A substantial number of Americans who drink also take medications that should not be mixed with alcohol. Whether it is wine with dinner or a beer at a sporting event, about 71% of American adults drink alcohol. In a study of nearly 27,000 U.S. current drinkers (those who have had alcohol on at least one day in the past year) 43% were on prescription medications that interact with alcohol; for drinkers older than 65, that figure was even higher, at about 78%. Older adults are at a particular risk for interactions with alcohol and prescription medications because it can take much longer for the alcohol or drug to metabolize. For example, Valium takes three times longer to clear from a 60-year-old’s body than from someone who is 20.
In the study, which appeared in the February 2015 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, researchers could not determine if people were drinking and taking their medication around the same time, but still believe this could potentially be a big problem. Alcohol is a bad mix with many different types of medications and the consequences vary, according to the NIAAA (National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism). Side effects can range anywhere from drowsiness and dehydration to depressed breathing and lowered heart rate.
Mixing alcohol with medications may also increase the risk of certain complications such as liver damage, heart problems, internal bleeding and depression. In some cases, alcohol may even decrease the effectiveness of the medications or render them useless. Alternatively, these interactions could make drugs harmful or even toxic to the body. Even in small amounts, alcohol may intensify medication effects such as sleepiness, drowsiness and light-headedness, all of which could interfere with one’s ability to concentrate, operate machinery or drive a car. This could lead to a serious, or even fatal, accident.
Hundreds of commonly used prescription and over-the-counter drugs may adversely interact with alcohol. These include medications used for:
- Allergies, colds and flu
- Angina and coronary heart disease
- Anxiety and epilepsy
- Blood clots
- Enlarged prostate
- Heartburn and indigestion
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Muscle pain
- Nausea and motion sickness
- Pain, fever and inflammation
- Severe pain from injury, post-surgical care, oral surgery and migraine
- Sleep problems
Although most medications will have a warning label about drinking, it isn’t always clear exactly what that means. Since for the ill effects to happen alcohol and medication have to be in the body at the same time does that mean one could take their medication in the morning and still have wine with dinner? The best thing to do is just ask your doctor or pharmacist, and until you know that it is safe to mix the two, avoid alcohol while taking medication.
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