Antibiotics and alcohol: If you mix alcohol and tomato juice, you get a Bloody Mary. If you mix alcohol and orange juice, you get a screwdriver. Both of these combinations are quite tasty. However, if you mix antibiotics and alcohol, the only thing you are likely to get is a bout of nausea and possibly even a trip to the emergency room.
There are two major types of side effects that arise from mixing antibiotics and alcohol. The first, and most common, derives from the fact that mixing the drugs effectively increases the dosage of both drugs. In this case, each drug produces normal side effects for the drug, just at increased potency.
For example, all of the following are more likely when antibiotics and alcohol are mixed:
The second way that antibiotics and alcohol incur dangerous side effects is based on interactions between specific types of antibiotics and alcohol. Specifically, antibiotics such as trimethoprim, sulfamethoxazole, and metronidazole cause severe side effects when interacting with alcohol in the body. These side effects include:
While highly uncommon, individuals that mix any antibiotics with alcohol, especially the three noted above, are putting themselves at risk for serious health problems, including, in rare situations, death caused by the drug interactions.
According to hospital statistics, nearly some form of drug and alcohol interaction, with antibiotic and alcohol interactions being common due to the fact that millions of Americans take antibiotics every year, causes 25% of all emergency room visits.
Alcohol slows down cognitive function and is mildly toxic. When taken in moderation, it can create a mellow feeling in the user and the toxic properties are combated in a timely fashion by the liver, with the only real side effect being an increased need to urinate.
Antibiotics are a more complex drug, primarily prescribed for combating infection. Similar to alcohol, antibiotics are actually mildly toxic and removed from the body by the liver, but only after a medically safe amount of the drug has been excreted into the body in order to perform its primary function.
However, when alcohol and antibiotics are mixed in the body, effectively both drugs are being taken in increased quantities, a process known as potentiation. It part because the same functions of the liver are needed to remove both drugs. This slows down the rate at which both drugs are removed from the body, increasing the effective dosage and toxicity of both drugs.
Avoiding the danger of antibiotic and alcohol interactions is as easy as simply not drinking alcohol. Infections, when properly treated, only last a few weeks at most, which is not a particularly long time to refrain from drinking alcohol.
However, some patients, particularly older individuals, are prescribed antibiotics as a daily medication. For those individuals, the best way to enjoy alcohol is to discuss the situation with the prescribing doctor. There are options that will allow such patients to enjoy an occasional drink.
Can I Drink Alcohol While Taking Antibiotics?(New York Times)