Alcohol and medicines

alcohol and medicines

It’s the time of year for celebrating!  A lot of us have Christmas parties to attend and with Christmas day and New Year’s Eve to come it’s important to consider the effects of alcohol on the medicines we take.


Many medicines can be affected by alcohol

Prescription, non-prescription and natural/herbal medicines can be affected by alcohol.

Some medicines that your purchase from a Pharmacist without a prescription have warning labels that it may cause drowsiness or increase the effects of alcohol and should not be taken whilst operating heavy machinery or driving.  A lot of people joke about not operating heavy machinery but most of us drive and a lot of people will be drinking alcohol especially at this time of year so the warning should be heeded.


The most common types of medicines affected by alcohol

  • Paracetamol
  • Older style antihistamines
  • Travel sickness medicines
  • Strong pain relief medicines
  • Antidepressants and anxiety medicines
  • Anti-inflammatories
  • St John’s wort, valerian, lavender


Effects from taking medicines and alcohol together

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Difficulty moving
  • Difficulty concentrating


How does our body deal with alcohol and medicines?

It is usually our liver that processes medicines and it also processes alcohol.  If our liver has to deal with both at the same time it can slow the processing down for either alcohol or the medicine.  This can make the effects of one of them more pronounced.  Toxic levels of the medicine would be harmful to the body.  Alcohol may also make medicines less effective or not effective at all.

Paracetamol in excessive doses can cause liver damage.  The combination of paracetamol and alcohol is even more likely to cause liver damage and in some cases has lead to the need for a liver transplant.

It may be difficult to know just how much effect alcohol can have on a medicine.  It could even have an effect if they are taken hours apart as medicines effects can last for a long time.


Check how your medicines are affected by alcohol

If a medicine may cause drowsiness or can be affected by alcohol it will carry a warning label on the box.  If you are unsure of the effects of alcohol on your medicine ask your Pharmacist.



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