The dangers of mixing alcohol and medication

Consuming alcohol while on medication can impair one’s motor skills, and intensify the side effects of many drugs.

By Thuy Tran

Although it is common knowledge that consuming alcohol while on medication poses a real danger to one’s health and life, many still ignore this warning.

Consuming alcohol can have an adverse interaction with a wide range of medications including prescription and over-the-counter drugs for a wide range of health conditions such as the following:

  • Allergies, colds, and flu
  • Angina and coronary heart disease
  • Anxiety and epilepsy
  • Arthritis
  • Blood clots
  • Cough
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Enlarged prostate
  • Heartburn and indigestion
  • Hypertension
  • High cholesterol
  • Infections
  • Muscle pain
  • Nausea and motion sickness
  • Pain, fever, and inflammation
  • Seizures
  • Severe pain from injury, post-surgical care, oral surgery, and migraine
  • Sleep problems

Complications from mixing alcohol with medication

Regardless of the type of medication you’re on, including some herbal remedies, consuming alcohol can result in the following side effects:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Migraine or headaches
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Changes in blood pressure
  • Abnormal behavior
  • Loss of coordination
  • Accidents

Consuming alcohol while on medication may also put people at a greater risk of experiencing other health complications such as:

  • Liver damage
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Internal bleeding
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Depression

Alcohol lessens medication’s effectiveness

Consuming alcohol while on medication could also lessen the medicine’s effectiveness or worse yet, render it completely useless.

In some cases, mixing the two can become toxic to the body, even if both are not taken at the same time.

Studies show that even small amounts of alcohol are dangerous as it can intensify the side effects of any medication, and cause intense drowsiness and headaches.

If you are handling any kind of mechanical devices or driving a vehicle, mixing alcohol with medication could be extremely dangerous as it can result in serious or even fatal injuries.

Who’s at greater risk – men or women?

Generally, women are more likely to suffer from the effects of mixing alcohol with medication, compared to men.

This is because women achieve higher concentrations of alcohol in their bloodstreams compared with men who drink the same amount.

Here’s why. A woman has a lower water content in her body compared with a man, which means the alcohol in a woman’s body will be more concentrated than that of a man who consumes the same amount of alcohol.

This leaves women more vulnerable to injury especially if they have consumed alcohol while on medication.

The elderly also face a higher health risk from the interaction of alcohol and medication because the ageing process leads to a decreased ability to break down alcohol fast enough.

This means that alcohol remains in the body of an older person for longer, giving the alcohol a higher chance of interacting with medication with devastating effects.

Older people are also likely to suffer from more health problems, resulting in many taking one or more types of medication. This leaves them at a greater risk of suffering from the negative effects of alcohol consumption.

This article first appeared in and was reviewed by Dr Duyen Le. The Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


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