Sunday, August 8, 2010

Mixing up the Medicine: What Alcohol Doesn’t Go With

Drug/Drink interactions are no joke. 

--Mixing alcohol with certain antibiotics, like Furozone and Flagyl, can lead to headache, nausea, vomiting, and even convulsions.

--Chronic alcohol consumption increases the risk of liver damage from surgical anesthetics like Ethrane and Fluothane.

--Alcohol decreases the effectiveness of Inderal, a common medication used to control blood pressure.

--Continued high levels of alcohol activate the enzymes that metabolize Tylenol and other forms of acetaminophen into compounds that can impair the functions of the liver.  In older persons, the combination markedly increases the risk of gastric bleeding.

Get your exercise, eat your vegetables—and don’t mix alcohol with a list of common medications about as long as your arm. Unfortunate but true. But let’s face it—people cut corners on this matter all the time. People like to drink.  With 70 percent of the adult population consuming alcohol at least occasionally, and more than 10 percent consuming it on a daily basis, the 14 billion prescriptions doctors write annually, accounting for more than 2,800 prescription drugs (plus another 2,000 over-the-counter medications) means that the “concurrent use” of booze and pills is inevitable (figures from NIAAA).

But it’s my job to be the wet blanket, and soldier on, and present my readers with a list of common drugs, which, if any of my readers are taking them regularly, means they should not be getting their drink on.

What is actually going on when alcohol and prescription drugs interact? The amount of drug that reaches its site of action is known as its availability. Alcohol can have a direct effect on a drug’s availability and hence its effectiveness. Alcohol in acute doses—a drink now and then, or a few drinks over several hours—can increase a drug’s availability by competing for the same set of enzymes of metabolization. This increases the chances of harmful side effects. Alcohol in chronic doses—long-term heavy drinking—can have the opposite effect, decreasing a drug’s availability and effectiveness by activating metabolizing enzymes, even in the absence of alcohol.

I have edited the list to eliminate low-risk, trivial, or commonly understood interactions. Most people, for example, know that drinking seriously on top of prescription sedatives, opiates and other painkillers, or anti-anxiety medications like Xanax and Valium, is universally understood to be a risky venture. That particular combination is how lots of people stop breathing, permanently.

Having glossed those categories, we move on to a blizzard of other restrictions for daily drinkers, some very serious, some less so. They have been culled from the University of Rochester’s excellent University Health Service site,  and from publications available at the website for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). An extensive list of references can be found at NIAAA’s Alcohol Alert.

--Other antibiotics  that may be responsible for adverse effects, according to the NIAAA, includes Acrodantin, Flagyl, Grisactin, Nizoral, Nydrazid, Seromycin, and Tindamax (all trade names).

--Cardiovascular medication that can cause possible problems if combined regularly with alcohol include Coumadin and Nitroglycerin which may become less effective, while blood pressure meds like Catapres, Lopressor, Accupril, and several others may lead to dizziness and fainting.  The NIAAA also notes potential reductions in the therapeutic effects of reserpine, methyldopa, hydralizine, and guanethidine.

--Allergies/cold medications react with alcohol in the usual way—increased drowsiness, and possible dizziness, particularly in the elderly. Drugs containing diphenhydramine, like Benadryl, or chlorpheniramine, like Tylenol Cold and Flu, can prove substantially more sedating with alcohol.

--The anti-ulcer medications Tagamet and Zantac “increase the availability of a low dose of alcohol under some circumstances.”

--Thorazine, a common antipsychotic, can lead to “fatal breathing difficulties” when combined with alcohol, according to the NIAAA.

--The anti-seizure drug Dilantin may not control epileptic seizures as effectively in chronic drinkers.

There are others, too many to list here. But if you are a chronic drinker—and you know who you are—don’t be so quick to dismiss the variously-worded DO NOT MIX WITH ALCOHOL warnings if you find them on your pill bottles.

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