Drinking alcohol while taking medication may seem like no big deal, but combining the two can often be very dangerous.
If you’ve been prescribed medication and aren’t sure if it’s OK to drink that red wine, you might want to think twice about hitting the bottle. According to Consumer Reports, more than 100 medications can cause issues when mixed with alcohol.
Combining them can include symptoms that range from something as minor as nausea to more serious complications, like organ damage, stomach bleeds, difficulty breathing and even death.
One study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that 42 percent of people who drink alcohol were taking medication that could negatively react with the drink. So how do you know what is dangerous to mix with booze and what’s not?
Here’s a list of medications that should never be mixed with alcohol, along with some of the possible health risks. It should be noted that the risks vary based on the exact type of medication.
1. Anti-anxiety drugs such as Xanax, Valium and Ativan and anti-depression meds such as Prozac, Wellbutrin and Zoloft
Risks include: Drowsiness, dizziness, risk of overdose, risk of high blood pressure/heart attack, breathing difficulty, impaired motor control, liver damage, memory problems and unusual behavior.
2. Antihistamines such as Zyrtec and Benadryl and other allergy medications
Risks include: drowiness, dizziness, increased overdose risk.
Risks include: increased heart rate, sudden changes blood pressure, stomach pain, vomiting, headache, and liver damage and reduced effectiveness.
4. Attention medications such as Adderall and Ritalin
Risks include: Dizziness, drowsiness, impaired concentration, possible heart or liver damage.
5. Blood pressure drugs
Risks include: Dizziness, fainting, drowsiness, heart problems such as arrhythmia.
6. Blood thinners
Risks include: Internal bleeding or an increased risk of blood clots, stroke or heart attack.
7. Cholesterol drugs such as Lipitor
Risks include: Liver damage, increased flushing and itching, increased stomach bleeding.
8. Cough medicine
Risks include: Drowsiness, dizziness, increased risk for overdose.
9. Prescription opioid pain relievers such as Vicodin and Percocet
Risks include: Drowsiness, dizziness, increased risk for overdose, slowed or difficulty breathing, impaired motor control, unusual behavior and memory problems.
10. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as Advil, Motrin, Aleve and Tylenol
Risks include: Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, is a particularly bad medication to mix with alcohol, as it can lead to liver damage. Other risks include upset stomach, bleeding and ulcers, and rapid heartbeat.
Women, Elderly At Greater Risk
As the NIH points out, while everyone should be following these guidelines, women and the elderly are at an even greater risk for some of the negative side effects of mixing alcohol with certain medications.
Women’s bodies have less water than men’s do, so the rate at which women process alcohol is slower. Likewise, our bodies are slower to process alcohol as we age, so the elderly are at greater risk because of this, as well as the fact that they’re more likely to take medications.
The bad news for women and alcohol doesn’t stop with mixing medications. Recent studies have found that a drink a day is tied to an increased breast cancer risk and that even moderate drinking may alter our brains.
Alcohol’s Effects On The Brain And Body
While the researched is mixed on the health benefits and detriments of drinking alcohol, one thing is decidedly clear: Long-term, excessive alcohol use is terribly damaging to your brain and your body, with complications including the liver condition cirrhosis and dementia.
In the video below, Dr. Samuel Ball of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University talks about some of the effects alcohol has on your brain and body.
When in doubt, always consult your doctor about what is safe for you. And if you’re not sure, it’s best to limit your alcohol intake—better safe than sorry!