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June Russell's Health Facts

Alcohol - Medications

[Alcohol-Drug Interactions]   [Interactions between Drugs]   [Alcohol-Herb Interactions]  
[Drug Side Effects]   [Scope of Drug Use]   [Drug Ads]   [Additional Reports]  

Alcohol-Drug Interactions

--- Analgesics (Aspirin, Acetaminophen, Ibuprofen) ---

Most over-the-counter pain relievers do not mix with alcohol. If you take NSAIDS (including aspirin), just 1 drink a week can increase your risk of gastrointestinal bleeding.
{"Tip sheet: high blood pressure and pain relievers," medicine, Sep. 2005}

Alcohol should never be used with pain relievers, or any other medication for that matter.
{"Pain relievers and alcohol do not mix," The Center for Proper Medication Use, Philadelphia, PA., Oct. 2002}

The FDA ruled that all products containing aspirin and other salicylate drugs; acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen sodium or ketoprofen, should carry warning labels that alert alcohol users of the risk of liver damage or stomach bleeding from combining any of these drugs with alcohol. The research that wine is good for you fails to include the fact that many, if not most, Americans regularly consume over-the-counter pain medications, says J. Mercola, DO.
{ - Feb. 20, 2000}

The combination of Tylenol (and other drugs containing acetaminophen) and alcohol is potentially deadly because both substances deplete glutathione. Taken together they can overwhelm the detox process and cause massive liver destruction.
{"Glutathione," Dr. Julian Whitaker's Health and Healing newsletter, Apr. 2004}

The link has been confirmed between alcohol intake and increased risk for acetaminophen liver toxicity.
{U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services in their 10th Report to Congress on Alcohol and Health. 2000}

If you have a drink of alcohol every day, don't make a habit of using medicines containing acetaminophen. Read your labels! Not only might you risk serious liver damage, but you might find that ordinary doses are less effective and be tempted to take more. When Ibuprofen (Advil, Nuprin, etc.) are mixed with alcohol there can be a negative effect on the digestive tract, and regular use increases the risk of indigestion, heartburn and even ulceration.

Using alcohol to stop pain can be dangerous, and especially if used with some other form of pain-killing drugs. For example: alcohol and aspirin can damage the stomach lining, alcohol and Tylenol (acetaminophen) can increase the damage to the liver, and alcohol and Advil (ibuprofen) can cause ulcers and stomach bleeding.
{"Using alcohol to stop pain can be dangerous,", Apr. 2004}

Aspirin in combination with alcohol increases stomach irritation and possible increase in stomach bleeding.
{"Modern Maturity," AARP publication, Feb./Mar. 1992}

If you have a drink even an hour after taking an aspirin, your body will be less able to metabolize the alcohol and you will feel more intoxicated than you would without the pre-cocktail aspirin.
{Veterans Administration Medical Center, The Bronx, New York. Reprinted in Longevity magazine, Jan. 1991}

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that people who take aspirin regularly should not drink alcohol.
{"Alcohol, wine and cardiovascular disease," American Heart Association, Aug. 2002}

--- Other Alcohol-Drug Interactions ---

People taking Coumadin are cautioned to avoid alcohol.
{Holt, G.A., "Food and drug interactions," Precept Press, 1998, on VitalCast, Feb. 2000, HealthNotes online}

Gastric ulcer medications that reduce acid production (Tagamet, Zantac, etc.), as well as aspirin, also interfere with the stomach's ability to destroy alcohol, so even moderate drinking becomes more intoxicating than usual. Pepcid is safer because it allows alcohol destruction to proceed.
{Modern Medicine and FDA Consumer, 1995}

Consider any drug, including over-the-counter medications and alcohol as a potential suspect for confusion, memory loss, and other cognitive problems.
{The Baltimore longitudinal study of aging, Paul Costa, Jr., Nutrition Action Newsletter, May 1997}

Alcohol can worsen side effects of medications, such as drowsiness or dizziness, said Anne Hendrick, a pharmacist who coordinates drug information for the University of Virginia Health Systems.
{"Doctors: even mild medicines can pose danger when mixed," The Daily Progress, Charlottesville, VA, Dec. 14, 1997}

Avoid alcohol when taking some antibiotics since it can cause adverse reactions, including fast heartbeat and stomach cramps.
{"When and how to take antibiotics," Tufts University Health and Nutrition Letter, Feb. 1998}

Avoid alcohol at least several hours before taking a sleep-inducing remedy or drug. Otherwise, you can become confused and/or experience problems with breathing or coordination. Mixing a benzodiazepine with alcohol can be deadly.
{"What to take when you can't sleep," Bottom Line Health," Apr. 2001}

Using other drugs when drinking alcohol can increase the effects of the alcohol, and can result in damaging the liver so it doesn't work as well.
{"Alcohol, chemistry and you," Kennesaw State University,, Aug. 2002}

Alcohol and prescription or over-the-counter drugs can create a deadly combination. Four to eight thousand people in the U.S. die each year from the exaggerated (synergistic) effects which can suppress respiration and heart functions to dangerous levels.
"Alcohol and combining with other drugs,", 2002}

Alcohol consumption affects the metabolism of a wide variety of medications, increasing the activity of some and decreasing the drugs' effectiveness in others.
{"Alcohol Alert," NIAAA, Jan. 1997}

Alcohol interacts negatively with more than 150 medications.
{"Interactions with medications,", June 2001}

Alcohol should never be taken with another central nervous system depressant.
{ - June 2001}

Alcohol consumption may increase or decrease the availability of some medicines in the blood stream, so as a result the effectiveness of the medication may be reduced.
{"Does alcohol stop antibiotics from working properly?" Scott Perry, Xtra: Health: Ask the Expert,, Nov. 2001}

A new study says red wine, not white wine, could lower the effectiveness of certain drugs. Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics (Nov. 2001) reports that taking red wine with an anti-rejection drug for transplant patients lowers the drug's effectiveness and is not a good idea. This also brings up the question of wine interacting with other drugs.
{People's Pharmacy, Terry and Joe Graedon, Public Radio, Dec. 15, 2001}

Studies at the Bronx, VA showed when alcohol was combined with beta-carotene, it led to more liver damage than from alcohol exposure alone. If you drink regularly and use beta-carotene you should discuss this interaction with your physician. When individuals combine alcohol and medications, the drugs can result in an increase in blood alcohol levels, even when modest amounts of alcohol are consumed. Alcohol may also elevate or deactivate the effect of the drug or drugs taken, and can cause an interaction even a day or two later. A drink or two can slow metabolism of antidepressants. Adding alcohol to major depressants is downright dangerous, and no one who is taking a major tranquilizer should consume any alcohol. Medicine for heartburn can react with a single beer or cocktail so it's best to avoid alcoholic beverages.
{"Drug and alcohol interactions," The People's Pharmacy newsletter, 1996}

Interactions between Drugs

No one knows how many people become ill or die every year from drug interactions, because many cases are not reported, or are not recognized as the cause of the problem. When mixed with other substances, some medications can lose their effectiveness, or turn deadly. When drugs are incompatible, one alters the action of the other, and alcohol, as well as certain foods, vitamins and herbal supplements also can change the way a medication works. One drug may boost the action of another, in essence causing an overdose. Or, it may reduce or neutralize the second drug's effectiveness by interfering with its processing by the body. Some drug combinations are highly toxic, even fatal.
{"Drugs that fight can hurt you," Modern Maturity, AARP publication, Mar. 1999}

Interactions of Alcohol with Herbal Medications and Homeopathic Remedies

To prevent problems, people who take acetaminophen (Tylenol or Excedrin P.M.), or the herb Kava, should avoid alcohol.
{HealthNotesOnline, 1999}

Medical drugs and alcohol may block the action of a homeopathic remedy.
{Asa Hershoff, DC, ND, chiropractor and naturopathic physician specializing in homeopathy, in 'Delicious' magazine, Fall 1997, and Author's comments: There are also many warnings about alcohol use when taking herbal remedies.

Reporting Drug Side Effects

Less than 5% of all reactions to drugs are reported to the FDA and to drug companies. Doctors don't know much about drugs and side effects can be gradual. (It took five years to find out the side effects of Seldane.) There are also additional risks when combined with alcohol.
{Joe Graedon, Oprah Winfrey Show, 1994}

Only one out of four doctors will routinely discuss potential side effects of newly prescribed drugs with their patients.
{People's Medical Society Newsletter, Aug. 1995}

Scope of Prescription Drug Use

There are 169 million Americans taking prescription medications.
{Health and Healing newsletter, Dr. Julian Whitaker, Oct. 2002}

There are more than 2,800 prescription drugs that are available in the U.S., and physicians write 14 billion prescriptions annually; in addition, approximately 2,000 medications are available without prescription. Alcohol use has the potential to cause problems, even small amounts.
{Alcohol Alert, NIAAA, 1995}

The National Center for Health Statistics recently released "Health, United States, 2004," its annual report on health trends. It revealed that 44% of Americans take at least 1 prescription drug, and 16.5% take 3 or more. Among people 65 and older, 84% take prescription medications, as do an incredible 24% of those under 18. A majority of conditions can be controlled with natural therapies.
{"How safe are your blood pressure drugs?," Health and Healing Newsletter, Julian Whitaker, MD, Feb. 2005}

We spend far too much on health care in our country to support the drug companies and the return on this investment is not very good. Over 3 billion prescriptions were written last year in the U.S. That is 10 prescriptions for every man, woman and child. Americans paid $150 billion dollars for these drugs, as each prescription costs about $50 on average.
{Dr. Joseph Mercola,, Feb. 2002}

There are over 2,500 prescription drugs on the market and the average doctor is familiar with only about 50. They rely on drug companies to keep them abreast of new developments.
{"Making medicine, making money," Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 1992}

--- Seniors and Medications ---

Seniors and medications:

  • Seniors average 27 prescriptions each year.
    {Substance Abuse Prevention Program, Halton Region Health Department,, Feb. 2004}
  • On average, individuals 65-69 years old take nearly 14 prescription drugs per year, and individuals aged 80 to 84 take an average of 18.
    {American Society of Consultant Pharmacists Senior Care Pharmacy Facts, Feb. 2004}

According to data from Medco Health Solutions, a study of 650,000 seniors showed that one in four seniors sees four or more physicians, a third of seniors use four or more different pharmacies, the average senior member takes 25 different prescriptions per year, and the number of seniors who are over-medicated has more than doubled since 1999.
{Managing Drug Costs,, Feb. 2004}

American seniors were prescribed inappropriate and potentially harmful medications in nearly 8% of their visits to the doctor in 2000, according to a U.S. study of drug prescribing patterns (about the same in 1995). These data were compiled by the Centers for Disease Control.
{"Millions of seniors get inappropriate drugs,", Feb. 2004}

Be Wary of Ads

The FDA says that the most common violations for advertised ads for pharmaceuticals is that they don't adequately present risk information. They suggest that drugs are better for more people than they are really intended for. They over-promise. In Dr. Martha Angell's editorial in JAMA, she noted that the pharmaceutical companies are accountable only to shareholders, and it is the most profitable industry in the world, some as much as 30%, compared to commercial banking which has returns of about 18%. There are the "me too" drugs as in a half a dozen cholesterol-lowering drugs. Instead of comparing the drug to a placebo, they should compare it to the best available drug on the market. Approval should be contingent on proving a new drug is better than the current best, and should be accountable to society at large as well.
{People's Pharmacy, Public Radio, June 24, 2000}

The FDA says that the most common violations for the advertised ads for pharmaceuticals is that they don't adequately present risk information. They suggest that drugs are better for more people than they really are intended for. They over-promise.
People's Pharmacy Newsletter, June 24, 2000}

Additional Reports

The FDA estimates that between 30 and 50% of people who use medicines don't use them as prescribed. Failure to follow directions can make a medication less effective, worsen side effects, or trigger harmful reactions with other drugs or alcohol.
{"Taken only as directed, not to be taken lightly," Tufts University Health and Nutrition Letter, Nov. 1997}

Never take medicines with hot drinks or mix them into food since this may destroy their efficacy. Avoid taking them the same time as vitamin-mineral pills, since minerals sometimes bind with drugs and inactivate them. Never take medicines with wine or beer, since alcohol is potentiated and becomes unexpectedly intoxicating if taken with several common types of medication. Also, alcohol potentiates some drugs, accentuating and prolonging their effects. Remember, some cough remedies contain alcohol.
{U.S. Pharmacist, 1998, in Health Gazette June/July 1998}

Almost one-half of Americans suffer from at least one chronic disease, and 81% of Americans take at least one medication each week (JAMA). As the overall nutritional value of the American diet declines, we can expect more people to develop disabling health problems.
{"Of disabilities, disorders and deficiencies," Jack Challem, Nutrition Reporter, Newswire, Natural Health Highlights,, May 2002}

When you take a medication, 5 to 10% of it is converted into a liver toxin. This by-product is then neutralized by a protective substance in the liver called glutathione. Dr. Hyman J. Zimmerman, MD, an emeritus professor at George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, DC, is a leading authority on liver toxicity, and he theorizes that when combined with alcohol, a greater percentage of the pain reliever is converted to a toxic substance. In addition, alcohol is thought to deplete the body's store of glutathione, so less is available to neutralize more of the toxin. Women are more at risk than men.
{"Common drugs, serious risks," McCall's, July 1996} Author's comments: We should not take drugs so readily, and since most physicians only know how to respond to a symptom with a drug, effort should be made to find alternative practitioners who will not only try to find the cause (and not just treat the symptoms) but provide safer, effective, and less expensive treatments.

It has been estimated that there are more than 56,000 emergency room visits a year caused by acetaminophen overdoses. In addition, too many NSAIDS are taken on a regular basis, particularly by people over 65, and for those taking "blood thinning" medications, overuse may lead to gastrointestinal bleeding.
{"Overdoing over-the-counter pain relievers," Tufts University Health and Nutrition Letter, Mar. 2004}

One of the natural treatments for seizures would be to avoid alcohol as it lowers the seizure threshold, and increases the likelihood of seizures.
{"Anti-seizure drugs increase suicide risk,", May 2005}

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