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When Can You Mix Alcohol With Antibiotics? (& Possible Dangers)

With some exceptions, it is usually safe to drink alcohol while on antibiotics, but it is not recommended. Doing so can make you tired, and alcohol can inhibit the immune response, prolonging the infection or illness.

Always ask your doctor whether it’s OK to drink alcohol while taking any prescribed medication. 

Antibiotics & Alcohol

Antibiotics are a broad class of medicines that stop bacteria from reproducing or destroy bacteria altogether. They are prescribed for many issues, both extremely serious and fairly mild. Most people will take some form of antibiotic at least a few times in their lives.

As a good rule of thumb, you should never mix drugs. This is true both of prescription medications, over-the-counter medicines, and recreational or illicit drugs. If you ever have any need to mix drugs, ask your doctor before doing so.

This applies to antibiotics and alcohol. Generally, doctors will recommend that you do not drink while taking antibiotics. You may not experience dangerous effects, but drinking can impede the healing process and cause discomfort while on antibiotics.

Dangerous Combinations

A few antibiotics should never be taken with alcohol. These include:

  • Metronidazole, which is commonly prescribed to treat skin and vaginal infections. Avoid drinking alcohol for 48 hours after you stop taking metronidazole so that it can flush out of your system.
  • Sulfamethoxazole, which is commonly prescribed to treat urinary tract infections and ear infections.
  • Trimethoprim, which is also prescribed to treat urinary tract infections and ear infections, among other infections.
  • Tinidazole, which treats both bacterial and parasitic infections. For similar reasons as metronidazole, you should not drink alcohol until about 72 hours after finishing a course of tinidazole.

As discussed by the Mayo Clinic and the United Kingdom’s NHS, taking these drugs along with

  • Nausea
  • Hot flushes
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat 
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness

The Mayo Clinic adds that the antibiotic linezolid should not be taken with particular alcoholic beverages, namely red wine and tap beer. Taking linezolid with the wrong type of alcohol can cause dangerous changes in blood pressure.

Remember Hidden Sources of Alcohol

Not all alcohol use is intentional. Some cold medicines, mouthwashes, and food items can have small amounts of alcohol in them. While normally a person will not get drunk taking these things as intended, you still should avoid them if on a medication that can interact dangerously with alcohol. It is always better to avoid unnecessary risk, especially when on any drugs and recovering from an illness.

Generally, a product will be labeled accordingly if it contains alcohol. Food items can be a bit more difficult, especially if you are eating out. Familiarize yourself with food items that may contain alcohol, including but not limited to the following:

  • Pure and artificial flavor extracts
  • Foods that use rum, cooking wine, or similar ingredients
  • Some desserts, such as liqueur-filled chocolates and mousse
  • Cooking sprays

Discomfort 

Modest alcohol use generally will not be a major health risk when taking antibiotics. Dr. James M. Steckelberg of the Mayo Clinic points out that alcohol can make you tired and slow your recovery process. He personally recommends that you, therefore, avoid alcohol until you feel better, simply for comfort and the sake of a speedier recovery rather than because of any major risks. 

Many antibiotics can cause nausea and dizziness. If you are drinking on top of that, it can lead to serious discomfort or even vomiting. Even if it is not explicitly dangerous, it can be very unpleasant.

Be careful not to push your body too hard with recreational drinking, especially if you are already sick and feeling side effects from your antibiotics.

When You Can’t Stop Abusing Alcohol

Most people can avoid alcohol for a few days or weeks while on a medication that interacts poorly with it. 

Some people cannot stop abusing alcohol. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), substance use disorder is marked by a person who uses drugs or alcohol in a way that clinically impairs some aspect of their life. This might include behavior that damages their home life, social life, education, work, or physical or emotional health.

This behavior is a sign that you need help. At its most severe, it can represent serious alcohol addiction, which comes with a host of dangers. 

If you can’t stop drinking for the period that you are on antibiotics, it’s a clear red flag that you need treatment.

First, make your doctor aware of this fact. It can be dangerous if a doctor prescribes antibiotics or other medication without knowing you have a problem with alcohol abuse. They can potentially give you a medication that interacts less strongly with alcohol. They can also advise you on the best path forward to deal with your alcohol abuse issue.

Generally, some form of addiction treatment will be recommended. 

Conclusion

In most instances, drinking alcohol while taking antibiotics won’t cause serious harm, although it may impede the body’s natural healing process.

Some antibiotics are dangerous to take with alcohol. Confirm that you aren’t taking any of these before you have a drink.

Overall, it is recommended that you avoid alcohol while on antibiotics. Follow doctors’ recommendations and stay away from alcohol until you have fully finished your course of antibiotics.

If you can’t moderate your drinking, reach out for help.

Sources

(2005) Antibiotic Safety. Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC). from http://www.apic.org/Resource_/EducationalBrochureForm/038b0bd9-e9af-4dba-9cef-11d9be7b69d2/File/APIC-Antibiotic-Safety.pdf

What Are the Effects of Drinking Alcohol While Taking Antibiotics? Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/expert-answers/antibiotics-and-alcohol/faq-20057946

(January 2018) Can I Drink Alcohol While Taking Antibiotics? NHS. from https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/medicines/can-i-drink-alcohol-while-taking-antibiotics/

(January 2019) What to Know About Antibiotics. Medical News Today. from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/10278.php

(January 2019) Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). from https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/disorders

(December 2011) Alcohol: In More Foods Than You May Know. Patch Media. from https://patch.com/new-york/whiteplains/bp–alcohol-in-more-foods-than-you-may-know-3180b4ef

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