Warnings to avoid consumption with alcohol can be found on quite a few medications. You may wonder, is there really harm in having just one drink? While a drink or two may be okay with some medications, alcohol should be avoided altogether with others because of the dangerous interactions that can occur between alcohol and the medication. Three medications that interact with alcohol are NSAIDs (ibuprofen), sedatives (sleeping medications and anti-anxiety medications), and antibiotics.
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NSAID labels warn against drinking more than three drinks while taking the medication. This is because the interactions between NSAIDs and alcohol can have dangerous results. For example, NSAIDs decrease the amount of alcohol broken down after consumption by inhibiting enzymes needed for alcohol metabolism. This causes a higher than normal blood alcohol level, which can be lethal if it becomes high enough. Alternatively, alcohol can increase free radical productionc by NSAIDs, which damages the body and increases the already present risk for liver and kidney damage.
A combination of alcohol and sedatives, on the other hand, is dangerous due to their synergistic effects. Alcohol and sedatives are both classified as depressants and reduce brain activity. Taking the two together can cause significant drowsiness, which can impair normal functioning and increase risk in certain activities, such as driving. Consuming alcohol with a specific type of sedative called barbiturates can additionally lead to an increased risk of overdose; because alcohol and barbiturates are broken down by a similar mechanism, having alcohol present in the body reduces the metabolism of the barbiturates, prolonging their effect.
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In comparison to NSAIDs and sedatives, antibiotics with alcohol do not affect the breakdown or strength of the medications. Instead, this combination increases the side effects experienced and can even cause more severe side effects of antibiotics such as nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. However, different antibiotics interact differently, so a universal mechanism of action for this interaction is unpredictable. One antibiotic called metronidazole is thought to inhibit the action of enzymes involved in alcohol metabolism.
Overall, alcohol and medications can interact by many different mechanisms, some more lethal than others. It is important to note that even medications that may seem low risk can dangerously interact with alcohol, so warnings should be observed, and a physician should be consulted when consuming alcohol along with medication.
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