Drug and Alcohol

Antibiotics and Alcohol: Can You Drink While Taking Antibiotics?

The Risks of Mixing Antibiotics and Alcohol

Is it safe to mix antibiotics and alcohol? It may surprise you to hear that this is a risky thing to do. Our blog explores the dangers.

Not many people know that antibiotics have an extensive history that is as old as humankind. The medical invention that revolutionized the world in the 20th century has a long history before modern medicine. Ironically, we have been using antibiotics to treat infections in the past without even knowing they were caused by bacteria. In the early times, people used to make use of plant extracts and mold to treat infections.

Today, we know its importance in treating bacteria-causing conditions like pneumonia, diarrhea, urinary tract infection, strep throat, whooping cough, and antimicrobial chemotherapy. It has been saving lives for a long time and continues to do so even today. 

However, despite all these achievements and advancements, there is much to understand. Antibiotic medications can have severe side effects and contribute to deaths caused by antimicrobial and antibiotic resistance.

Besides this, antibiotics have an unpredictable reaction when they are mixed or combined with other substances, including medications and alcohol.

Antibiotics and Alcohol: What Are Antibiotics?

Antibiotics are antibacterial agents that are generally in the form of powerful medication. They are designed to kill, slow down the growth, or stop the bacteria from multiplying. Doctors generally prescribe over-the-counter antibiotics to treat infections that are caused by bacteria.

Antibiotics cannot and do not fight against viruses that cause cough, cold, and flu. They only work against bacterial infection by destroying it and its antibodies. So even before they begin to reproduce, multiply, and lead to infectious symptoms, our immune system eliminates them. We have white blood cells that protect us from harmful bacteria.

However, there are times when foreign bacteria are more powerful or excessive, and our immune system cannot deal with them. This is where antibiotics come in. They can help and aid this process.

Antibiotics and Alcohol: A Short History of Antibiotics

John Parkinson is said to be the first person to document molds' use against viruses. So even though antibiotics have been used millennia before, he was the first to document the treatment. Similarly, penicillin was the first antibiotic that was discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928. This was a time changer in the modern era and revolutionized medicine in the 20th century.  

Penicillin was used widely during wartime, and many antibiotics are based on it. Some penicillin-based antibiotics are penicillin G, ampicillin, and amoxicillin. They have been used in treating various bacterial infections for a long time and are still available.

Today, there is a wide array of antibiotics available in drug stores. They are prescription drugs and require a prescription to be procured. Apart from medication, there are a few over-the-counter antibiotic ointments and creams. 

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Antibiotics and Alcohol: How Do Antibiotics Work?

Before discussing the working of antibiotics, let's learn what kind of treatment antibiotics provide. Antibiotics have various types and can treat conditions such as ear infections, bacterial pneumonia, sexually transmitted diseases, urinary tract infections or UTIs, and skin infections like acne, strep throat, whooping cough, and sepsis.

Antibiotics are the type of medications that are not only given to humans but also to animals. Bacterial infections are caused by microbes or germs known as bacteria. They can live, survive, and grow in various environments, including inside and outside bodies. Bacteria are usually harmless, but sometimes they can cause infections. 

There are wide arrays of antibiotics, most of which work in different and unique ways. Despite this, we can say that they can work in two ways. First, a bactericidal antibiotic like penicillin eliminates bacteria. They work by interfering with bacterial cell walls or after their cell contents. The second way is by stopping the bacteria from multiplying.

Generally, all antibiotics are safe to use. This is especially the case when they are used per the directions qualified medical healthcare providers give. But there is a possibility of having side effects.

Antibiotics and Alcohol: How Long Do Antibiotics Take to Work?

Antibiotics have varied types, but they all work almost instantly. It can take a few hours or, in some cases, a few days after the initial dose. For instance, amoxicillin is a penicillin-based antibiotic that takes only an hour to peak in the user's body. But even though the medication will quickly start its effect, relief from the symptoms will happen only after some time.

Some experts claim that typically antibiotics will show improvement within 1 to 3 days. This much time is needed for the user to feel the effect because our immune system responds to some illnesses in a way that leads to symptoms. So, it can take some time to cool down after bacteria are destroyed. 

There are a few antibiotics that work at a much quicker pace. For instance, fosfomycin is an antibiotic medication given to people suffering from urinary tract infections. They work as soon as the first dose is administered, and only one is required. We also have tetracycline, which can take a longer time. The treatment can take several weeks before the patient feels and experiences any improvements.

So, in short, the timeline of antibiotic effectiveness depends on the type of infection and the bacteria's susceptibility to the given antibiotic. 

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Antibiotics and Alcohol: What Are the Side Effects of Antibiotics?

Antibiotics are very safe to use, but similar to any medication, they also have side effects. These side effects can range from usual and commonly experienced to uncommon ones. Both are mentioned in detail below. 

Commonly felt side effects are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, rash, upset stomach, unusual sensitivity to sunlight when using tetracyclines antibiotics, and fungal infection in the digestive tract, mouth, or vagina.

Unusual side effects can include severe aches and pain while taking fluoroquinolones, hearing loss while taking aminoglycosides or macrolides, decreased platelet count and granulocyte while taking penicillin, kidney stones after taking sulfonamides, bowel inflammation, and bloody diarrhea in elders. 

What Happens When You Mix Antibiotics and Alcohol?

Whether it is a medication or any narcotic substance, mixing it with alcohol is generally unwise. It’s the same with antibiotics – taking them with alcohol is never a good idea. This warning is even mentioned in the packaging of antibiotic medicines.

Some people do not take this warning seriously and think it is a misconception to be extra careful. Many doctors and medical professionals have stated that one of the most frequently asked questions regarding antibiotics is whether or not it's safe to drink alcohol on them, or how long a person should wait to drink alcohol after taking antibiotics.

Drinking on antibiotics is unsafe, and it can lead to severe repercussions. Why? Because it can interfere with the treatment process.

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Why Is Mixing Alcohol with Antibiotics a Bad Idea?

When our bodies break down a substance like alcohol, it leads to the production of acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde makes us feel nauseous. People typically prescribed antibiotics already suffer from digestive and stomach side effects. Drinking these antibiotics will worsen this as the user will experience nausea too. The combination can also obstruct cognitive functioning leading to coordination and concentration-related issues.

Apart from this, alcohol and antibiotics will cause trouble in sleeping and hydration of the body. These components of our body are critical while fighting bacterial infections. So it's better to stay away from alcohol while on antibiotics. 

Dangers of Mixing Alcohol and Antibiotics

Antibiotics and alcohol are dangerous when mixed together because they have separate side effects that can lead to complications in the user's physical, mental, and behavioral state. Many may not be aware that some antibiotic medications can lead to violent physical reactions when combined with alcohol.

These include antibiotics like linezolid and metronidazole prescribed during skin and intestinal tract infections.

Sulfamethoxazole and Trimethoprim are also antibiotics that can cause severe physical issues. These medications are given during ear infections, UTIs, and pneumonia. A few side effects and dangers of mixing antibiotics and alcohol are mentioned below. 

Side Effects of Antibiotics

Antibiotic side effects include nausea, dizziness, diarrhea, sleepiness, and lightheadedness.

Side Effects of Alcohol

Alcohol side effects can include tiredness, upset stomach, digestive issues like ulcers, and stomach pain.

A combination of alcohol and antibiotics can lead to flushing, a racing heart rate, severe headache, fatigue, chest pain, anxiety, heart palpitation, dizziness, bloody stool or mucus, intense stomach cramping, uncontrollable vomiting, and liver and organ damage. 

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Antibiotic Resistance

You may have been familiar with antibiotic or antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Antibiotic resistance is a subset of antimicrobial resistance that occurs when the bacterium changes itself and can fight against the antibiotic medications designed to kill it.

On the other hand, antimicrobial resistance happens when microbes evolve and render antimicrobial medication useless. It becomes capable of protecting itself from the drugs that are made to kill them. Antibiotic resistance can create many problems and pose limitations on treatment options. 

The Danger of Antibiotic Resistance

Antimicrobial resistance is a severe worldwide health concern. As per the World Health Organization (WHO) estimations, by the year 2050, more than 350 million people could die due to AMR. This would mean we can have 10 million deaths yearly because of it.

In the US, nearly 2.8 million Americans become infected with bacteria that have developed resistance to antibiotics. Among them, as many as 35,000 people lost their lives. We are currently in a situation where various bacterium strains have become superbugs. Superbugs are bacteria that have become resistant to several types of antibiotics. 

So when antibiotic resistance occurs, it becomes difficult to treat the person. The antibiotics that could have been effective become useless after this. They either stop working or become less effective. Unfortunately, it can take time for the doctors and medical team to realize what is happening.

There is a possibility that, in the meantime, a patient can become sicker. As soon as medical professionals identify the signs of antibiotic resistance, they can experiment with new things. They can invent new drugs to fight the infection or can combine different medications to get the required reaction. But this also comes with the risk of increasing resistance and experiencing new side effects. 

Is Alcohol Use Interfering with Your Medications? The Edge Treatment Center Will Help

Drinking while taking antibiotics is never a good idea. Alcohol can interact with the medication, causing unpleasant side effects and interference with the treatment itself.

Alcohol use can reduce the effectiveness of some antibiotics, as well as increase the risk of certain side effects. For instance, drinking alcohol while taking metronidazole or tinidazole may cause nausea, vomiting, headaches, and flushing. Furthermore, combining alcohol with certain antibiotics, such as linezolid or erythromycin, can cause a rapid heartbeat and high blood pressure.

At The Edge Treatment Center, we understand the complexities of addiction and know how to help you get your life back on track. Our dedicated team of professionals is here to provide you with compassionate care during your journey to sobriety and recovery. We provide evidence-based treatment to help you get the most out of your recovery process, while also helping you learn how to manage any medications or treatments that could be affected by alcohol use.

We strive to create an individualized and comprehensive plan tailored to address your unique needs. Through our holistic approach and personalized care, we will guide you on a path of sustainable recovery.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use and addiction, The Edge Treatment Center can help. Contact us today to learn more about our services and how we can help you on the path to recovery.

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Written by

brian-mooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

jeremy-arztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

Drug and Alcohol

September 12, 2023