August 9, 2022 Alcohol

What Happens If You Drink Alcohol While Taking Antibiotics?

Image explaining why shouldn’t be alcohol used with antibiotics

It is a common misconception that drinking alcohol while taking antibiotics is a safe practice, even though there is a warning label not to consume alcohol on the majority of antibiotic packaging. In fact, one of the most commonly asked questions doctors and medical professionals receive about prescription drugs is, “Is it safe to drink on these?” In a nutshell, the short answer is no.

We are all aware that alcoholic drinks can be harmful to one’s health. While drinking in moderation may have no severe reaction, doing so while on antibiotics can lead to complications. When you combine alcohol and antibiotics, you risk triggering and complicating your medication’s side effects.

How Does Alcohol and Antibiotics Interactions Happen?

To break down alcohol, the human body relies on a unique set of enzymes. Some antibiotics are also metabolized by these enzymes. Drinking alcohol can disrupt those enzymes, preventing them from effectively metabolizing the antibiotic and allowing it to perform its work. This increases the possibility of experiencing dangerous side effects.

Additive effects can potentially cause issues. This happens when the antibiotic and alcohol both have similar side effects. This is usually the case with antibiotics such as metronidazole, which has a depressant effect similar to alcohol, or with any antibiotic that causes stomach pain. When the two are combined, the effects are amplified. This can result in major accidents when it hinders coordination, and even simple nausea tends to be quite uncomfortable.

Effects of Mixing Alcohol and Antibiotics

Table summarizing the effects of mixing alcohol with certain antibiotics

Many people who drink alcohol while taking antibiotics experience stomach or digestive side effects, as well as an increased feeling of nausea. Aside from gastrointestinal issues, both alcohol and antibiotics can impair cognitive function, concentration, and coordination.

Another factor to consider with alcohol and antibiotics is that drinking interferes with essential processes of the body, such as sleep and hydration, and these are critical components of recovery from a bacterial infection. Due to these factors, it is advisable to avoid drinking while taking antibiotics.

The effects of drinking while taking certain antibiotics are summarized in the table below.

Why is it Unsafe To Consume Alcohol When Taking Antibiotics?

When some antibiotics are used with alcohol, they might cause nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, flushing, and liver damage. Drinking alcohol while taking different antibiotics could lower the effectiveness of antibiotics and increase their toxicity level.

Disulfiram-Like Reaction

One of the most common interactions between alcohol and antibiotics is with metronidazole (Flagyl), an antimicrobial drug. Metronidazole is used to treat a range of viral infections, including stomach or intestines, as well as lungs, joints, and skin infections. A response known as a “disulfiram-like reaction” can occur when metronidazole is combined with alcohol.

The following are some of the signs and symptoms of a “disulfiram-like reaction”:

  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Flushing of the skin
  • Stomach cramps
  • Headache
  • Chest pain
  • Strep throat
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Breathing difficulties

Other antibiotics in the same family as metronidazole, such as cefotetan (Cefotan) and tinidazole (Tindamax), can cause a similar response. You should not consume alcohol while taking these different medications or for at least 72 hours after stopping taking them.

Damage to Central Nervous System

Alcohol is also a central nervous system (CNS) depressant. Some antibiotics can also have CNS negative effects, including:

  • confusion
  • sedation
  • drowsiness
  • dizziness

Additive effects can arise when alcohol is taken with antibiotics that also have a CNS depressant effect. These side effects can be dangerous when driving or operating machinery, in the elderly, or in patients on other CNS depressant medications such as opioid pain relievers, muscle relaxants, antidepressants, anxiety or seizure substances, and others.

Kidney Damage

When you mix alcohol with some antibiotics, it can hurt the vital organs, like the kidneys. The kidneys are in charge of getting rid of harmful substances, including medicines, from the blood and body through urine. Antibiotics can overburden and damage kidneys, which is made worse by heavy drinking.

High Blood Pressure

A class of medications known as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) can cause dangerously high blood pressure when mixed with alcohol, potentially leading to severe events such as heart attacks. There are a few antidepressants in this class, including an antibiotic called linezolid (Zyvox).

Liver Damage

Cirrhosis is a well-known effect of excessive alcohol consumption. Antibiotics, which can harm the liver, may worsen these problems.

If you experience fever, chills, joint pain or swelling, unusual bleeding or bruising, a skin rash, itching, loss of appetite, lethargy, nausea or vomiting, stomach upset, dark-colored urine, pale-colored stools, or yellowing of the skin or eyes, call your doctor straight away. These could be indicators of liver damage.

Immune System Damage

Alcohol use while taking prescription antibiotics can also hamper certain processes of the immune system and have adverse side effects on the body’s ability to recover from infection.

Serious Heart and Abdominal Effects

If you take the antibiotics listed below with alcohol, you risk having significant cardiac and GI problems.

  • Sulfamethoxazole/Trimethoprim (Bactrim)
  • Some cephalosporins like Cefoperazone and Cefotetan

Types of Antibiotics and Alcohol That Shouldn’t be Used Together

A handful of antibiotics can cause violent physical reactions when combined with alcohol. Never drink alcohol while taking any of the following antibiotics:

  • Griseofulvin
  • Cefotetan
  • Isoniazid
  • Erythromycin
  • Linezolid
  • Doxycycline
  • Ketoconazole
  • Metronidazole
  • Tinidazole
  • Cefoperazone

On the other hand, alcoholic beverages are not only those that are available at wine, beer, and liquor shops. Other alcohol-containing products, such as mouthwash (unless you choose the alcohol-free ones!) and cough syrup, can also interact in different ways with antibiotics. When used with alcohol, these antibiotics reduce your body’s alcohol tolerance, resulting in a wide range of negative side effects.

Never Skip Dose of Antibiotics to Drink Alcohol

Even if you feel like having a drink, it’s important not to miss doses of antibiotics until your specified course of antibiotics is finished. Because it takes many days for the drug to remove from your system, skipping a single dosage won’t protect you against negative effects.

Antibiotics usually make you feel better within 48 hours of taking them. However, this does not rule out the possibility of further infection in your body. You are giving the bacterial or fungal infection a chance to recur if you stop taking antibiotics early so that you can drink.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Why shouldn’t I drink alcohol while I’m on antibiotics?

Alcohol and antibiotics should not be mixed. Both alcohol and antibiotics can induce severe adverse effects in the body, and drinking alcohol while taking antibiotics can increase the likelihood of experiencing these side effects.

If you’re taking antibiotics, is it dangerous to drink beer?

Alcohol use while taking antibiotics can be dangerous. In addition to interacting negatively with some medications and causing severe adverse effects, alcohol can also interfere with the body’s natural healing process.

Can you drink alcohol while taking amoxicillin?

Mixing amoxicillin with alcohol will not result in significant, long-term health problems. However, it can increase adverse symptoms such as nausea, headache, diarrhea, and vomiting. To ensure rapid recovery, avoiding alcohol while taking antibiotics is recommended.

Is it okay to drink beer on antibiotics?

Alcohol should not be consumed when taking some antibiotics, but the healthcare expert who prescribed them to you will be able to tell you accordingly.