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Even Light Drinkers Should Think Twice Before Mixing Alcohol and Any of 273 Medications, Public Citizen Says

Aug. 1, 2008

Even Light Drinkers Should Think Twice Before Mixing Alcohol and Any of 273 Medications, Public Citizen Says

Having Only One or Two Drinks When Using Some Medications Can Be Risky

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Mixing alcohol with certain medications can be risky for light drinkers, not just heavy drinkers, Public Citizen writes in its August “Worst Pills, Best Pills” newsletter.


Many patients are aware that those who have three or more drinks on one occasion should not mix alcohol with medication. However, alcohol and certain medications can interact, causing adverse effects even if the subject has just one or two drinks on one occasion.

The effects of mixing alcohol and medication also depend on a handful of other factors, including medical condition, the specific medication being taken, age and general physical condition.

In the “Worst Pills, Best Pills” article, Public Citizen lists 273 drugs, including one or more from most major therapeutic classes of drugs, that can be harmful when mixed with alcohol. The list includes antibiotics, antidepressants, narcotics and anti-ulcer drugs.

“While the more important alcohol-medication interactions are listed in the table, it is not an exhaustive list,” writes Dr. Sidney Wolfe, author of the article and director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. He advises consumers to check with a health care professional before taking alcohol with any drug.

The article discusses four main types of adverse interactions that can occur as a result of mixing alcohol and medications:

First, mixing alcohol and certain medications can produce an additive effect. Alcohol is a depressant, and, when it is taken in conjunction with sedative medications, excessive sedation or depression of respiration can result. This additive effect can be lethal; excessive sedation might cause one to fall and injure oneself, or a fatal overdose may occur.

Second, drinking can alter the effectiveness of a patient’s medication in treating his or her medical condition. If the alcohol speeds up the rate at which the body gets rid of the drug, the reduced levels of the drug may result in reduced effectiveness.

Third, alcohol can slow the clearance of other drugs, resulting in increased and possibly toxic levels of the drugs.

Finally, some drugs can impair the clearance of alcohol, resulting in blood alcohol levels that are higher than expected based on what the person drank.

Public Citizen advises patients taking certain medications to abstain from drinking alcohol, especially if their prescription is short-term. However, patients who choose to drink should inform a physician about how much alcohol they consume. In addition, a patient taking pills should always check the label of the pill bottle for information regarding use with alcohol.

“Read the warning labels on the medication bottle; if it says not to drink alcohol, don’t,” advises Wolfe. “But the absence of an alcohol warning sticker on the bottle is not an absolute guarantee that it is acceptable to drink alcohol.”