Will Alcohol Stop Antibiotics From Working?
For the most part, yes. Also known as antibacterial, some antibiotics usually prescribed to treat various infections can have interactions when combined with alcohol. However, it all depends on the drug type. While not all drugs under this classification result in severe reactions to alcohol, general warning such as “avoid alcohol” has been placed in the product labels as a precautionary measure.
When taken with alcohol, some antibiotics may cause life-threatening symptoms ranging from;
- Liver toxicity
- Fast heartbeat, flushing, and nausea
Other antibiotics may lead to unpleasant side effects like dizziness, or even drowsiness, which can also be worsened by alcohol consumption. For example, Amoxycillin is a very popular antibiotic that has been shown to interact with alcohol. While there isn’t a specific interaction that will lower its effectiveness, you should still avoid drinking alcohol if you’re unwell and being treated for an infection.
In general, alcohol consumption does interrupt normal sleep and lead to dehydration. It only makes perfect sense to avoid it as it may hinder the body’s natural ability to heal itself, which is why your G.P will highly recommend that you keep off alcohol primarily to give your body the best possible chance to fight the infection.
Common over-the-counter antibiotic medication that interacts with alcohol
There are numerous antibiotics where alcohol must be avoided at all costs. Drinking any amount of alcohol with drugs such as tinidazole and Bactrim may result in a severe reaction like flushing, headache, nausea and vomiting, and heart palpitations.
A typical drug such as metronidazole, known as Flagyl, is used to treat a variety of infections ranging from joint pain, lung infection, skin, stomach, intestine, etc. Taking Flagyl with alcohol has been shown to result in a reaction called a “disulfiram-like reaction.” Disulfiram is also a medication commonly used as a treatment for alcoholism, and it does so by producing a very high sensitivity to Ethanol.
Therefore, combining Flagyl with alcohol will produce a “disulfiram-like reaction” or a hangover-like effect with symptoms such as;
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach cramps and vomiting
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pains
- Rapid heartbeat, etc.
If your doctor hasn’t prescribed any antibacterial, be careful when buying over-the-counter medication (OTC), mainly because most antibiotics may contain alcohol as an ingredient.
To be on the safe side, always check the formulation listing on the OTC product to determine if alcohol, which may be indicated as “Ethanol,” is present, especially in;
- Cough syrups
- Cold and flu medicines
- Even mouthwashes
Note that some prescription medications may also contain alcohol. Therefore, caution must be taken, especially if you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol addiction. So, every time you are prescribed new medication that you’re unsure of, do your due diligence and check if your drugs contain a combination that would otherwise lead to severe interactions when combined with alcohol.
It’s advisable that you let your primary physician know of your dependence issue well in advance so that they are aware of what to prescribe and what not to.
Alcohol is a Central Nervous System (CNS) depressant
When something is considered a CNS depressant, be it alcohol or medication, it means that they have the ability to slow brain activity. In medicine, drugs such as sedatives, tranquilizers, and hypnotics that act as CNS depressants play a pivotal role in the treatment of anxiety, panic attack, acute stress, sleep disorders, etc.
Take this as a good example: imagine that you have been prescribed antidepressants that cause drowsiness, sedatives to help you sleep, or even tranquilizers to alleviate anxiety or treat muscle spasms. Can you risk combining such medications with alcohol?
When you consume alcohol with a class of antibiotics such as Flagyl that also has a Central Nervous System depressant effect, it can produce some serious side effects. As such, these effects can have worse repercussions, especially in the elderly, when driving or with patients that are on heavy medications such as Opioid pain relievers, muscle relaxers, anti-seizure medications, antidepressants, and more.
It’s also important to mention that some people do experience stomach problems such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and cramps when they take certain antibiotics. If you fall under this category, you should be careful not to consume alcohol, as doing so can worsen these antibiotic-induced stomach issues.
So, does alcohol affect the efficiency of antibiotics?
For the most part, antibiotics will do their job of fighting infections, but it’s the combination with alcohol that may lead to some unpleasant side effects. However, note that in some cases, the levels of a drug in your bloodstream can be changed after taking alcohol, which in turn may inhibit the effectiveness of an antibiotic.
Consider this too; Drugs are metabolized (broken down) in the liver by enzymes. So is alcohol. Your alcohol consumption and the amount you consume can cause changes in these enzymes; consequently, this may affect how antibiotics are broken down and assimilated in the body. If you drink copious amounts of alcohol over a short period of time, certain enzymes are inhibited. As a result, the drugs you’re taking will not be metabolized effectively.
And of course, you have to finish your dose of antibiotics, meaning because the drugs are not being broken down, it could lead to drug toxicity and related side effects. Why? The antibiotic in your system keeps increasing because it’s neither being fully metabolized or excreted out of your body. Don’t you agree?
Antibiotics are among the most common and useful prescription drugs we have in medicine today. While the effects of consuming alcohol may not necessarily stop antibiotics from working, it’s better first to finish your dosage and ensure that you rest and drink plenty of fluids other than alcohol.
Remember; while not all antibiotics will interact with alcohol, abstaining from drinking when you’re fighting an infection is highly recommended. Your body will thank you for it.
Most importantly, if you’re staying the course of sobriety and are concerned about taking antibiotics that contain alcohol, consult your doctor first for expert advice on the best way forward.