Nearly every individual in the United States has taken an antibiotic by the time they reach their teen years, and this is a rather conservative statement. Antibiotics are some of the most prescribed drugs to either fight infection, or prevent one. And everyone’s who has had a bottle of prescription antibiotics can attest to the rows of labels informing them of dos and don’t associated with the prescription. Probably the least followed of all the instructions given with an antibiotic dose, is the use of alcohol while taking the medication. Many people assume that there really isn’t that much of an interaction, or that a little alcohol will be fine. But is this really true? Are we associating too many risks to the consumption of alcohol while taking antibiotics, or should we be more cautious about mixing our booze with antibiotics?
The last thing we want is for anything to interfere with our healing process, or worse yet, ending up in the hospital for something that should have been easily cured with a low-grade antibiotic. But following closely behind that, we hate for our health to interfere with our social schedules. No one wants to miss an outing or a party with friends due to illness, and almost worse than that is staying sober when everyone at said social events is drinking. These pressures tend to lead us to think that drinking while on antibiotics is okay, if only just a glass. In some ways we’re right, and in some ways we’re wrong.
Alcohol and antibiotics are never recommended; however, according to James Stickler (2010), a doctor for the Mayo Clinc, the effects of consuming alcohol while on antibiotics varies widely by person, as well as the type of antibiotic being taken. All antibiotics have side effects that occur even without alcohol consumption, drinking alcoholic beverages can enhance these side effects, or may even bring them about in individuals who do not generally experience them (Stickler, 2010). This is especially true in several types of antibiotics, such as Flagyl, Tindamax, and Bactrim (a common antibiotic given to women for UTIs), as these antibiotics generally exhibit severe reactions to alcohol, including rapid heart rate, flushing, headache, nausea, and vomiting (Stickler, 2010).
Aside from the very real possibility that alcohol could bring on side effects or cause them to worsen, it should be kept in mind that both antibiotics and alcohol act on the liver. The liver is essential to the body’s functioning as it works to filter unneeded and unnecessary components from the body. Because of this function, it also works on antibiotics and alcohol.
Alcohol’s affects on the liver are well-known, but it is lesser known that antibiotics must also be filtered by the liver. In consuming both antibiotics and alcohol, you’re putting a huge strain on your liver than can result in liver enlargement or other liver problems (Livestrong, 2010). Again, this effect is heightened with stronger antibiotics, but it should not be disregarded with lower tier or lower doses.
Additionally, Weathermon and Crabb (1999) report that alcohol consumption can “influence some of the disease states for which medications are taken,” so it’s important to realize why you’re taking the medication, and how alcohol (aside from the antibiotics) might affect your physical state. This can also mean you may experience some effects that are not related to the antibiotics, but are instead related directly to alcohol consumption. Singling out what is causing a problem in your body can aid you in gauging your ability to take a specific medication, so realizing what effects are coming from what is extremely important. You wouldn’t want to end up back in the doctor’s office feeling worse due to your own actions, or worse yet, thinking you have an allergy or other reaction to a medication that would otherwise work fine were alcohol not involved.
Does Alcohol Really Impair the Effects of Antibiotics?
Aside from the health risks to one’s liver, and the very real and possibly devastating side effects one may suffer from antibiotics; many people fear that alcohol consumption will inhibit the function of antibiotics. This seems to be a tricky subject to answer. Most sources agree that there is no change in the effectiveness of antibiotics when alcohol is consumed, however, research is still looking into the reasoning for this prevailing myth (Weathermon & Crabb, 1999, Monson & Schoenstadt, 2011).
One reason for this myth may be the fact that studies have shown that alcohol and medication intake have an effect on alcohol metabolism. According to Weathermon and Crabb (1999), medications can slow the rate of “first-pass” metabolism associated with the first stage of alcohol metabolism (which generally occurs quite quickly). This blocking effect causes alcohol to gather in higher concentration in the blood stream, thus raising the blood alcohol level. This would, for example, cause an individual used to handling two drinks well, to feel more drunk than they are. This is probably one of the biggest issues with antibiotic use and drinking.
Evidence on the effect of alcohol on antibiotics are minimal at best. It is well known that certain antibiotics do, more often than not, interact with alcohol poorly. These are the previously mentioned Flagyl, Tindamax, and Bactrum (Steckelberg, 2010), along with Rocephin, and Grifulvin (Monson & Schoenstadt, 2011). If on these antibiotics, the risks are much higher than if you’re on an antibiotic not mentioned here. However, as with many other aspects of one’s health and wellness, each individual must judge for themselves whether mixing alcohol and antibiotics (even lower-risk antibiotics) is worth the possibility of adverse effects. Furthermore, when consuming alcoholic beverage while on antibiotics, consume smaller amounts and at a slower rate than normal in order to properly gage possible side effects.
No matter what the effect alcohol may have on your antibiotic prescription, alcohol does have an adverse effect on health and your body’s ability to heal itself. If you’re going to drink while ill, and/or on antibiotics, it’s best to keep consumption to an absolute minimum.
Live Strong (2010). Danger of Mixing Antibiotics & Alcohol.
Monson, K. & Schoenstadt, A. (2011). Antibiotics and Alcohol. MedTV.
Weathermon, R. & Crabb, D.W. (1999). Alcohol and Medication Interactions. Alcohol Research and Health, 23(1).
Steckelberg, J.M. (2010). Antibiotics and Alcohol: Should I Avoid Mixing Them?