Antibiotics and Alcohol

There are many facts and myths that surround the subject of antibiotics and alcohol.  Some people claim it is dangerous to drink alcohol while on antibiotics, while others claim they don’t.  Some antibiotics implicitly recommend abstaining from alcohol during use, while others don’t have any guidelines.  What are the truths behind this much argued subject?

What are antibiotics?

Antibiotics are drugs designed to kill off harmful bacteria and stop it from growing through the body, they are used for a wide array of diseases and infections.  The most common and widely known antibiotic is penicillin.  The body actually has it’s own natural antibiotics, referred to as antibodies.  Normally, this is all that’s needed, unless your antibodies are not strong enough and then you would need antibiotics.  There are limited side effects with the majority of antibiotics.

The reason there are often side effects from taking antibiotics is because they kill some good bacteria along with the bad.  General side effects tend to be nausea, fever and occasionally diarrhoea. This is only a problem if the side effects are particularly serious.  The worst side effects tend to be suffered if there is an allergic reaction to a particular drug, this can cause an anaphylactic reaction, causing swelling and difficulty with breathing.

Antibiotics and Alcohol

There are several reasons that mixing antibiotics and alcohol together is not a good idea.  The first one worth mentioning is that they can have similar effects on the body on their own, so when taken together there may be more chance of these effects occurring, with them perhaps being stronger than if either alcohol or antibiotics were taken alone.  Things like dizziness, nausea and stomach upset being the most common.

Another important reason to consider, involves considering the way in which they both travel through our body.  Antibiotics travel through our bloodstream until they reach the infected area, were they kill off the bad bacteria and make changes with that particular tissue or internal organ.  Alcohol, similarly travels through our bloodstream, working in the brain to cause intoxication, which is when we start to feel the effects and eventually it’s metabolised and removed via our liver.

There is a general thought, while side effects may be more likely, there is also a chance that alcohol may diminish the antibiotics ability to do the job for which it was designed.  There is always an uncertainty and that is one of the best reasons to avoid.  In some cases alcohol can even strengthen medication, or reducing and inhibiting the effects.   It really depends on what alcohol you are drinking and what type of antibiotic you are taking.  This is perhaps the best reason for avoiding alcohol with antibiotics as it can be such an unknown quality.  Though, if you want to recover quicker, this will happen better if the antibiotics job is not interfered in by alcohol.

As they both battle for the same metabolising enzymes, which could cause the drug to remain in your body for longer,  or in the opposite way it could activate the metabolising enzymes which can decrease the medications availability.  This explains why often someone with a drinking problem needs higher levels of antibiotics than a non drinker to achieve the desired effects.

There are a selection of specific antibiotics, however, that will result in some horrendous side effects if taken while drinking alcohol.  Metronidazole has side effects such as

  • nausea and vomiting
  • breathlessness
  • flushing
  • headaches
  • irregular or increased heart rate
  • drop in blood pressure.

The drug Furoxone carries side effects like

  • stomach upset
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • dizziness and weakness.

There are other ones that carry similar effects, this is due to a chemical reaction that inhibits proper breakdown in the body.

If you do drink more than a regular amount of alcohol it would be advisable to explain this to your doctor, if they are going to prescribe you antibiotics.  This may be hard for you to admit but, this information would have a bearing on which and how much antibiotics would be given.

There is also a chance that if you take certain antibiotics and alcohol in a small measure, it could mean that the alcohol has a stronger effect, as if you had drunk more.  This could mean that, if you are driving and get pulled over for whatever reason, that you are charged with a DUI offence.  Another good reason to avoid drinking alcohol and taking antibiotics.

As we can see there are a large amount of variables when it comes to the subject of antibiotics and alcohol.  It would be best suggested to avoid, especially when your doctor or the pharmaceuticals label stresses this course.  If you have any doubts or further queries, ask your doctor about the effects of mixing antibiotics and alcohol.