Can I drink alcohol on penicillin and other antibiotics, what are the risks and how long is it safe to take medication?

YOU HAVE just picked up your antibiotics from the pharmacy and they are reminding you to “don’t drink while you’re taking these”.

But how risky is it really to drink wine while taking medication?

Should You Drink Alcohol While Taking Antibiotics?


Should You Drink Alcohol While Taking Antibiotics?

Around two-thirds of adults in the UK report drinking alcohol regularly.

It means that if you have a big night ahead, you’ll likely be prescribed antibiotics at some point.

It’s handy to know the details of when you can and can’t get drunk while taking antibiotics:

Can you drink alcohol with antibiotics?

The NHS reassuringly says: “drinking in moderation is unlikely to cause any problems if you’re taking the most common antibiotics” – with some exceptions (see below).

But overall, it says it’s a “good idea to avoid alcohol if you’re on medication or if you’re unwell.”

Some experts say alcohol can prevent antibiotics from working properly.

The Mayo Clinic says alcohol can reduce your energy and delay recovery from illness.

Alcohol is also a diuretic that causes dehydration, which isn’t ideal if you’re feeling unwell.

Alcohol can also increase existing symptoms such as dizziness or lightheadedness.

It’s important to read the package leaflet of any antibiotic you’ve been prescribed if you plan to have a drink.

When is it dangerous to drink alcohol on antibiotics?

There are some circumstances in which people should avoid alcohol altogether, including those taking either metronidazole or tinidazole.

The NHS says you shouldn’t drink alcohol for 48 hours after you’ve stopped taking metronidazole and 72 hours after you’ve stopped taking tinidazole.

Both can be used to clear dental and vaginal infections or infected leg ulcers and pressure sores, while the latter is sometimes used to clear bacteria called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) from the gut.

Alcohol can cause serious reactions when combined with these drugs. Symptoms can include:

  • breathlessness
  • headache
  • chest pain
  • skin redness
  • Increased or irregular heartbeat
  • drowsiness
  • nausea and vomiting

There are some antibiotics that can sometimes interact with alcohol, so you should also be careful if you’re taking:

  • co-trimoxazole – Drinking alcohol while taking co-trimoxazole may occasionally produce a reaction similar to that of metronidazole or tinidazole, although this is very rare.
  • Linezolid – Linezolid (mentioned above) may interact with non-distilled (fermented) alcoholic beverages such as wine, beer, sherry and lager.
  • Doxycycline – It is known to interact with alcohol and the effectiveness of doxycycline may be reduced in individuals with a history of chronic alcohol use.
  • erythromycin – There is some evidence of a minor interaction with alcohol that may slightly weaken or delay the effects of erythromycin.

How long after taking antibiotics is it safe to drink?

Some antibiotic packages indicate a time frame when you should avoid drinking.

For example, you should not drink alcohol for at least 24 hours after completing a prescribed metronidazole cycle and at least 72 hours after completing a prescribed tinidazole cycle.

With other antibiotics, there are usually no side effects if you drink, but it’s a good idea to avoid alcohol until you’ve recovered.

What are antibiotics?

Antibiotics are used to treat or prevent certain bacterial infections by killing certain bacteria.

Some antibiotics are also prescribed when there is a risk of more serious complications from an infection – for example after surgery.

Different antibiotics target different strains of bacteria.

Some are highly specialized and only effective against certain bacteria, while others, called “broad-spectrum” antibiotics, attack a wider range of bacteria.

Doses are either oral, topical — like creams and lotions used to treat skin infections — or intravenous, meaning they’re given by injection or drip.

The latter are usually used when an infection is more severe.

What is antibiotic resistance?

The NHS and health organizations around the world are trying to reduce the use of antibiotics, as overuse has meant the drugs are less effective – and has led to the emergence of ‘superbugs’.

Superbugs can be serious and difficult to treat, and are becoming a growing killer worldwide.

Previously, it turned out that doctors’ warnings that a course of antibiotics must be completed were wrong – and potentially endangering patients and fueling the rise of deadly superbugs.

Current NHS advice says: “It is important to stop taking a prescribed course of antibiotics even if you are feeling better”.

Antibiotics: A ticking time bomb Can I drink alcohol on penicillin and other antibiotics, what are the risks and how long is it safe to take medication?

Sarah Y. Kim

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