Can I drink alcohol with my medicines this Christmas?

Whilst many of us like a drink at Christmas time (and in fact, almost at any time!), some drugs just don’t mix very well with alcohol…. and unfortunately, it seems that Australians are not getting the message.

The Alcohol’s Burden of Disease in Australia report, found 5,554 deaths and 157,132 hospitalizations were caused by alcohol in 2010, with the number of deaths increasing by 62 per cent since the study was last undertaken a decade ago.” VicHealth July 2014

In Australia, alcohol causes 15 deaths and 430 hospitalizations EVERY DAY.

In fact, one in every four emergency room visits may be due to bad side effects from people drinking too much alcohol with their medicines.

Alcohol affects the medicines that you take by –

  1. Slowing down the actions of medicines to under treat our health problems.
  2. Increase the actions of medicines to cause bad side effects.
  3. Changing some medicines and causing damage to the liver.

Below are some simple examples of how alcohol and medicines affect your health:

Antibiotics like Metronidazole, sulfamethoxazole, nitrofurantoin, and Griseofulvin can cause nausea, vomiting, headaches, flushing, sweating, and possibly seizures/fits when taken with alcohol.

Warfarin with too much alcohol at one time may cause severe bleeding – and drinking alcohol long term with warfarin may worsen clotting problems in people with heart disease and deep vein thrombosis (clots).

Normal doses of paracetamol can cause liver damage with alcohol, and anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen, and diclofenac with alcohol can cause and worsen stomach bleeding. 

Antidepressants, antihistamines, epilepsy drugs, opioid pain killers, and sleeping pills can cause severe drowsiness or sleepiness when mixed with alcohol – in some cases, this can stop your breathing and be fatal.   

Drinking too much alcohol with metformin and glipizide can cause drowsiness, dizziness, and confusion from low blood sugar in people with diabetes.

Metformin may also cause a buildup of lactic acid in the blood with serious damage to the kidneys, heart, and lungs.

Some health problems get worse with too much alcohol.

  • Alcohol increases blood fats and can cause more heart problems in people with high blood cholesterol.
  • Alcohol increases blood pressure but some people do not need blood pressure tablets when they stop drinking alcohol!
  • People with Hepatitis C cause more liver damage with heavy alcohol use – and alcohol cause death and scarring of liver tissue.
  • Alcohol can cause inflammation in the pancreas with stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever.
  • Too much alcohol can weaken your heart muscle over time – this is known as heart failure. People with heart failure may have shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat (heart attack), fatigue, and blood pressure problems.
  • Drinking alcohol long term can cause a “wet brain” – this may cause depression, memory loss, confusion, hallucinations, anxiety, poor coordination and seizures.

Drinking too much alcohol affects people with diabetes and can cause serious health problems:

  1. Long term drinking in people who usually eat well causes high blood sugar or Hyperglycemia – this may result in heart disease, nerve damage, kidney failure, blindness, bone and joint problems, skin ulcers and poor healing, and teeth and gum infections.
  2. Drinking when hungry (fasting state) causes very low blood sugar or Hypoglycemia – This may result in heart palpitations, fatigue, shakiness, anxiety, sweating, irritability, confusion, blurred vision, seizures, and loss of consciousness.

If you don’t know how alcohol affects your medicines, then don’t drink!

You can always contact Check My Medicines if you are unsure about drinking alcohol with your medicines – our consultant pharmacist is always ready to help you.

Author – Emmanuel Pippos, Consultant Pharmacist

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Do you need a home medicines review? It’s very simple!

Remember - The Home Medicine Review is bulk billed through Medicare - it’s free to you.


1. Download and print the form.
2. Tick the boxes that you think may affect you.
3. Then make an appointment with your doctor.


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