Can You Drink Alcohol On Painkillers?

Painkillers are subdivided into two main categories: Over-The-Counter and Prescription. Because these types of painkillers have varying strengths, doses, and effects the interactions with alcohol will also vary.

When experiencing acute or chronic pain, many people turn to painkillers. These medications can quickly ease your discomfort. However, some of them have dangerous side effects, especially when mixed with alcohol.

Whether or not you can drink alcohol on painkillers depends on if you use over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers or prescription painkillers. Here’s what you should know.

Alcohol & Over-The-Counter Painkillers

OTC painkillers are pain medications you can purchase at a pharmacy, grocery store, or other location without a prescription. If you are taking an OTC painkiller, you might be able to safely drink a small amount of alcohol.

However, you should talk to your healthcare provider first. The safety of this behavior depends on personal factors, such as:

  • how much alcohol you plan to drink
  • whether you have any preexisting health conditions
  • which OTC painkiller you take, how much you take, and how often you take it

There are two main types of OTC painkillers: acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Acetaminophen & Alcohol

Acetaminophen is often sold under the brand name Tylenol. It provides mild-to-moderate pain relief by increasing your body’s pain threshold. It also acts as a fever reducer. Both acetaminophen and alcohol can cause liver damage.

Mixing the two substances increases this risk, especially if you have preexisting liver problems or use a large amount of either substance.

NSAIDs & Alcohol

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) include aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil), and naproxen (Aleve). These substances can damage your gastrointestinal (GI) tract, causing GI bleeding and ulcers (sores on the stomach, small intestine, or esophagus).

Alcohol raises this risk. Mixing alcohol and NSAIDs can also damage your kidneys, particularly if you already have kidney issues.

Effects Of Mixing OTC Painkillers & Alcohol

If you are taking acetaminophen or an NSAID, your doctor can tell you whether it’s safe to drink alcohol. They can also tell you how much alcohol you can drink and how long you should wait between taking your painkiller and drinking.

If you experience unusual side effects while drinking on an OTC painkiller, contact your doctor right away.

In particular, watch for:

  • signs of liver damage, including yellowish skin or eyes, stomach pain, and nausea
  • signs of kidney damage, including weight loss, shortness of breath, and bloody urine
  • signs of GI bleeding, including faintness, stomach cramps, and black, tarry, or bloody stool
  • signs of ulcers, including stomach pain, bloating, and nausea

Alcohol & Prescription Painkillers

Prescription painkillers are pain medications that must be prescribed by a doctor. The most commonly prescribed painkillers are opioids. They treat moderate-to-severe pain by activating opioid receptors throughout your body. Popular opioids include:

It’s not safe to drink any amount of alcohol while taking opioid painkillers.

Why You Shouldn’t Mix Alcohol & Opioids

It’s not safe to drink alcohol on opioids because both substances slow down your central nervous system. When you mix these substances, your central nervous system may slow to a dangerous degree, causing effects such as:

  • severe drowsiness
  • memory problems
  • low blood pressure
  • slowed heart rate
  • respiratory depression (slow, ineffective breathing)
  • loss of consciousness
  • death

In addition, both opioids and alcohol can cause poor judgment, impulsivity, and confusion. These effects may increase your risk of accidents, including burns, falls, and drownings. They also make you more likely to engage in hazardous behaviors, such as:

  • driving while intoxicated, which can lead to fatal crashes
  • risky sexual behaviors, which can lead to unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases
  • violent behaviors, including intimate partner violence, sexual assault, and homicide

People who mix opioids and alcohol also face an increased risk of substance use disorder (addiction). That’s because both substances cause a rush of relaxation and euphoria (intense joy), making them highly addictive.

Understanding Alcohol & Opioid Addiction

Addiction is a serious disease that makes you feel unable to stop using a substance despite negative consequences.

The most common symptoms of addiction are tolerance and physical dependence.

Tolerance & Dependence

Tolerance means you need increasingly larger or more frequent amounts of a drug to feel the desired effects. Physical dependence means your body starts relying on a drug to function. If you stop using it, you may experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms such as:

  • headache
  • anxiety
  • trouble sleeping
  • shaking
  • sweating
  • nausea and vomiting

Signs & Symptoms

Other symptoms of alcohol and opioid addiction may include:

  • mood swings
  • irritability
  • avoidance of family and friends
  • loss of motivation
  • loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • decline in personal hygiene
  • doctor shopping (visiting multiple doctors to get multiple opioid prescriptions)

When left untreated, alcohol and opioid addiction can lead to other health problems, including heart disease, liver disease, and mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. People with addiction also face a high risk of relationship problems, job loss, and homelessness.

Luckily, addiction is treatable.

Alcohol & Opioid Addiction Treatment

Most treatment plans include medical detox, behavioral therapy, and support groups. Some people also benefit from medication-assisted treatment (MAT). During MAT, doctors prescribe FDA-approved medications to ease cravings and withdrawal symptoms associated with alcohol and opioids.

To learn more about addiction treatment options, please reach out to Spring Hill Recovery Center. Nestled in the peaceful woodlands, our inpatient and outpatient treatment programs offer personalized, evidence-based care to help you or your loved one thrive.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Alcohol Use and Your Health
  2. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism — Harmful Interactions
  3. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus — Acetaminophen
  4. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus — Ibuprofen
  5. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus — Pain Relievers

Written by Spring Hill Recovery Editorial Team

Published on: January 22, 2024

© 2024 Spring Hill Recovery | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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