Antibiotics are prescribed medications used in treating and preventing infections. They are usually ingested orally, and patients take the medication for a 7 to 14-day period.
When a patient is prescribed antibiotics, they are told not to consume any alcohol while on the medication. This is because of a widespread belief that antibiotics interact negatively with alcohol.
While this is true for some antibiotics, it doesn’t apply to all. Your doctor will discuss the medication they are prescribing and instructions will vary based on the particular antibiotic you’re being told to take.
In this article we’ll discuss the effects of mixing certain antibiotics with alcohol. We will also take a look at alcohol’s overall effect on the immune system.
Effects of Drinking Alcohol on Antibiotics
Most Antibiotics fall into one of five major categories. Each category interacts differently with alcohol. Because prescriptions of antibiotics have become so commonplace, it makes sense to look at each type and how they react in your system if you drink alcohol on antibiotics.
Tetracyclines are used to fight bacterial infections. Some of the more popular antibiotics from this class are doxycycline and minocycline.
Doctors typically advise patients to avoid alcohol when on doxycycline because alcohol can speed up the body’s ability to process the medication. Since alcohol forces doxycycline to move through the body faster, the effects of the drug are reduced.
This class of antibiotic is prescribed to combat urinary, abdominal, and respiratory infections. One of the more popular sulfonamides is a drug doctors refer to as Septra. It is actually a combination of two drugs called sulfamethoxazole and trimethoprim.
One side effect of Septra is a manipulation of folic acid levels. If someone drinks alcohol regularly, they may have lower levels of folic acid to begin with and may want to avoid taking Septra. An occasional drink may be ok with Septra, but doctors should use caution when prescribing Septra to someone who drinks regularly.
The FDA has recently issued an update to fluoroquinolone labels. Labels for these prescriptions now have to include the possible mental health side effects associated with the drugs. Confusion, memory loss, anxiety, disorientation, nervousness, distraction, and agitation are all possible side effects of this class of antibiotic.
Mixing alcohol with the drug can increase the risk of these side effects. This group of antibiotics has also been known to induce seizures in rare cases. Patients with a history of seizures are most at risk, and consuming alcohol has been known to lower the seizure threshold.
An occasional drink may be fine with fluoroquinolones, but more than that may cause central nervous system side effects.
These are typically used for abdominal or sexually transmitted infections. Antibiotics from this group suppress the enzyme used in the digestion of alcohol. This, ultimately, increases the toxic effects of drinking alcohol.
Abdominal cramping, vomiting, nausea, facial flushing, and headaches are all possible side effects of combining alcohol with nitroimidazoles. Doctors suggest avoiding alcohol during treatment with these antibiotics. In fact, they recommend avoiding alcohol for up to 3 days after treatment as well.
It should be noted that not everyone is at risk for these side effects. Risk levels will vary depending on the individual, but it is generally recommended to avoid alcohol while taking nitroimidazoles.
Antibiotics in this family are typically used to treat abdominal, urinary tract, skin, and lung infections. By their nature, these medications break down enzymes in the body known as monoamine oxidases. These enzymes are important in the breakdown of a substance called Tyramine, which is present in tap beers and red wine.
If people drink tap beer or red wine while on one of these medications, it may increase the levels of tyramine in the blood. The side effects caused when this occurs can be either mild, moderate or severe.
Mild side effects of drinking alcohol on these antibiotics include fever, agitation, rapid heartbeat, unusual sweating.
The moderate side effects of combining these medications with alcohol are: high blood pressure, abnormal heartbeat, vomiting, rapid breathing, and changes in mental status.
As side effects escalate to severe, a patient can experience muscle spasms, muscle rigidity, seizures, coma, or cardiorespiratory depression.
Strong cheeses and smoked meats can also contain tyramine. In addition to red wine and tap beer, these items should be avoided as well.
Effects of Alcohol on The Immune System
While drinking alcohol on antibiotics presents its own side effects, alcohol itself can have a significant effect on the immune system.
Researchers say that moderate alcohol consumption may actually have positive effects on the immune system. One drink per day for women, and two drinks per day for men, is said to lower the risk of infection. Binge drinking, drinking 4 or 5 drinks or more in a single occasion, has negative effects on the immune system.
Consistent binge drinking can leave an individual’s immune system impaired. With an impaired immune system, it becomes harder to fight off infection.
What Should You Do
If you’re unsure about how to handle the antibiotics you’ve been prescribed, talk to your doctor. Most prescription antibiotics have instructions on the bottle. Reading the label should give you an idea of what to avoid while taking the medication.
Depending on the drug prescribed, your doctor may tell you that occasional drinking is ok. If your doctor tells you not to drink, ask how long you should wait before drinking again. In some cases, you may need to wait 3 days after finishing your course of antibiotics before you are able to drink again.
There are other factors to consider as well before deciding if drinking alcohol on antibiotics is ok. Things like age and overall health also contribute to any possible alcohol-drug interaction.
Ultimately, the best way to avoid negative interactions if you choose to drink while on antibiotics is to consult your doctor or pharmacist. The risks associated with mixing alcohol and antibiotics can be serious. It’s best to just avoid combining the substances altogether. Most courses of antibiotics don’t last longer than 14 days, which will be over before you know it.
If you, or someone you know, is struggling to go 7 or 14 days without a drink, counseling may be a good idea. Reach out to us here at Just Believe Detox if you feel someone may need help getting on the road to recovery. Call: 877-497-6180 for more information about our programs and how we can help.