Antibiotics are among the most important life-saving inventions of modern medicine, but the effects of mixing antibiotics and alcohol are something many people are unaware of. To ensure antibiotics remain effective, it’s vital that they’re used only to treat the bacterial infections they’re designed to fight and that patients follow their doctor’s instructions precisely.
Here, we’ll discuss the potential side effects of drinking on antibiotics. We’ll also cover how to do your part to reduce the risk of antibiotic-resistant infections.
Always Follow Your Antibiotic Prescription
Antibiotics effectively treat bacterial infections, but they will not help with viral infections such as colds and the flu. They work by killing bacteria. However, over time it’s possible for bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics, meaning different antibiotic variations (which may be less effective or have more side effects) will be required to treat common infections.
Modern health care relies heavily on antibiotics. In 2019, more than 250 million antibiotic prescriptions were written and filled in the United States alone. It’s important for patients and health care professionals to do everything they can to keep the antibiotics currently in use effective for as long as possible.
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are becoming a serious issue, and because of this, doctors are now taking care to prescribe antibiotics only when absolutely necessary. They’re unlikely to be prescribed for a mild infection that is likely to get better on its own, for example. Instead, antibiotics are only used for infections that:
- Could spread to infect many other people
- Are unlikely to clear without treatment (or that would take a significant amount of time to surmount)
- May have serious complications
Doctors occasionally prescribe antibiotics as a prophylactic for people who are at a high risk of infection, especially those whose immune systems might be compromised and therefore unable to fight an infection on their own. For example, someone who has recently had surgery may be given antibiotics to reduce the risk of the surgical site becoming infected.
If you are prescribed antibiotics, it’s important to follow the instructions on the prescription from your doctor and pharmacist. This means taking the antibiotics on schedule and in the right dose, as well as following any instructions about avoiding certain foods and drinking on antibiotics. It’s also important to finish the course, even if you feel better. Taking the full course of antibiotics will help reduce the risk of any remaining bacteria developing resistance to the antibiotic.
The Side Effects of Mixing Antibiotics and Alcohol
Mixing antibiotics and alcohol can cause some unwanted side effects and can even be dangerous in some cases. The human body uses enzymes to break down antibiotics. Drinking alcohol can inhibit the effects of those enzymes, preventing the body from metabolizing the antibiotics properly. This can make the antibiotics less effective and may even cause potentially dangerous ill effects, such as greatly increased blood pressure, liver disorders or heart palpitations.
It’s important to abstain from alcohol while taking:
If you have been prescribed one of these antibiotics, it’s important to avoid consuming alcohol during the entire course of the medicine and for 3 days after the last dose to allow the antibiotics to be fully flushed from your body before you partake of any alcohol.
How Alcohol Can Increase Antibiotic Side Effects
Even in cases when alcohol does not interact with a drug to cause unwanted side effects directly, the combined side effects of antibiotics plus the effects of consuming alcohol could lead to a person feeling more unwell for longer. Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it can make a person more likely to become dehydrated. It also commonly causes stomach irritation, drowsiness and dizziness.
Since antibiotics can also cause upset stomachs and dizziness, consuming alcohol while taking a prescribed antibiotic could make the side effects of the antibiotics feel much worse.
It’s also worth noting that alcohol can impair the functioning of your immune system, even if you only indulge in moderate quantities. Consuming alcohol while you’re unwell could mean it will take you longer to recover from your illness or infection.
Does Alcohol Affect the Efficacy of Antibiotics?
Alcohol can affect the efficacy of some antibiotics, but that is not true of all of them. There are several kinds of antibiotics, and while alcohol may prevent the body from being able to break down some forms of antibiotics properly, moderate alcohol consumption is unlikely to be harmful when taking certain other types of antibiotics.
For example, mixing penicillin and alcohol in moderation is unlikely to be dangerous, and the same is true for amoxicillin. Alcohol consumption is also unlikely to make Keflex ineffective, although alcohol can make the side effects of Keflex worse.
In contrast, there are some drugs that should be avoided because of known interactions with alcohol. Doxycycline and erythromycin are two antibiotics that may be less effective if you consume alcohol while taking them. It’s a good idea to avoid alcohol while taking a course of antibiotics and for 72 hours after the last dose, in order to ensure the course is as effective as possible. Always follow the instructions given by your doctor when it comes to prescription medications.
As we’ve discussed here, alcohol has many different effects on the body and on how antibiotics are metabolized. So, rather than wondering, “Can you drink on antibiotics?” a more useful question might be, “Is it a wise idea?”
Even if the antibiotics you’ve been prescribed are not ones that have a dangerous interaction with alcohol, choosing to abstain from alcohol while you’re unwell and taking antibiotics could help you to avoid short-term side effects and also to hasten your recovery from the illness.
Recovery Is a Real Option
If alcohol use is something that concerns you, and you’d like some support to help reduce your drinking, FHE Health is here to assist you. Our team includes mental health therapists and drug and alcohol addiction specialists who have extensive experience when it comes to helping individuals cope with the challenges of alcohol addiction.
We offer both inpatient and outpatient treatment options to help individuals detox from alcohol and learn the coping mechanisms they need in order to abstain from alcohol in the future. If you’d like to know more about our alcohol addiction programs and how we can help you or a loved one who is battling addiction, contact us today to book a consultation.