7. Can I drink alcohol while taking medicine?

Never drink anything containing alcohol such as beer, wine, spirits, sherry, RMD’s, cider while on medication until you have read the alcohol section of your med+info leaflet, or asked your pharmacist or doctor if it safe to take them together.

Taking alcohol while on medication can cause serious health problems:

  • Make the medicines side effects worse
  • Decrease the effectiveness of the medicine
  • Increase the toxicity of the medicine
  • Some medicines may slow the elimination of alcohol from the bloodstream, causing blood alcohol levels to rise, increasing the risk of serious harmful consequences.

Elderly people in particular must keep their doctor fully informed of their drinking habits, so appropriate advice and medication can be provided. They generally tend to have an increasing range of health problems and their bodies no longer have the strength of youth.

The Liver: Because alcohol is processed and eliminated by the liver, people with liver problems must be very cautious about their drinking habits or not drink at all. They must follow their doctor’s instructions carefully if they are to avoid damaging their liver by drinking alcohol or having alcohol competing with their medicine for elimination by the liver.

After drinking, alcohol it is absorbed into the bloodstream and slows the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) depressing emotions, vision, hearing, and reactions.

Drinking small amounts of alcohol may help people socialise by feeling more relaxed and less anxious. However drinking more alcohol (excessive drinking), depending on the people involved may cause them to: stagger; slur speech; fall over; get sleepy; be confused, talkative, abusive, angry, very friendly.

Reaction times slow dramatically which is why people are told not to drink and drive.

Binge drinking: Is when people drink large amounts of alcohol in a very short time.

They get alcohol poisoning: Vomiting; extremely sleepy; unconscious; difficulty breathing; seizures and possible death.

Alcohol Abuse is when people continue to drink alcohol knowing that such excessive drinking causes personal health problems and social and relationship problems.

Alcoholism or alcohol addiction is when people are not able to stop drinking alcohol.

Youth drinking alcohol frequently (daily) or binge drinking are at increased risk of alcoholism and serious health problems later in life.

What happens to alcohol in the body?

Alcohol is absorbed faster on an empty stomach because the empty stomach allows rapid passage of the alcohol into the small intestine where most of the absorption takes place. The alcohol is then processed by the liver where enzymes convert it to acetaldehyde then to carbon dioxide and water which is excreted from the body.

If the drinking rate exceeds the processing rate the amount of alcohol in the blood rises and the person get intoxicated or drunk.

On average Women have a lower proportion of total body water in which to distribute the alcohol. This means that women generally have higher blood alcohol concentrations than men after drinking the same amount of alcohol.

More information: med+info leaflets section 3 “Alcohol”