woman holding alcohol and antibiotic pill pack

Why Doctors Recommend Against Mixing Alcohol and Antibiotics

If your doctor has ever told you to avoid alcohol while taking prescription antibiotics, you are not alone. Antibiotics are one of the most common medications prescribed worldwide. As such, avoiding alcohol while taking them is one of the most common pieces of advice heard in medical offices.

So what’s the deal? Is it really necessary to stop drinking while taking prescription antibiotics? From a purely safety-first mindset, moderate to light drinking while on a course of antibiotics is unlikely to lead to any serious side effects. Heavy drinking is another matter. Still, there are valid reasons to avoid combining antibiotics with alcohol.

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Alcohol and the Liver

Alcohol is delivered throughout the body within minutes of consumption. Guess where most of it hangs out while the body processes it? In the liver. This could have a negative impact on antibiotics by preventing them from being as effective as they otherwise would be. As a result, recovery can take longer.

Making matters worse is the fact that the body cannot devote all its energy to recovery if it’s having to deal with alcohol in the system. Mixing alcohol with antibiotics is like boxing with one arm tied behind your back. Your body’s ability to fight infection is hampered by alcohol.

Serious Drug Interactions

Although most antibiotics don’t interact seriously with alcohol, there are several that do. For example, mixing linezolid with alcohol can lead to a dangerous increase in blood pressure if alcohol remains in the system. This could lead to liver damage if it happens too many times.

Another drug to be careful about is erythromycin. One of its normal side effects is that it encourages the small intestine to absorb alcohol more quickly. Consuming too much alcohol while also taking erythromycin could lead to serious problems.

Finally, there are two prescription antibiotics the NHS says you should absolutely not mix with alcohol: metronidazole and tinidazole. Professionals recommend avoiding alcohol for up to 72 hours after finishing the final course of either drug. Apparently, drinking while taking either drug can lead to the following:

  • arrhythmia
  • stomach pain
  • nausea and vomiting
  • hot flushes
  • headaches and dizziness
  • drowsiness

If there are ever any questions about drinking while taking prescription medications, you should ask your doctor or pharmacist. Prescription medications in the UK are also distributed with informational leaflets. You will find information about drug interactions and other precautions in those leaflets.

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Alcohol Isn’t Harmless

The question of alcohol and antibiotics may be born of a misunderstanding that alcohol is largely harmless. It’s not. Alcohol has measurable impacts on various tissues and organs throughout the body. Its effects on the brain explain why people who drink in excess show signs of intoxication.

Alcohol inhibits the brain’s ability to function normally. This generally isn’t a big deal when you’re talking about moderate drinking on an occasional basis. But it’s another story when drinking in excess.

The point to be made here is that the body has a normal reaction to antibiotics. It responds to antibiotics in a certain way. But if the brain is not functioning properly, the body’s response might also be hindered. And if that’s the case, you might end up taking antibiotics and getting no benefit from them.

Better Safe Than Sorry

Despite what we already know about drug interactions involving antibiotics and alcohol, there is still plenty we don’t know. We can say that consuming alcohol in moderation isn’t likely to result in serious complications when taking antibiotics. But there are never any guarantees when you’re mixing drugs.

The bottom line is that it is better to be safe than sorry. Remember that, strictly speaking, alcohol is a drug. It should be treated as such. Your best course of action is to abstain from alcohol until you finish with your prescription. Also, don’t skip a dose under the false assumption that doing so means you can drink safely.

Antibiotics are designed to work over an extended period of time. In order for them to do what they are designed to do, however, the body requires a consistent supply in the bloodstream. Skipping a dose interrupts that supply. It prevents the body from doing what it’s supposed to do, thereby rendering the antibiotics less productive than they should be.

Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios

A good way to close out this post is to discuss best- and worst-case scenarios when combining antibiotics with alcohol. In a best-case scenario, mixing the two produces no serious side effects. Nonetheless, your body isn’t able to fight the infection you’re dealing with as aggressively, so you don’t recover as quickly as you otherwise would.

In the meantime, the antibiotics are also not as effective as they could be. Your body isn’t absorbing all the medication. You are not getting the full benefit because alcohol is preventing your brain from functioning normally. You are sick for longer and may actually need a second prescription to get better.

A Worst-Case Scenario

A worst-case scenario would be an antibiotic and alcohol interaction producing serious side effects that lead to long-term health problems. Continuing to drink while taking antibiotics could lead to liver damage. And once the liver is damaged, there is no recovery from it.

You could ultimately end up with liver disease, a disease that negatively impacts the rest of your life. The seriousness of that disease could certainly be mild, but it could also be debilitating. There is really no way to know. There is also no need to take your chances.

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Just Say No to Alcohol

Most of us drink socially and without any lasting harm. That being the case, most of us could abstain from alcohol for a few weeks if we just put our minds to it. That’s the lesson here. If you are taking prescription antibiotics, just say no to alcohol. Give your body a break and let it recover from whatever is ailing you. You will be far better off in the long run.