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Alcohol and Medication Interactions

Alcohol often has harmful interactions with prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs, and even some herbal remedies. Alcohol interactions with medications may cause problems such as:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Changes in blood pressure
  • Abnormal behavior
  • Loss of coordination

Mixing alcohol and medications also may increase the risk of complications such as:

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  • Liver damage
  • Heart problems
  • Internal bleeding
  • Impaired breathing
  • Depression

In some cases, alcohol interactions may decrease the effectiveness of medications or render them useless. In other cases, alcohol interactions may make drugs harmful or even toxic to the body.

Even in small amounts, alcohol also may intensify medication side effects such as sleepiness, drowsiness, and light-headedness, which may interfere with your concentration and ability to operate machinery or drive a vehicle, and lead to serious or even fatal accidents.

Because alcohol can adversely interact with hundreds of commonly used medications, it's important to observe warning labels and ask your doctor or pharmacist if it's safe to use alcohol with the medications and herbal remedies that you take.

Alcohol Interactions: A Significant and Increasing Danger

According to the CDC, about two-thirds of American adults over age 18 at least occasionally use alcohol. Of these, 52% are current regular drinkers (defined as at least 12 drinks in the past year), and 14% are infrequent drinkers (defined as up to 11 drinks in the past year).

Use of prescription and non-prescription drugs, as well as herbal remedies, also is extremely prevalent. Partly because of the obesity epidemic, Americans of all ages are taking more drugs to control chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol. Because the incidence of chronic conditions increases with age, older Americans are especially likely to take prescription medications -- often as many as 10 per day -- many of which likely react adversely with alcohol.

As the population ages, the problems associated with mixing alcohol and medications are certain to increase.

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