complete and up-to-date list of medications with you so that medical personnel can refer to it.