The 12 Medications You Should Never Mix with Alcohol
A hot toddy might sound good when you have a cold—but resist the urge: The mixture of booze and common prescription medications can be fatal.
The United States of Rx
Nearly half of all Americans have used at least one prescription drug in the past 30 days, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics, and 23 percent have used three or more. While a lot of attention is given to the opioid epidemic, there’s another legal drug that many prescription takers don’t think twice about: alcohol.
“The research tells us that the number of people who end up going to the emergency room each year for an alcohol and drug interaction has been going up,” says Aaron White, PhD, senior advisor to the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). “It’s a growing problem. Alcohol is a very simple molecule with very diverse effects on physiology,” explains White. “There aren’t many things the body does that alcohol doesn’t impact.” Here are some notable drugs, and the dangers of mixing them with booze. Watch out for the 10 signs that you’re taking too many medications.
Mixing opioid-based painkillers with another depressant—alcohol—can be lethal, says White. Doubling up on depressants can suppress the brain stem activity responsible for basic functions like breathing and heart rate. A recent study suggests that even a relatively low dose of the prescription painkiller oxycodone and the equivalent of one alcoholic drink for women (two for men) in the span of an hour led to a 50 percent reduction in breathing compared to the painkiller alone. “Combining alcohol with any drug that makes you sleepy will increase your risk of harm,” White says.
A class of drugs known as benzodiazepines—Valium and Xanax, are among the most common—are prescribed to treat anxiety. They’re relatively safe—unless you add alcohol, warns White. Combining these two depressants can interfere with your central nervous system, and the results can be fatal. People with anxiety are sometimes prescribed these meds; anxiety can be triggered by any one of these health conditions.
This is a huge class of drugs, and the active ingredient in many of them is monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). When MAOIs interact with a compound found in beer and red wine, they can create a dangerous spike in your blood pressure. Here are some natural ways to treat depression.
“Even over-the-counter substances that make you sleepy should be avoided if you’re drinking,” says White. Antihistamines like Benedryl can help ease allergy symptoms like cough, runny nose, and itchy eyes—but drowsiness is a major side effect, and alcohol will make it worse. You can taper your alcohol intake with these 17 tips.
Popping this over-the-counter painkiller (name brands include Tylenol) carries the risk of liver damage for chronic drinkers. Even the bottle labels include a warning to that effect, points out Sandy Walsh, a spokesperson for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Here are 14 more medications that pain doctors avoid.
The cough syrup or nasal decongestant that helps you power through a head cold often contains ingredients that interact poorly with alcohol, leading to drowsiness and dizziness. If you’re taking cold meds, avoid hot toddies and other alcoholic beverages.
The class of painkillers known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs includes such staples as aspirin and ibuprofen and stronger prescription drugs for treating conditions like arthritis. Combining any version with three or more alcoholic drinks a day can raise your risk of stomach bleeding, says Walsh. It could also harm your liver and kidneys.
“Some antibiotics block the breakdown of alcohol,” says White. “So if your doctor prescribed something and you’re only going to be on it for a week or so, it’s best to just wait it out and abstain from alcohol for that time.” Here’s how to know when you really need antibiotics.
Blood pressure medication
More than 100 million Americans have high blood pressure, a precursor to heart disease, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). The good news is that medications can lower your blood pressure—but they don’t mix well with booze: Many high blood pressure drugs can cause sleepiness, fainting, and irregular heartbeat when mixed with alcohol.