Whether it’s “over the counter,” or a doctor’s prescription — alcohol and medications don’t mix.
The U.S. statistics on alcohol use behind the wheel are sobering, especially when it comes to the number of car crash deaths each year: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 29 people die in cars each day as a result of drinking and driving. That’s one death every 50 minutes, at an annual cost of more than $44 billion. Additionally, both legal and illegal drugs are involved in about 16 percent of motor vehicle accidents.
Combining risky drinking with drugs of any kind can be an even more dangerous combination, especially if ingredients interact to cause harm. Because alcohol alone (no matter if it’s a “just a beer,” a cocktail, or wine) can make you drowsy or lightheaded enough to fall asleep or pass out at the wheel, it can also intensify those same effects that you might be experiencing from meds that you’re taking. That means you’re not only impaired while driving. You could also lose your balance, resulting in a serious fall or other injury elsewhere. (Seniors are even more at risk to take a tumble and break a hip, or worse. Aging also slows the break-down of alcohol in the body.) A mix of alcohol and drugs can give you a whopper of a headache, make you feel dizzy, become nauseous, or vomit. Difficulty breathing and internal bleeding are among other life-threatening issues. You could also be damaging your liver or other organs. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), women are even more at risk for liver damage, because alcohol reaches a higher concentration level in their bloodstream.
Follow these tips to avoid the serious or deadly consequences of mixing drinking with medication:
- Ask your doctor or pharmacist about what drugs you can and can’t take together.
- Find out what foods to avoid with certain drugs. (For example, some shouldn’t be taken with grapefruit).
- Read medication labels carefully!
- Check ingredients for any additional alcohol content. (Cough syrup and others contain as much as 10 percent alcohol).
- Follow the “do-not-drive-or-operate-machinery” label warning! Both alcohol and drugs can impair alertness, thinking, and coordination.
- Avoid alcohol when you’re on medication. It can intensify drug side-effects and slow reaction time (especially when driving).
- Never drive when you’re impaired. Period. Hand off your keys.
The NIAAA lists more than 100 medicines that interact with alcohol (including herbal remedies). Side-effect warnings are on drug labels for a reason. Whether it’s an ordinary day, a special celebration, or holiday time, when the flurry of activity might cause you to be more absent-minded, be clear-headed when it comes to alcohol and medications: Never mix them.
By Lisa Miceli Feliciano