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Prescription for a Safe Celebration

Aspirus Expert’s Tips on Navigating Alcohol and Medication During the Holidays


Matthew Wateski, Aspirus Pharmacy Resident

Recent research from the University of Wisconsin (UW) reveals a sobering fact: Wisconsin leads the U.S. with a 26 percent rate of excessive drinking, including both binge and heavy drinking. This statistic gains even more significance this time of the year. With the holiday season in full swing, it’s important to prioritize responsible choices and promote a safe and enjoyable holiday for everyone.


"Mixing alcohol with prescription drugs or over-the-counter medications can compromise their effectiveness, worsen side effects, and even introduce new, unpleasant symptoms over time,” cautions Matthew Wateski, Aspirus Pharmacy Resident. “The side effects really depend on the specific medications you're taking, so it’s important to learn your individual risks to help you make informed choices while enjoying the holiday season."


For individuals managing high blood pressure or chest pain with medications, the combination with alcohol can lead to adverse effects. Wateski explains, "Drinking alcohol, even in short periods, can increase blood pressure, rendering medications less effective. Symptoms such as dizziness, headache, and lightheadedness may intensify, accompanied by an elevated heart rate."


In the realm of diabetes management, Wateski points out a critical concern. "Common medications like metformin come with a warning for lactic acidosis, which is an increase in lactic acid. Alcohol can also cause increases in lactic acid production, so when taken together, lactic acid buildup can reach dangerously high levels. You may experience nausea, vomiting, fainting and lightheadedness.”


For those grappling with depression or anxiety, combining medications such as Elavil, Zoloft, Xanax, Valium, Ambien, or Lunesta with alcohol can be dangerous. Matthew advises, "This mixture may result in increased dizziness, extreme fatigue, and even dangerous decreases in consciousness or breathing rates."


When it comes to antibiotics, take extreme caution. "Alcohol and antibiotics, when combined, can have harsh side effects on the stomach, such as nausea and diarrhea. Severe reactions are possible with specific antibiotics like Flagyl or Bactrim, taken for certain infections, and can lead to facial flushing, sweating, increased heart rate, or drops in blood pressure," says Wateski.


Matthew emphasizes the need for open communication with health care providers, especially for those prescribed opioids like Vicodin, Lortab, or Oxycodone. "Combining these medications with alcohol can lead to life-threatening respiratory issues and extreme fatigue. Discussing your alcohol use with your provider is crucial to avoid these dangerous side effects."


Even seemingly harmless over-the-counter pain medications like Tylenol require caution. Wateski says, “When you’re drinking alcohol and taking Tylenol together, your liver is working double duty with these two agents.” Wateski also highlights the risk of stomach bleeding or ulcers when combining nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications like Ibuprofen or Naproxen with alcohol.


Wateski concludes that, ultimately, moderation and transparency are key. He adds, “It’s extremely important to have open communication with health care providers and pharmacists when considering alcohol and medication interactions. Everyone should be aware of any potential side effects to ensure safe and healthy holiday celebrations.”



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