Antibiotics are one of the most commonly prescribed and important drug classes in medicine, and a lot of people are under the assumption that you can’t drink alcohol while taking antibiotics. But do you always need to avoid alcohol with antibiotics?
In general, consuming moderate amounts of alcohol when you’re taking antibiotics won’t keep your antibiotic from working to treat your infection. But since both alcohol and antibiotics can lead to an upset stomach, dizziness and drowsiness, mixing the two can intensify these side effects, and can interfere with the body’s natural ability to heal itself in other ways.
The specific side effects that an antibiotic can cause depend on the drug. However, some common side effects of antibiotics include nausea, sleepiness, dizziness, lightheadedness and diarrhea, and combining alcohol and antibiotics can make these symptoms worse.
This is especially true with a specific group of anti-infective drugs including metronidazole (Flagyl), tinidazole (Tindamax) and trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim). If you are prescribed one of these, it is highly suggested that you abstain from alcohol completely — as these trypes of drugs are known to have bad interactions with alcohol and can lead to nausea, vomiting, rapid heart rate, skin flushing and breathlessness. This is especially true from metronidazole and tinidazole.
Even having a small amount of alcohol while on metronidazole or tinidazole makes some people very sick and can result in severe face flushing, drop in blood pressure and liver damage. The potential for severe side effects is such that alcohol consumption warnings not only include alcoholic beverages, but also products like mouthwash and cold medicine which contain alcohol as an ingredient. It is also strongly recommended you wait at least 72 hours after your final dose of medicine before drinking alcohol.
It is best to call it quits on the booze while you are combating an infection, even if the antibiotics themselves are still effective. The alcohol itself can make you feel worse and drinking may elongate your recovery time. Alcohol consumption leads to dehydration, interrupts your ability to get a good night’s sleep, lowers your energy levels and impairs your immune response - none of which are beneficial for the recovery process.
It is important to note that you should be sure to finish the full course of antibiotics, unless your doctor tells you otherwise, because taking antibiotics improperly may lead to antibiotic resistance, one of our increasing most serious health threats.
Bottom line: If you are sick enough to be on antibiotics, you are probably too sick to be drinking — but if you must imbibe, a cold beer or glass of wine should be fine for most antibiotic users. Just be sure to talk to your doctor before.