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Can You Mix Antibiotics and Alcohol?
Antibiotics fight bacterial infections by killing the bacteria or preventing the growth of bacteria. Doctors typically prescribe antibiotics to treat a range of bacterial infections, from infected wounds to sexually transmitted diseases. There are countless types of antibiotics to kill or prevent the growth of various bacterias. Since antibiotics are metabolized by enzymes in the liver, you shouldn’t mix any of them with alcohol.
Taking antibiotics and drinking alcohol can be unsafe and pose serious health hazards. The side effects of drinking alcohol while using antibiotics may range from just an upset stomach or drowsiness to more serious health concerns like a rapid heart rate or an increase in blood pressure.
Side effects will vary depending on the type of antibiotic, the amount of alcohol consumed, and other factors. Mixing some antibiotics and alcohol is more dangerous than mixing other antibiotics and alcohol. That’s why it’s important to talk to your doctor about the risks of consuming alcohol while taking your antibiotics, as well as about the risk of using products that contain alcohol (such as certain mouthwashes) during the course of your prescription.
Antibiotics That Interact Negatively With Alcohol
It’s generally considered unsafe to drink alcohol while taking antibiotics. Some antibiotics interact more negatively with alcohol than others. For example, you should never mix alcohol with the following common antibiotics:
Metronidazole (commonly known by the brand name Flagyl) is used to treat bacterial infections like bacterial vaginosis (a vaginal infection caused by the overgrowth of harmful bacteria). It’s also sometimes used to treat bacterially infected bites, ulcers, sores, and wounds, and both to treat and prevent parasitic infections.
Tinidazole (commonly known by the brand name Tindamax) is used to treat:
- Trichomoniasis (a sexually transmitted disease)
- Giardiasis (an intestinal infection that can cause gas, cramps, and diarrhea)
- Amebiasis (an intestinal infection that can cause gas, cramps, and diarrhea, and can spread to other organs)
- Bacterial vaginosis.
Sulfamethoxazole and Trimethoprim
Sulfamethoxazole and Trimethoprim (commonly known by the brand name Bactrim) is a combination antibiotic that’s commonly used to treat:
- Urinary tract infections
- Middle ear infections
- Traveler's diarrhea
- Shigellosis (which can lead to diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps)
- It’s also sometimes used to prevent or treat serious kinds of pneumonia
Cefoperazone (Cefobid) is used to treat infections such as:
- Bacterial septicemia (a bloodstream infection)
- Respiratory tract infections
- Peritonitis (inflammation of the peritoneum)
- Skin infections
- Endometritis (inflammation of the inner uterine lining)
Linezolid (Zyvox) is used to treat skin infections and pneumonia.
Cefotetan (Cefotan) is used to treat infections of the skin, bones, blood, lungs, joints, stomach, vagina, and urinary tract.
Doxycycline is in the tetracycline class of antibiotics and can be used to treat pneumonia and other respiratory tract infections, as well as some infections of the skin, eyes, lymphatic system, intestines, genitals, and urinary tract. It’s sometimes also used in conjunction with another medication to treat acne. Even then, mixing alcohol and doxycycline is ill-advised.
Erythromycin is used to treat bacterial infections of the respiratory tract such as:
- Legionnaires' Disease (a severe form of pneumonia)
- Pertussis (a respiratory disease)
- Diphtheria (a serious throat infection)
- Some skin infections
- Intestinal infections
- Urinary tract infections
- Syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease
Disulfiram (Antabuse) creates such an adverse reaction with alcohol that it is actually used as a treatment for alcohol addiction.
Taking any of these with alcohol use can induce unpleasant side effects like nausea and vomiting, headaches, stomach pain, heart palpitations, liver damage, and other serious health complications.
Other common antibiotics that should not be mixed with alcohol include amoxicillin (Amoxil) and other penicillins, ciprofloxacin (Cipro), and levofloxacin (Levaquin).
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Side Effects of Antibiotics and Alcohol
There are two types of alcohol-medication interactions:
- Pharmacokinetic interactions — This happens when alcohol interferes with the metabolism of the medication. Moderate alcohol consumption doesn’t typically impact an antibiotic’s effectiveness, but it’s important to ask your doctor.
- Pharmacodynamic interactions — This happens when the alcohol intensifies the side effects of the medication. This is the more likely interaction that can occur with most antibiotics.
Taking antibiotics and consuming alcoholic beverages can have similar side effects. These include:
- Nausea with or without vomiting
- Stomach cramps
- Flushed skin
- Rapid heart rate
- Chest pain
Combining antibiotics and alcohol can, therefore, compound these side effects and make them even worse.
Antibiotics and Alcohol FAQs
Here are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about drinking alcohol while taking antibiotics.
Does alcohol make antibiotics less effective?
While moderate alcohol consumption does not typically lessen most antibiotics’ effectiveness, alcohol can affect how your body absorbs the antibiotics if you consume them together.
Likewise, drinking alcohol can reduce your energy levels and weaken your overall immune system. This, in turn, can prevent your body’s ability to heal and thus prolong your recovery period even with antibiotics. You may be prescribed another course of antibiotics to overcome your illness or infection if you do not get better during your first course. And taking too many antibiotics can build up antibiotic resistance, which can cause complications if you need them again down the line.
Are any antibiotics safe to take while drinking alcohol?
You should generally stay away from alcohol while taking antibiotics. Drinking alcohol while taking any antibiotics can intensify the side effects of both alcohol and medications like nausea and drowsiness. While some antibiotics have less dangerous interactions with alcohol, it’s best to avoid alcohol consumption during your course nonetheless.
Can I have one alcoholic drink with antibiotics?
While moderate alcohol consumption may not be cause for concern while taking antibiotics, it’s best to avoid drinking alcohol altogether during (and sometimes shortly after) your course.
Even if you’re not binge drinking, factors such as your sleep adequacy, food intake, hydration levels, and more may all impact the effects of alcohol. And this impact, in turn, can affect how alcohol and antibiotics mix. Even one alcoholic drink, like a glass of red wine, could be one alcoholic drink too many.