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Can I Drink With That? Mixing Alcohol With Drugs

With the holiday season here, enjoying an alcoholic beverage may be something that’s part of your yearly traditions. But, with almost half of the U.S. population using at least one prescription drug, it’s important to consider the dangers of mixing alcohol with medications.


How Much Is Too Much?

To keep your risk of dangerous drug interactions low, stay within both the single-day AND weekly limits.

  • Men: No more than four drinks on any day AND no more than 14 drinks per week
  • Women: No more than three drinks on any day AND no more than seven drinks per week
  • If you’re over 65, regardless of gender: No more than three drinks on any day AND no more than seven drinks per week

Drinking patterns above these limits may put you at risk for developing alcohol-related problems.

Women, in general, have a higher risk for problems than men.

This Is Important: Many medical conditions can be made worse by drinking. Some medications can increase the dangerous effects of alcohol!


What Kinds of Dangers Are We Talking About?

Some of the dangers of mixing alcohol with medications include:

  • Drowsiness, dizziness, difficulty concentrating
  • Increased risk for overdose
  • Rapid heartbeat or sudden changes in blood pressure – other heart problems including heart attack
  • Slowed or difficulty breathing
  • Liver damage, stomach bleeding, stroke
  • Nausea and vomiting


What Do You Need to Know?

  • Medicines can have many ingredients. It’s important to know what your medications contain to determine whether or not they may interact with alcohol. Check the label for the ingredients.
  • Some medicines already contain alcohol. Up to 10% alcohol is possible! Cough syrup and laxatives are examples of medications that can contain alcohol.
  • Older people may be at a higher risk. As you age, the body’s ability to break down alcohol slows. This means that the alcohol can stay in the body longer. Older people are also more likely to be on one or more medications that can interact with alcohol.
  • Timing is important. Some medications may stay in the body for hours to days – or even longer! You might see harmful effects by combining alcohol and medications even if you don’t take the medications at the same exact time.


It’s Not JUST Prescription Medicines

Medications that can be purchased over-the-counter (without a prescription) may be harmful when combined with alcohol. Some examples include:

  • Benadryl® (diphenhydramine) — Can cause drowsiness, dizziness; increased risk for overdose
  • Naprosyn® or Aleve® (naproxen) — May lead to ulcers, stomach bleeding, liver damage, rapid heartbeat
  • Zantac® (ranitidine) — Can lead to rapid heartbeat, increased alcohol effect
  • Unisom® (doxylamine) — May lead to drowsiness, sleepiness, dizziness, slowed or difficulty breathing, memory problems

Herbal remedies may also be harmful when combined with alcohol. Some examples include:

  • Kava Kava — May lead to liver damage, drowsiness
  • St. John’s Wort — Can cause drowsiness, dizziness; increased risk for overdose; increased feelings of depression or hopelessness
  • Chamomile, valerian or lavender — May cause increased drowsiness


It’s important to discuss with your pharmacist or other health care provider whether the medications you’re taking may interact harmfully with alcohol.

Whenever you have questions or concerns about prescriptions or over-the-counter medications, ask an Aurora pharmacist. You can find an Aurora pharmacy location online. Scroll down to “Find an Aurora Pharmacy.” 

Cheers to you and to your health!

Meet the Author

Brittany Jensen, PharmD is a pharmacist at Aurora Cancer Care in South Eastern Wisconsin.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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