Should You Mix Alcohol and Antibiotics?

Antibiotics are a common way to treat bacterial infections. Doctors prescribe antibiotics over 250 million times a year. Chances are, you’ve taken antibiotics for some ailment. 

You may be wondering if it’s safe to drink alcohol while you’re taking antibiotics. The simple answer is, you shouldn’t mix alcohol and antibiotics

Alcohol interacts with many drugs, including most antibiotics. Drinking when you’re taking antibiotics can make you sick. It can make side effects worse. It can also stop your antibiotic from working properly by hurting your body’s healing process. 

You should know how alcohol interacts with any medications you take before you drink. That includes antibiotics. Talk to your doctor if you aren’t sure whether you should mix alcohol with any prescription or over-the-counter drugs. If there’s any question about safety, then avoid alcohol. 

Can You Drink Alcohol When You’re Taking Antibiotics?

You shouldn’t drink alcohol when you’re taking antibiotics. The first reason is that if you’re taking antibiotics, you’re probably sick from an infection. 

Drinking makes it harder for your body to recover from infections. When you drink alcohol, your body’s immune system makes fewer white blood cells. These cells are your first line of defense against harmful bacteria. 

Without them, you’re likely to have a harder time getting better. That’s true even if you’re taking antibiotics. Binge drinking once while healing from an infection can drop your white blood cell count and set your healing back. 

Alcoholics are much more likely to die from infections than people who don’t abuse alcohol. 

That alone is a reason to avoid alcohol when you take antibiotics. But there are more ways alcohol can damage your body when mixed with antibiotics.

Some include: 

  • Worse side effects
  • Alcohol intolerance
  • Increased effects from drinking 
  • Problems with your blood pressure
  • Organ damage
  • Nervous system damage 

How Do Alcohol and Antibiotics Interact?

There are seven types of antibiotics and over a hundred different antibiotics. They can all affect you differently when you combine them with drinking. 

Some antibiotics cause alcohol intolerance. Some examples are Flagyl and Tindamax. You might receive these drugs to treat a vaginal, intestinal, or urinary infection. Combining them with alcohol can give you severe nausea, vomiting, and vertigo.

Other antibiotics make your blood pressure rise when you combine them with alcohol. Zyvox is an example. It’s used for pneumonia and antibiotic-resistant infections.  You can become seriously ill if you drink while you’re on this type of drug.

Still, other antibiotics can cause central nervous system damage when you mix them with alcohol. Seromycin has this effect. It treats lung infections, such as tuberculosis. But if you drink alcohol when you’re taking it, you could have seizures. 

If you have any questions about how your antibiotic interacts with alcohol, then check in with your doctor.  

Antibiotic Interactions With Alcohol

Most commonly, alcohol makes antibiotic side effects worse. That means worse nausea, diarrhea, and fatigue. But the combination can affect your body in other ways, too. 

Some combinations are more dangerous than others. Drinking alcohol while on an antibiotic that causes intolerance will make you feel sick and want to stop drinking. But drinking while you’re taking other antibiotics can cause liver damage, high blood pressure, or nervous system problems. 

Alcohol and Antibiotic Side Effects

Many antibiotics cause side effects, which might include: 

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Alcohol can cause all of these side effects by itself. When you combine an antibiotic with alcohol, the side effects can be stronger than from either drug by itself. 

Drinking also causes dehydration, which makes these side effects worse. 

If the side effects are caused by alcohol with antibiotics, then they’ll lessen when you stop drinking. You should seek medical help if you think you’re having an emergency. 

Antibiotics and Alcohol Intolerance

Some antibiotics make your body unable to handle alcohol. They include: 

  • Bactrim
  • Flagyl 
  • Septra
  • Sulfatrim
  • Tindamax

You can experience severe side effects when you drink alcohol on these drugs. Any amount of alcohol can cause problems, no matter how small. The side effects include migraines, flushing, vertigo, chest pain, and severe nausea and vomiting. 

Antibiotics and Alcohol Effects

Erythromycin and azithromycin can intensify the effects of alcohol. They’re used for skin infections, ear infections, and sexually transmitted infections. 

When you take these drugs and drink alcohol, your body takes in alcohol faster and holds onto it for longer. You might feel the effects more quickly than you’re used to, and they might take longer to wear off. 

This can lead to alcohol poisoning if you drink too much. You could also experience unpleasant side effects, such as flushing, severe migraine, and heart palpitations. 

Antibiotics, Alcohol, and Blood Pressure

Zyvox is a drug that’s used to treat lung and skin infections. A chemical called tyramine is found in some kinds of alcohol, including beer, wine, and liquor. When you take Zyvox, it interacts with tyramine in your body to cause blood pressure problems. 

This can lead to a hypertensive crisis. A hypertensive crisis can be fatal. The symptoms include: 

  • Balance problems
  • Confusion
  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Seizures 
  • Vision problems 
  • Weakness 

Never drink alcohol while on Zyvox. Avoid medications and products that contain alcohol, such as mouthwash and cough medication. 

If you think you’re having a hypertensive crisis, call for emergency medical care right away. It can be fatal. 

Antibiotics, Alcohol, and Organ Damage

Many antibiotics are hard on the liver. This is true especially for ones that are used for severe infections such as tuberculosis. Alcohol is hard on the liver, too. The combination can be too much for your body, causing liver damage. 

Signs of liver damage include:

  • Low appetite 
  • Bruising
  • Fatigue 
  • Spider veins
  • Sexual problems 
  • Stomach pain
  • Swelling 
  • Trouble concentrating and thinking 
  • Yellow skin and eyes 

You may see signs right away, or they might come on later in the course of antibiotics. The more you drink, the worse the potential for liver damage is. 

Combining alcohol and any antibiotic could cause liver damage. But some types of antibiotics carry a higher risk than others. Antibiotics that are especially likely to cause liver damage include: 

  • Pyrazinamide
  • Isoniazid INH
  • Rifadin

These drugs are all used to treat tuberculosis. Liver damage caused by these drugs and alcohol can turn into liver failure. This can be fatal. Never drink alcohol when taking these types of antibiotics. 

Antibiotics, Alcohol, and Nervous System Damage

Seromycin makes the central nervous system more sensitive to the effects of alcohol. It’s used to treat tuberculosis. 

When you drink alcohol while on Seromycin, it can cause central nervous system toxicity. This causes seizures. In more severe cases, it can also cause psychotic and depressive symptoms. Doctors won’t prescribe Seromycin to people who have a history of alcoholism because the risk can be so high. 

Can Alcohol and Antibiotics Kill You?

Most people don’t die when they mix antibiotics and alcohol. But different drugs carry different risks. The risk of drinking while on Zyvox is much higher than the risk while on penicillin, for example. 

Your doctor should review the risks of alcohol with you when he prescribes an antibiotic. You should check drug labels for alcohol warnings when you start taking a new antibiotic. A pharmacist can answer any questions you have about side effects brought on by alcohol. 

No matter what kind of interaction, it’s better to avoid drinking alcohol when you’re on antibiotics. Alcohol makes it harder for your body to heal from infections whether you’re taking antibiotics or not. 

Even a tiny amount of alcohol can cause side effects when you’re on antibiotics. That includes the small amounts of alcohol found in products such as cough medications and mouthwashes. 

Most antibiotics are prescribed for a few weeks or less. Often, it’s just a week or two. Consider waiting it out until your medication has run its course before you resume drinking in moderation. You’ll heal better without alcohol, and you might have an easier recovery with fewer antibiotic side effects. 

Get Treatment for Alcohol Addiction

If you have an alcohol abuse problem, then it can be impossible to stay away from alcohol while you’re on antibiotics. But the risk to your health is too high to ignore. 

A substance abuse treatment center can give you the support you need to recover from alcohol addiction. Don’t let your disorder take over your life and health. With the right care, you can have a successful journey to a sober life. Call an addiction treatment center today to take the first step. 

  1. Center for Disease Control and Prevention: Antibiotic prescribing and use
  2. The Atlantic: 10-year study finds high death rate
  3. Healthline: Combining antibiotics and alcohol: is it safe?

Written by Spring Hill Recovery Editorial Team

© 2024 Spring Hill Recovery | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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