1. Health
Elizabeth Hartney, PhD

Mixing Alcohol With Medications - A Recipe For Disaster

By February 17, 2013

Follow me on:

Photo  Nicole Dee

No matter how regularly you drink, you should take great care, and if possible, avoid alcohol when taking medications -- even those you buy over-the-counter.

There are several different reasons why alcohol and medications can be dangerous in combination:


  • Alcohol can intensify the effects of drowsiness, sleepiness or lightheadedness that some medicines cause, increasing the risk of accidents.
  • Some medications contain concentrations of alcohol.
  • Some medications interact with alcohol to cause troublesome or even life-threatening effects, such as difficult breathing, heart rate increase, internal bleeding or strokes.
  • A publication by the National Institute of Health (NIH) gives details of some of the common medications you need to avoid alcohol with. However, this should be used as a starting point, rather than a definitive guide.

    If you are a drinker, ask your doctor or pharmacist whether a prescribed medication can interact harmfully with alcohol. If you feel unable to abstain from alcohol while on a course of medication, you should have a frank discussion with your doctor about this, and explore other options. Your doctor may encourage you to consider treatment for alcohol dependence, but if you don't feel ready for this, you should insist on an alternative treatment or support with abstinence for the duration of the treatment, rather than take the risk of serious harm to yourself.

    Of course, if you are taking illicit or non-prescribed drugs, it is more difficult to broach the subject with your doctor or pharmacist, but you are still advised to do so. Your doctor, in particular, can advise you on the best way to proceed if a medication that interacts with another drug you are taking is required for treatment. Although it can be difficult coming clean with your doctor, they can be one of your best allies if you live with an addiction, so it is worth establishing a trusting relationship.

    February 7, 2009 at 2:52 pm
    (1) Free2Step says:

    That was useful information, thanks – Free2Step

    June 24, 2009 at 2:30 pm
    (2) scottpatterson77 says:

    It may be hard to communicate with your doctor on something your not even willing to admit to yourself. Just keep in mind he is there for your best interest. What ever you talk to him about is confidential so be honest. I work at Narconon Oxycontin addiction treatment and I have seen the danger and outcome of mixing drugs and alcohol together. Just confront your issues and discuss the dangers of combing the two together with your doctor.

    Leave a Comment

    Line and paragraph breaks are automatic. Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title="">, <b>, <i>, <strike>

    ©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.

    We comply with the HONcode standard
    for trustworthy health
    information: verify here.