Alcohol Use and Older Adults

Frequently Asked Questions

4. Is drinking alcohol and taking medicine bad for you?

Sometimes. Drinking alcohol can cause certain medicines to not work properly and other medicines to become more dangerous or even deadly. Mixing alcohol and some medicines can cause sleepiness, confusion, or lack of coordination, which may lead to accidents and injuries. It also may cause nausea, vomiting, and headaches, as well as other serious health problems.

Dozens of medicines interact with alcohol and can be harmful. Here are some examples.

  • Taking aspirin or arthritis medications and drinking alcohol can increase the risk of bleeding in the stomach.
  • Taking the painkiller acetaminophen and drinking alcohol can increase the chances of liver damage.
  • Taking cold and allergy medicines that contain antihistamines often causes drowsiness. Drinking alcohol can make this drowsiness worse and impair coordination.
  • Drinking alcohol and taking some medicines that aid sleep, reduce pain, or relieve anxiety or depression can cause a range of problems, including sleepiness and poor coordination as well as difficulty breathing, rapid heartbeat and memory problems.
  • Drinking alcohol and taking medications for high blood pressure, diabetes, ulcers, gout, and heart failure can make those conditions worse.

Medications stay in the body for at least several hours. So, there can still be a problem if you drink alcohol hours after taking a pill. Read the labels on all medications and follow the directions. Some medication labels warn people not to drink alcohol when taking the medicine. Ask a doctor, pharmacist, or other health care provider whether it's okay to drink alcohol while taking a certain medicine.

Learn more about alcohol’s interactions with prescription drugs.