The danger is real. Mixing alcohol with certain medications can cause nausea and vomiting, headaches, drowsiness, fainting, or loss of coordination. It also can put you at risk for internal bleeding, heart problems, and difficulties in breathing. In addition to these dangers, alcohol can make a medication less effective or even useless, or it may make the medication harmful or toxic to your body.
Some medicines that you might never have suspected can react with alcohol, including many medications which can be purchased “over-the-counter”—that is, without a prescription. Even some herbal remedies can have harmful effects when combined with alcohol.
Mixing alcohol and medicines can be harmful. Alcohol, like some medicines, can make you sleepy, drowsy, or lightheaded. Drinking alcohol while taking medicines can intensify these effects. You may have trouble concentrating or performing mechanical skills. Small amounts of alcohol can make it dangerous to drive, and when you mix alcohol with certain medicines you put yourself at even greater risk. Combining alcohol with some medicines can lead to falls and serious injuries, especially among older people.
Medicines may have many ingredients—including many popular painkillers and cough, cold, and allergy remedies—contain more than one ingredient that can react with alcohol. Read the label on the medication bottle to find out exactly what ingredients a medicine contains. Ask your pharmacist if you have any questions about how alcohol might interact with a drug you are taking. Some medicines contain alcohol. Certain medicines contain up to 10 percent alcohol. Cough syrup and laxatives may have some of the highest alcohol concentrations.
Women, in general, have a higher risk for problems than men. When a woman drinks, the alcohol in her bloodstream typically reaches a higher level than a man’s even if both are drinking the same amount. This is because women’s bodies generally have less water than men’s bodies. Because alcohol mixes with body water, a given amount of alcohol is more concentrated in a woman’s body than in a man’s. As a result, women are more susceptible to alcohol-related damage to organs such as the liver.
Older people are at particularly high risk for harmful alcohol– medication interactions. Aging slows the body’s ability to break down alcohol, so alcohol remains in a person’s system longer. Older people also are more likely to take a medication that interacts with alcohol.
Alcohol and medicines can interact harmfully even if they are not taken at the same time. Mixing alcohol and medicines puts you at risk for dangerous reactions. Protect yourself by avoiding alcohol if you are taking a medication and don’t know its effect.
It is important for individuals to acknowledge the fact that many drugs, both prescribed and over-the-counter are often intentionally consumed primarily for their mood-altering effects. Subsequently, this type of drug abuse can lead to drug or polysubstance dependence. Some examples of drugs used for their mood-altering effects may include Methylphenidate (Ritalin), nutritional supplements containing specific herbal ingredients (chaparral, comfrey, ephedra, germander, lobelia and wormwood) not subject to FDA jurisdiction, Ephedrine-based nutritional supplements and Dextromethorphan.
Source: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism http://www.niaaa.nih.gov