Alcohol Use And Prescription Drug Interactions: Even Riskier Than You Might Think

Prescription Drug Interactions | Just Believe Recovery PA

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Alcohol Use And Prescription Drug Interactions: Even Riskier Than You Might Think

You’ve probably heard before that it’s a bad idea to combine alcohol and prescription drugs – some medications, when mixed with alcohol, can have serious and even deadly interactions including loss of memory or consciousness, and even life-threatening central nervous system depression.

Even one or two glasses of alcohol can interact and cause dangerous side effects in some people. Most of the drugs will come with a warning label, but many people don’t read them or simply choose to disregard them.

The following are several prescription drug interactions that may manifest when these medications are combined with alcohol. The following information is based on a fact sheet provided by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Anti-Anxiety Medication and Antidepressants

Prescription Drug Interactions | Just Believe Recovery PASelective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a class of antidepressants that are extremely common and include name brands such as Zoloft and Paxil, among other.

When combined with alcohol, anxiety, depression, and drowsiness can occur. In others, using alcohol with these medications may completely negate the effects they are intended to achieve.

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) is another well-known class of antidepressants that when mixed with beer or red wine, can have serious side effects including severe hypertension. This is caused by the byproduct tyramine, which is found in certain alcoholic beverages.

Benzodiazepines are anti-anxiety medications that include drugs with brand names such as Xanax and Ativan. These medications can result in blackouts or amnesia when taken in combination with even a small amount of alcohol.

The reason is that both alcohol and benzodiazepines are central nervous system depressants, and when combined, the sedative effects are multiplied and result in a much greater than the effect of either one alone.

Allergy Medications

Any allergy medication that has the potential to cause drowsiness, such as antihistamines like Benadryl, will likely have amplified effects when combined with the depressant properties of alcohol. Along with an allergy medication, even two drinking could intoxicate someone enough to be unfit to drive.

Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers

Prescription Drug Interactions | Just Believe Recovery PA

Using acetaminophen (Tylenol) in conjunction with alcohol increases the risk of liver damage.

In high doses, acetaminophen can be lethal on its own, so when alcohol is added, that makes the combination even more dangerous.

Also, combining ibuprofen or aspirin with alcohol can increase the risk of stomach bleeding in some people.

Prescription Painkillers

Using alcohol with prescription opioids such as OxyContin or Vicodin can result in dizziness, drowsiness, slowed or difficult breathing, impaired motor control, memory loss, and ultimately,

Also, medications that treat arthritis, such as Celebrex, can cause ulcers, bleeding in the stomach, and liver damage when combined with alcoholic beverages.

Cough and Cold Medications

Consuming alcohol along with cough medicines such as Robitussin can induce dizziness, drowsiness, and increase the risk of an overdose.

Cold medicines such as Dimetapp and Sudafed can cause a similar reaction when used with alcohol, and some also contain ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

Sleep Aids

Prescription Drug Interactions | Just Believe Recovery PACommon prescribed sleep aids such as Unisom, Lunesta, and Ambien can result in dizziness, drowsiness, slowed or difficult breathing, impaired motor control, memory loss, and “unusual behavior.”


Antibiotics such as metronidazole, when used with alcohol, can induce a rapid heartbeat, changes in blood pressure, upset or painful stomach, vomiting, headache, flushing, and liver damage.

Hypertension, High Cholesterol Medication, and Blood Thinners

If combined with alcohol, medication for hypertension can cause dizziness, drowsiness, fainting, and irregular heartbeat.

High cholesterol medications along with alcohol increase the risk of stomach bleeding, flushing and itching, and even liver damage.

Drugs indicated to treat problems with blood clotting such as Coumadin when combined with even occasional drinking can resulting in internal bleeding, and heavy drinking could also cause blood clots, strokes, or heart attack.

Medications To Treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Prescription Drug Interactions | Just Believe Recovery PAAlcohol can cause prescription drug interactions when used with ADHD medications such as Adderall and Ritalin.

The results may include dizziness, drowsiness, impaired concentration, increased risk for heart complications, and liver damage.

Diabetes Medication

Alcohol can interact with diabetes medications such as Diabinese and Glucotrol, inducing abnormally low blood sugar, nausea and vomiting, headache, rapid heart beat, and changes in blood pressure.

Special Considerations: Alcohol Affects Women And The Elderly In Different Ways

Prescription Drug Interactions | Just Believe Recovery PA

In general, women are at a higher risk for prescription drugs interactions than men when they consume alcohol – this effect occurs because a woman’s body typically carries less water than a man.

Moreover, when a woman drinking, alcohol reaches the bloodstream at a higher level, and any given amount is more concentrated in her body. Thus, women are more vulnerable to damage to organs relate to alcohol.

Also, older adults are at a heightened risk for dangerous interactions. Because the process of aging reduces the body’s ability to break down alcohol, it will stay in the person’s system longer.

Older adults are also more likely to be prescribed medications that interact with alcohol.

How To Avoid Alcohol-Prescription Drug Interactions

First and foremost, be straight forward with your doctor about your drinking habits, especially if you have no plans to change them. If your physician knows you have a history drinking, he or she may opt to prescribe something else.

When you fill a prescription, talk to your pharmacist who may be able to assess the likelihood of interactions based on your conversation. Also, read your medication’s accompanying pamphlet, and follow the advice.

~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology


Just Believe Recovery is a fully licensed, Joint Commission accredited, comprehensive drug and alcohol treatment center located in Carbondale, Pennsylvania

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