Do antibiotics and alcohol mix?

When taking antibiotics it’s common to be advised not to consume alcohol, but is this really a rule that needs to be followed to the letter?

The reason that we’re told not to imbibe alcohol while taking antibiotics is that there may be a reaction and/or the effectiveness of the drug could be reduced. However, there really are only three antibiotics that warrant you steering clear of alcohol. So what are they and why should you not drink while taking them?

Anti-infective drugs, which include metronidazole (Flagyl, Metronide or Metrogyl), tinidazole (Fasigyn or Simplotan) and sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim (Bactrim, Co-trimoxazole) should definitely be taken alcohol free.

These drugs can affect the breakdown of alcohol in the body, resulting in a build up of acetaldehydes, which can cause some extreme reactions –acetaldehydes are also responsible for the unpleasant symptoms experienced when you have a hangover.  As the blood vessels in your skin dilate, you can expect to go bright red, the blood is also taken away from central body parts so a drop in blood pressure occurs, leaving you feeling faint. The part of the brain that induces vomiting is also stimulated, so expect to feel nauseous and you may well be sick. It doesn’t take a lot to induce these reactions either, with one glass of beer or wine enough to start the process.

When it comes to other antibiotics not listed above, there is little evidence to support the suggestion that alcohol can make them less effective. As the body takes very little time to breakdown alcohol, a glass or two with dinner is unlikely to have an effect on a course of antibiotics that is taken over five or seven days.

Of course, it’s worth bearing in mind the reason why you’re taking antibiotics in the first instance. If you’re feeling run down or are trying to overcome an infection, perhaps staying off alcohol is a sensible course of action. Also, antibiotics can have side effects, which can be accentuated by alcohol.

If you’re unsure about taking alcohol with medication, ask your pharmacist or visit NPS.org.au

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Written by Debbie McTaggart

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