Apart from obviously not defeating/disrupting drugs potency, using alcohol with drugs is a no no.
While with some drugs, taking alcohol may not cause serious issues, same can’t be said for others. Although it’s best to limit alcohol intake to when not on any medication or stay off completely to allow the drugs work unhindered, Kevin T. Strang, PhD; Co-author of Vander’s Human Physiology, Distinguished Faculty Associate in Neuroscience and Physiology in the department of Neuroscience at University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health shares why these drugs and alcohol do not mix.
In his words, “Alcohol is a powerful drug that has widespread and sometimes unpredictable effects in the body. It makes some medications less effective…amplifies the effects of others…and can cause a toxic—or even fatal—reaction with some medications”.
Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) blocks the production of prostaglandins. These hormones, which the body releases in response to illness and injury, can cause pain, swelling and fever. But prostaglandins also play a critical role in blood clotting and blood vessel control, which impacts kidney function.
When blood flow to the kidneys is reduced for any reason—for example, during exercise or dehydration—prostaglandins are released to prompt blood vessels in the kidneys to dilate, which helps protect them from oxygen deprivation.
Why ibuprofen and alcohol don’t mix: Drinking alcohol causes excess urination that can lead to dehydration. Alcohol also inhibits prostaglandins. If you take ibuprofen to help relieve a hangover or use it on an ongoing basis while drinking excess alcohol, it could block the prostaglandins that are released to protect the kidneys.
Main danger: Every episode of alcohol plus ibuprofen potentially kills a few more kidney cells, which makes kidney failure more likely over time. But acute renal failure can occur with just one episode of excess alcohol and ibuprofen.
Note: Ibuprofen combined with dehydration from diarrhea, vomiting or exercise, for example, can adversely affect the kidneys as well.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) by itself can be harmful to the liver—in fact, acetaminophen overdose is the number-one cause of acute liver failure. But the likelihood of liver failure is much greater if you also drink alcohol.
Why acetaminophen and alcohol don’t mix: Alcohol is a toxin, but there’s a reaction in the body that breaks apart alcohol molecules so they are less dangerous. This reaction requires a coenzyme called NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) that’s found in all living cells. However, we also need NAD to deal with the toxic effects of acetaminophen. The breakdown of acetaminophen in the liver creates a highly toxic by-product.
Main danger: If stores of NAD are depleted by drinking alcohol and taking acetaminophen, liver problems or even permanent liver damage can result. Acetaminophen is particularly dangerous when taken during or within a couple hours of alcohol consumption.
Aspirin and other blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin) and clopidogrel (Plavix), are often used by people who have heart disease. They work by inhibiting prostaglandins, which, as mentioned above, are involved in blood clotting.
Why blood thinners and alcohol don’t mix: Because alcohol also inhibits prostaglandins, this combination results in an exaggerated anticlotting effect.
Main dangers: A higher, unpredictable anticoagulant effect in the system, which could cause dangerous bleeding anywhere in the body, such as a stroke or bleeding ulcer. Additionally, both aspirin and alcohol are known stomach irritants. Over time, the combination can increase the risk for stomach problems including gastritis and ulcers.
Anxiety Medications or Narcotics
Benzodiazepines (such as Valium and Xanax) and the narcotic pain relievers oxycodone (OxyContin) or hydrocodone (Vicodin) target specific neurotransmitter receptors in the brain. When triggered, these receptors depress brain activity, which helps ease anxiety and pain.
Why anxiety medications or narcotics and alcohol don’t mix: Alcohol is also a central nervous system depressant. If it’s consumed when either drug is still in a person’s system, the drug effect is amplified.
Main danger: The circuit in the brain that’s responsible for regulating breathing contains gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurons. When there’s excessive activation of GABA—which can happen when mixing these drugs and alcohol—the breathing circuits can shut down.
If you are unconscious—passed out or sleeping—you could stop breathing if you’ve had anxiety or pain medications and alcohol. These combinations are a major cause of alcohol-related deaths.
Blood Pressure Drugs or Viagra
There are two main types of drugs prescribed for high blood pressure—diuretics, such as chlorothiazide (Diuril), and vasodilators, such as nitroglycerin. Diuretics work by reducing blood volume, namely by ridding the body of excess water via urination. Vasodilators work by widening the blood vessels to lower blood pressure. Viagra, a drug used to treat erectile dysfunction, is a vasodilator as well.
Why blood pressure drugs or Viagra and alcohol don’t mix: Since alcohol is a diuretic and a potential vasodilator, it intensifies the actions of blood pressure medications and Viagra. In other words, combining alcohol and any of these drugs is like taking multiple doses of the medications.
Main danger: You can have a dangerous drop in blood pressure that may cause dizziness, fainting, seizures or cardiac arrhythmias.