Combining Prescription Medication and Alcohol

Blog Submitted by Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC for Addiction Hope

Countless Americans across the nation are legally using a prescription medication under the supervision of their physician. Research from the Mayo Clinic revealed that nearly 7 out of 10 Americans are on at least one prescription drug, with twenty percent of patients taking five or more prescription medications [1].

While these drugs can range from antibiotics to painkillers to medications that lower blood pressure and cholesterol, the most commonly prescribed medications are painkillers and antidepressants [1].

Adding to this, many Americans use alcohol, which in combination with certain prescription medications can produce many negative consequences. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has estimated that two-thirds of American adults occasionally use alcohol, with fifty percent of these being regular drinkers [2].

The Risks of Combining Alcohol and Prescription Medications

With a large percentage of Americans who take prescription medications and consume alcohol on a regular basis, the chances that individuals are combining the two are highly likely. What are the risks of alcohol and prescription medication interactions?

Consuming alcohol with prescription medications can decrease the overall effectiveness of the drug, cause harmful side effects, or make the medication toxic to the body. Some of the negative consequences that can result from mixing alcohol and prescription drugs include the following:

  • Drowsiness or lethargy
  • Gastrointestinal distress, such as nausea and vomiting, ulcers, or stomach bleeding
  • Loss of coordination, confusion
  • Lightheadedness
  • Headaches
  • Cardiovascular complications, such as heart palpitations, changes in blood pressure
  • Slowed or difficulty breathing
  • Abnormal or unusual behavior

The long term consequences that can develop from alcohol and prescription drug interactions include liver failure, internal bleeding, heart damage, and increased susceptibility to mental issues such as anxiety and depression.

Read All Warning Labels and Follow Instructions

The use of alcohol with prescription drugs, regardless of the amount, can induce adverse effects that can severely impact a person’s health and well-being. For these reasons, it is crucial to carefully read all warning labels of any prescription medications that you may be taking before considering an alcoholic drink.

Medical conditions and health problems can become worse by the potentially toxic effect that is created by the interaction of alcohol with prescription drugs. If you are unsure if it is safe to consume alcohol with a medication that you are currently taking, be sure to check with your pharmacists and physician.


  1. Mayo Clinic News Network, “Nearly 7 in 10 Americans Take Prescriptions Drugs, May Clinic, Olmsted Medical Center Find”
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Alcohol use and your health”,