- Can I drink alcohol if I’m taking painkillers?
- Over-the-counter painkillers
- Side Effects of Mixing Ibuprofen and Alcohol
- Key Points: Ibuprofen and Alcohol
- If You Ever Mix Pain Relievers with Alcohol, You’ll Want to Read This
- Alcohol and Tylenol (or other pain relievers) Don’t Mix
Can I drink alcohol if I’m taking painkillers?
Paracetamol and ibuprofen
Paracetamol and ibuprofen are available without a prescription. Drinking a small amount of alcohol while taking paracetamol or ibuprofen is usually safe, as long as you follow the advice above.
Paracetamol should be used with caution if you have certain health conditions, such as liver problems. Your GP or pharmacist can advise you. Similarly if you have liver or kidney problems, do not take ibuprofen unless your GP tells you it is safe to do so.
Never take more than the recommended dose of either painkiller as this could increase the risk of side effects; some of which are potentially serious.
Aspirin is now less commonly used as a painkiller due to the fact that it is more likely to cause side effects than paracetamol and ibuprofen.
People now often take low-dose aspirin for its blood thinning properties as this can reduce the risk of heart attacks and stroke.
Drinking a small amount of alcohol while taking aspirin is usually safe, as long as you follow the advice above.
Drinking more than the recommended daily limits may lead to bleeding from the stomach.
Lots of medications come with the warning to avoid alcohol when you’re taking them. Antibiotics are a tough one to accept, especially if you’re not feeling particularly sick from what ails you. But reading the labels on pain relievers like Advil (ibuprofen) and Tylenol (acetaminophen) and learning that severe side effects are more likely when you mix them with booze feels downright torturous—especially when your head is pounding and popping a few pills promises sweet relief.
The warnings aren’t there just to taunt you, though. In fact, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and even aspirin, come with potential dangers if you make a habit of taking them with alcohol. “All have risks if you take them, period, as do all medications, but the risks for all three increase if you take them when you drink,” Debra E. Brooks, M.D., an urgent care physician at GoHealth Urgent Care, tells SELF. This goes for immediately post-imbibing, too, when you’re trying to preemptively treat the hangover-induced headache you know will hit in the A.M.
Ibuprofen is a NSAID, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. It works as a pain reducer and, you guessed it, also reduces inflammation. The most concerning side effect is that ibuprofen can cause irritation in the lining of the stomach that can lead to ulcers and bleeding, sometimes without warning. Alcohol on its own is a known irritant to the stomach lining and can cause ulcers in heavy drinkers, so and adding ibuprofen into the mix can compound the effects. Ibuprofen can also be toxic to the liver and kidneys, and though it isn’t a blood thinner, may alter how blood coagulates, either to form clots more easily or to cause easier bleeding, Brooks says.
Your other go-to option is probably acetaminophen, or Tylenol. “It’s completely different, and its analgesic effects have a different mechanism,” Brooks says. It doesn’t affect your blood’s clotting abilities nor does it hurt your stomach lining. But acetaminophen is more toxic to the liver and more often associated with liver failure—often and without warning, Brooks notes—than NSAIDs. When you’re drinking, you’re already sending a toxic substance to your liver and making it work overtime to filter it out. Adding acetaminophen puts additional, overwhelming stress on the organ, increasing the risk of damage.
Aspirin is also a NSAID, and additionally, works as a blood-thinner. “It is an anti-platelet medicine, which means it makes it harder for blood to clot,” Brooks says. That’s why it’s sometimes recommended as preventive medication for those at high risk of heart disease. Its effects on the liver and kidneys are similar to ibuprofen, and it can also cause bleeding in the GI tract. “Alcohol multiplies the blood-thinner effects of aspirin, and heavy drinkers are already at risk of bleeds due to previous damage to the stomach and liver, so they are at far greater risk of bleeding.”
There is some good news: If you’re relatively healthy, and have no existing problems like gastritis or ulcers, or issues with your kidneys or liver, “taking any of these if you are going out to dinner and having one drink is most likely safe,” Brooks reassures. If you have a choice, you probably want to reach for NSAIDs over acetaminophen, which is the worst for your liver. Food also buffers the effects of both alcohol and NSAIDs, so eating something at the same time can help mitigate potential side effects. But if you’re drinking heavily, it might not be so safe. “Again, this depends on the genetic make up and the prior history of the person imbibing. In a certain way, it’s Russian roulette. It’s not a problem, until one day it is,” Brooks says.
When it comes to the morning after, it’s unclear how much of a risk remains because it’s dependent on so many factors including how much the person drinks in general, and how much alcohol is still in their body.
If you have to take pain medication during or after imbibing, curb your drinking to be safe. If you’re popping pills in anticipation of the morning after, it’s best to prevent a hangover the old-fashioned way: by chugging lots of water. Or just don’t drink enough to be hungover in the first place.
Photo Credit: Photo Researchers / Getty Images
If you wake up with a headache after a night of overindulging, sometimes figuring out what painkiller to take can make the headache even worse. Taking acetaminophen (aka Tylenol) can lead to liver damage, but take note: you’re also not supposed to drink while taking ibuprofen.
Ibuprofen drugs (like Advil) are part of the anti-inflammatory drug family known as NSAIDs, which can cause tears in the stomach lining if taken on an empty stomach. Add alcohol to the mix, and the potential danger is heightened. If you take ibuprofen when drinking more than the recommended amount for women (about two to three drinks), you increase your risk of stomach irritation and bleeding. This is especially true for people who are prone to ulcers.
But wait! Taking Tylenol when you’re hungover isn’t such a good idea either, and aspirin has its downsides too. Acetaminophen can lead to liver damage if you take it in large doses for more than a couple of days. Heavy drinkers who take acetaminophen and don’t eat enough can overtax their livers. According to researchers at Harvard Medical School:
If you drink a lot of alcohol — say, on a Saturday night — and take a normal dose of acetaminophen to deal with the hangover in the morning, you probably are not going to have liver problems. . . . The trouble starts when regular heavy drinkers take a lot of acetaminophen over a period of time — several days, at least, and maybe longer. (In this context, heavy drinkers are defined as people who regularly have three or more drinks a day.) A drinking habit and a poor diet often go hand in hand. Multiple high doses of acetaminophen are more dangerous for drinkers partly because their glutathione (an antioxidant produced by the liver that supports the immune system and might fight toxins) levels tend to be low because they don’t eat well.
It may sound like popping a few Tylenols after a night or two of heavy drinking can’t hurt, but the risks associated with taking Tylenol after recreational drinking are somewhat blurry. A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory group found in a review of its database and a large liver failure study that the median dose that led to liver failure was between 5,000 and 7,000 milligrams of acetaminophen per day — scarily close to the current daily limit of 4,000 milligrams (eight extra-strength Tylenol). The FDA group recommended lowering the daily limit to 3,250 milligrams (or 10 regular-strength Tylenol pills a day) to help prevent accidental overdose.
So what’s a hungover, headache-plagued gal to do — besides not drinking so much in the first place? Since the jury is still out on the exact effects of combining Advil or Tylenol with booze, it’s probably best just to tough it out. While a recent study in rats found that coffee and aspirin are the best remedies for relieving hangover symptoms, it didn’t look at possible alcohol interactions — and it is known that taking aspirin with alcohol can increase your risk of stomach bleeding. If you’re looking to remedy a hangover, your best bet is to go natural with options like this fresh-pressed hangover juice or a yoga sequence to relieve your symptoms. Even better, help prevent a hangover the next time with these tips.
Image Source: Getty / gremlin
32 Shares By The Recovery Village Editor Camille Renzoni Reviewer Benjamin Caleb Williams Updated on01/23/20
Many medications cannot be combined with alcohol and may cause serious side effects when taken at the same time as alcohol. Ibuprofen (also called by its brand-name Motrin) is one of these medications.
Ibuprofen is an over-the-counter medication that belongs to a class of drugs called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and is typically used to treat mild pain or inflammation. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism warns that taking ibuprofen and alcohol around the same time can lead to several adverse health effects.
Side Effects of Mixing Ibuprofen and Alcohol
Several risks can occur when ibuprofen and alcohol are taken around the same time. These risks are lower when smaller amounts of alcohol are used but are still a factor. The more alcohol that is used with ibuprofen, the more likely it is that severe side effects will occur.
According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, some of the risks of mixing alcohol and ibuprofen include:
- Gastrointestinal bleeding: A possible side effect of long-term ibuprofen use or overuse is bleeding within the stomach or intestines. When ibuprofen is mixed with alcohol, the risk of internal bleeding increases. Anyone who is vomiting or defecating blood and believes they may be experiencing internal bleeding should immediately seek medical help.
- Kidney damage: Ibuprofen can stress the kidneys but is not likely to cause long-term damage. When mixed with alcohol, however, the damaging effects of ibuprofen on the kidneys increase. Coupled with the dehydration often experienced with excessive alcohol use, ibuprofen can lead to kidney damage. Over a long time, ibuprofen and alcohol use can lead to severe kidney problems and may cause serious long-term health problems.
- Impaired responsiveness: Ibuprofen can lead some people to feel drowsy, typically from the relaxation that occurs with the decrease in pain levels. Alcohol also leads to decreased alertness. When these two substances are combined, it can lead to increased drowsiness and decreased alertness. This decreased alertness can increase the probability of injury and may cause dangerous situations if someone decides to drive, as the drowsiness may be present, even if their alcohol levels show they are safe to drive.
- Fast heart rate: Some studies indicate that taking alcohol and ibuprofen at the same time can lead to an increased heart rate. A fast heart rate can cause minor side effects like dizziness and may lead to more serious medical problems if there is any underlying heart or lung condition.
- Increased risks for older adults: As people age, their bodies are unable to break down alcohol as effectively as when they’re young. Smaller amounts of alcohol at an old age can cause greater interactions with ibuprofen, leading to increased risks and dangers.
Key Points: Ibuprofen and Alcohol
There are several important points to remember about taking ibuprofen and alcohol together, including:
- While people may think that it is safe to drink while taking ibuprofen, any use of alcohol or ibuprofen while the other may be in the bloodstream can lead to these dangerous complications.
- Taking alcohol and ibuprofen at the same time can lead to several dangerous side effects, especially for older adults, people who drink alcohol more than once a week while taking ibuprofen, or people who take ibuprofen for more than two days in a row while using any alcohol.
- Possible dangerous side effects of mixing ibuprofen and alcohol include:
- Internal bleeding
- Kidney damage
- Impaired responsiveness
- Increased heart rate
If you are taking ibuprofen and alcohol within the same 24 hour period, you should consider discussing with your doctor the dangers of mixing these two substances.
If you find it difficult to limit your alcohol intake, or not to use alcohol even when it may be dangerous to your health, you may benefit from reaching out to one of the understanding professionals at The Recovery Village to see what resources are available to help those who struggle with alcohol misuse.
Wiegand, Timothy J. “Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drug (NSAID) Toxicity.” Medscape. Dec. 2017. Accessed April 2, 2019.
Ananad, B. S. “Peptic Ulcer Disease.” Medscape. Dec. 2018. Accessed April 2, 2019.
Carter, Alan. “Mixing ibuprofen and alcohol.” Medical News Today. March 2019. Accessed April 2, 2019.
NIH.gov. “Harmful Interactions.” 2014. Accessed April 2, 2019.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.
If You Ever Mix Pain Relievers with Alcohol, You’ll Want to Read This
So you’ve had one too many glasses of wine with dinner and you feel a headache coming on. You reach into your bag and track down some Advil, but is it a good idea to take it? Alcohol doesn’t just get you drunk, it affects your entire body, and when combined with medicines, it can cause some adverse reactions. Here’s how alcohol reacts with four of the main varieties of over-the-counter painkillers.
Mixing Tylenol with alcohol is a really bad idea. According to WebMD, a 2013 report found that combining Tylenol with even a small amount of alcohol can raise your risk of kidney disease by a whopping 123 percent. While neither normal acetaminophen use nor light-to-moderate drinking posed a threat to kidneys, as soon as the two were combined the ill effects become evident. Be careful not to take acetaminophen in excess, with or without alcohol; it’s the number one cause of acute liver failure in the United States.
Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
Both ibuprofen and alcohol can irritate your stomach, so combining the two can result in stomach issues, including upper gastrointestinal bleeding, according to Healthline. However, taking a normal dose of ibuprofen after drinking a small amount of alcohol will not be harmful to most people. Everyday Health agrees, but suggests that you limit alcohol use while taking any medication.
Aspirin (Bayer, Bufferin, Excedrin)
The main risk of combining alcohol and aspirin is that of stomach bleeding, so notify your doctor if you experience any symptoms. Also, a 1990 study found that taking two aspirin tablets an hour before drinking increased blood alcohol levels by 30 percent more than alcohol alone, so mixing the two can potentially increase your level of impairment.
Like aspirin, naproxen carries the risk of causing stomach bleeding with combined with alcohol. It’s generally considered safe to mix the two in moderate amounts, but it’s advisable to avoid any painkiller when drinking heavily.
If you’re taking prescription painkillers as opposed to over-the-counter ones, you should definitely stay away from alcohol; Oxycodone, for example, depresses the central nervous system, and when mixed with alcohol it can slow your breathing until it stops. If you’re going to mix over-the-counter painkillers with alcohol, make sure you read the warning labels, don’t take more than the suggested dosage, and don’t drink in excess; just learning what happens to your body after you black out from drinking might be enought to make you cool it!
Alcohol and Tylenol (or other pain relievers) Don’t Mix
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is an antipyretic (fever reducer) and analgesic (pain reliever). Large doses or long-term usage can cause liver damage. Alcoholic beverages increase the chance of liver toxicity from acetaminophen, or will worsen the liver damage that acetaminophen can cause.
Ibuprofen (Advil) is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). Ibuprofen can cause gastrointestinal bleeding, ulcers and stomach perforations in people who take chronic ibuprofen treatment. Ibuprofen can cause severe toxic effects to the kidneys. Avoid alcoholic beverages.
Aspirin (Bayer, Bufferin) is an analgesic. Aspirin can cause severe stomach upset. People with liver damage should avoid taking aspirin. Alcoholic beverages can aggravate the stomach irritation caused by aspirin. The risk of aspirin-related ulcers is increased by alcohol.
Overdose symptoms of these drugs include upset stomach, drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, confusion, liver or kidney damage, liver or kidney failure, and even coma.
Non-narcotic analgesics like aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen, when mixed with alcohol, increase possible irritation and bleeding in the stomach and intestines. Some analgesics may also contribute to liver damage that heavy alcohol consumption causes.