Antibiotics are prescription medications designed to impair or destroy bacteria growth. They are prescribed to fight related infections and work by stopping bacteria from reproducing or destroying that which exists. Antibiotics are sometimes needed because foreign bacteria tend to attack excessively, making it challenging for the body’s defense mechanisms to fight infections alone. Unfortunately, in some cases, alcohol can undermine the actions of antibiotics.
Drinking alcohol can decrease or increase liver enzymes, leading to a subsequent decrease or increase in the body’s available antibiotics. Alcohol makes antibiotics ineffective or can even cause toxicity and increase the risk of experiencing the unwanted side effects of these medications.
Dangers of Drinking While Taking Antibiotics
Antibiotics and alcohol both have adverse side effects that can be intense. Therefore, combining them is never advised—drinking while on antibiotics can lead to severe fatigue, heart palpitations, and headache, among other unwanted effects. Alcohol is also known to exacerbate digestive system issues, and thus, drinking while taking antibiotics prescribed for digestive conditions is risky.
Alcohol can lead to severe diarrhea, uncontrollable vomiting, intense abdominal pain, and fever when combined with antibiotics meant to treat digestive-related issues. Alcohol consumed with antibiotics can also cause damage to the liver and kidneys. Alcohol can also undermine the body’s immune system and adversely affect overall recovery. Besides impairing the healing process, alcohol can place a person at risk of contracting new infections.
How Antibiotics Effect the Immune System
In typical situations, the immune system can destroy harmful bacteria before it multiplies and causes health complications. In some instances, the immune system may need assistance, which is where antibiotics can help kill or retard the growth of bacteria in addition to the efforts of the immune system.
Drinking alcohol undermines the immune system by decreasing the number of white blood cells readily available to defend the body against infection. It also compromises cytokine production, which are messenger molecules responsible for immune system response. Since alcohol impairs the immune system, it’s easy to see why people who experience alcohol addiction tend to suffer from bacterial infections such as pneumonia and tuberculosis.
Side Effects of Consuming Antibiotics and Alcohol
Antibiotics are used to treat various bacterial infections ranging from lung, skin, and stomach infections. Side effects can include chest pain, breathing problems, rapid heart rate, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and skin flushing. Some antibiotics can cause effects such as confusion, dizziness, and drowsiness.
Potentially Dangerous Interactions Between Antibiotics and Alcohol
Many antibiotics are known to cause extremely adverse reactions when combined with alcohol. These responses range from nausea and vomiting to dizziness, headaches, anxiety, chest pains, and heart palpitations. These symptoms are similar to those of alcohol intolerance induced by medication such as disulfiram (Antabuse) prescribed to persons with alcohol abuse problems.
Antibiotics such as Zyvox (linezolid), commonly prescribed to treat pneumonia and skin infections, can also lead to hazardous interactions when combined with alcohol. Drinks that include tyramine can cause sudden blood pressure spikes when combined with linezolid. Other antibiotics like cycloserine commonly prescribed to persons with tuberculosis can dramatically increase seizure risk.
Potential Organ Damage
Mixing antibiotics and alcohol can cause damage to a person’s organs. For example, common treatments like pyrazinamide and Rifadin can have a severe effect on the liver, and when combined with alcohol, they can result in severe liver damage. The potential for organ damage is so intense that persons who have a history of alcohol addiction should not be prescribed these medications.
Which Antibiotics Shouldn’t I Take While Consuming Alcohol?
You should strictly avoid alcohol while continuing the course of these antibiotic medications below. These include the following:
While most antibiotics will produce some side effects when taken in conjunction with alcohol, some antibiotics will lead to more severe effects than others. Drinking alcohol with common antibiotics like metronidazole or tinidazole can lead to severe diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. These side effects can lead to heart palpitations and dehydration.
Trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (e.g., Bactrim) can also lead to severe nausea and rapid heart rate when used in addition to alcohol. Erythromycin can increase intoxication due to its tendency to empty the digestive system and potentially cause lethal alcohol poisoning.
Although drinking a small amount of alcohol while taking antibiotics won’t prove lethal, it can produce unpleasant side effects. However, heavy consumption of alcohol and the use of antibiotics can lead to severe health issues that can lead to dire health complications, and death is a possibility.
Should I Skip an Antibiotic Dose to Drink?
Skipping a dose of antibiotics to consume alcohol affects the medication’s overall effectiveness. Treatment can fail if a person does not take antibiotics as prescribed. The infection may last longer or reoccur, creating a need for a more potent dose and an extended treatment period. There’s also a risk of becoming resistant to antibiotics.
Does Alcohol Negate the Effects of Antibiotics?
Again, alcohol can cause organ damage when taken in addition to antibiotics. Without a liver that works correctly, antibiotics can’t be metabolized efficiently. Alcohol is broken down in the liver using the enzyme ADH (alcohol dehydrogenase). If a person drinks an excessive amount of alcohol when they take antibiotics, the actions of ADH can be repressed.
Can Alcohol Impair Healing From an Infection?
Drinking alcohol will probably not wholly undermine antibiotics’ actions in most instances. However, it can impair the body’s ability to heal in many ways. To recover from an infection or sickness, an individual needs adequate rest and a nutritious diet. Alcohol makes it difficult to rest adequately and maintain a balanced diet.
Alcohol interrupts sleeping patterns. Contrary to popular belief, alcohol does not improve sleep but, in fact, reduces REM sleep. It also prevents the body from absorbing nutrients. It can make sleeping difficult and reduce the body’s ability to battle infections.
How Long After Using Antibiotics Is It Safe to Consume Alcohol?
The antibiotics a person is taking may dictate how long they should wait before drinking alcohol. For example, the makers of metronidazole recommend that patients wait for approximately 48 hours after taking the last dose before resuming alcohol use. This is related to the time it takes for metronidazole to be eliminated from an adult’s body entirely.
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