We are all familiar with the warning labels that accompany over-the-counter and prescription medications. One of the most common is the warning that relates to alcohol consumption while taking a specific drug.
These are meant to protect patients from adverse interactions between the medication and alcohol, as well as other risks. Read on to learn more about how alcohol can affect your medication and put your health at risk.
Side effects of medicines
We might chuckle when we see those commercials that feature a smiling couple walking in the sunshine while the narrator recites a litany of dangerous side effects possibly caused by the medicine.
But these warnings should be taken seriously. Even the most benign substance has the potential to cause us harm. Medications cause side effects because they modify bodily processes. Due to this, medications can cause a multitude of adverse effects, including these common ones:
- Skin irritation
To learn about the possible side effects of a given medication, MedlinePlus provides a handy online resource.
Dangers of alcohol use with medications
When it comes to drinking alcohol while taking prescription medications, the risks become more serious. The dangers of alcohol use with certain medications include:
- Alcohol may dilute the medication’s effects: Alcohol may interact with some medications in a way that reduces the drug’s effectiveness. It may even disable the drug entirely.
- Alcohol may make the health condition worse: When someone on diabetes medication drinks alcohol, it affects their blood sugar levels, which can lead to hypoglycemia. Someone taking certain cardiac medications may experience very low blood pressure.
- Alcohol can cause injury: When alcohol is consumed while taking certain medications, it can cause bodily injury. Even an over-the-counter medication like ibuprofen (Advil) may cause kidney damage or internal bleeding when taken with alcohol.
- Alcohol may intensify the medication’s effects. If a patient is taking Xanax or Ativan for anxiety or insomnia, the sedating effects of both substances can cause drowsiness and loss of motor control or balance, leading to accidental injury. Mixing alcohol with any sedative can cause the respiratory rate to drop. The same is true for mixing prescription opioids and alcohol, as this can result in respiratory failure and death.
- Alcohol combined with stimulants may cause psychosis: When someone mixes prescription stimulants like Adderall or Ritalin with alcohol, it can result in psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations, delusions, or paranoia.
Signs of overdose
Combining alcohol consumption with prescription medications increases the risk of overdose. When someone loses track of how much alcohol they have consumed, and then takes a sedative or analgesic, they may experience an accidental overdose. In some cases, recreational substance use involves the intentional mixing of alcohol with any of the highly abused prescription medications.
The specific signs of overdose will differ depending on the medication involved. Some of the common signs and symptoms of an overdose involving alcohol and prescription medications include:
- Extreme drowsiness
- Slowed breathing
- Floppy limbs
- Loss of balance
- Abnormal body temperature
- Profound confusion
- Blue-tinged lips
- Snoring or gurgling sounds
- Irregular pulse
- Convulsions or seizures
- Loss of consciousness
Alcohol can have a profound effect on the medications you take, causing interactions that are dangerous to your health. It’s always best to heed the drug label warnings and avoid alcohol use while taking medications.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders. Our programs are accredited by The Joint Commission, and result in frequent publications of ongoing research into effective treatment methodologies. We offer holistic care that encompasses the mind, body and spirit through inpatient and outpatient treatment, provide drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s unique needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to transform and save lives through the science of medicine, the art of therapy and the compassion of spirituality, and is complemented by our philosophy of healing with respect and dignity. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.