While combining alcohol and antibiotics generally won’t render your medication ineffective, it can lead to uncomfortable side effects and weaken your immune system.
Do alcohol and antibiotics mix? Does alcohol interact with antibiotics and make them ineffective? Should you stop drinking if you’re on antibiotics? Could there be harmful side effects?
Understanding how alcohol interacts with different antibiotics and what side effects you can expect from mixing the two substances can help you avoid alcohol if your doctor prescribes antibiotics to you.
What Are Antibiotics?
Doctors prescribe antibiotics to stop infections resulting from bacteria. Antibiotics can work by killing bacteria or preventing them from reproducing.
Before introducing antibiotics, it was relatively common for people to die from what we see as minor infections today, such as strep throat. Some of the infections treated by antibiotics include sinus infections, skin, bladder and kidney infections, whooping cough, and strep throat.
Antibiotics aren’t effective against viruses like the flu or COVID-19. Some tests can be done to determine whether an illness is the result of bacteria or a virus.
While antibiotics are commonly prescribed, they can have some side effects, including vomiting, diarrhea, bloating, abdominal pain and appetite loss.
The concept of antibiotic resistance has become increasingly problematic over the decades as well. Overuse of antibiotics has led to bacteria adapting to be resistant to these medicines. Today, antibiotics are not used for most chest and ear infections or sore throats.
Does Alcohol Affect Antibiotics?
Alcohol and antibiotics shouldn’t be mixed for many reasons, but there is one commonly heard misconception on the subject. People tend to think that when they mix alcohol and antibiotics, it makes the antibiotics ineffective, and this isn’t the case for many different antibiotics. With that being said, there are other reasons not to mix alcohol and antibiotics. Depending on the type of antibiotic, mixing it with alcohol could cause:
- Worsening of the side effects of the antibiotic
- Liver damage
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fast heartbeat
The interaction between antibiotics and alcohol will depend on the specific medication you’re taking, so it helps to discuss your prescription with your doctor before beginning a round of antibiotics.
So, where did the idea of alcohol making antibiotics ineffective stem from?
There are theories that it goes back to the 1950s. Antibiotics were starting to be used as treatments for various STDs, and it seems that the advice that alcohol and antibiotics make the medicine ineffective actually came from the fact that doctors didn’t want people to drink and potentially spread STDs in the process.
The myth of alcohol and antibiotics is one that’s pervasive in the minds of most of us, but for most antibiotics, it’s just that: a myth.
So, does alcohol affect antibiotics? Not normally, at least not in the sense that it typically inhibits how antibiotics work. However, there are other reasons it’s not a good idea to combine alcohol and antibiotics.
How Does Alcohol Affect Antibiotics?
With alcohol and antibiotics, there are plenty of reasons not to mix them. First, alcohol suppresses your immune system and its response. If you have a bacterial infection requiring antibiotics, you shouldn’t be drinking for that reason alone. You are putting your body at a disadvantage when it comes to warding off infection and getting better, so your symptoms may get worse, or it may take you longer to recover.
Another thing to consider with alcohol and antibiotics is that drinking interferes with the essential processes of your body, like your sleep and hydration, which are critical components of recovering from a bacterial illness.
While the myth of alcohol and antibiotics might not generally hold true, combining some specific antibiotics with alcohol can be dangerous.
A few types of antibiotics, including metronidazole, isoniazid, trimethoprim and sulfamethoxazole, shouldn’t be used with alcohol. These specific drugs interact with alcohol, leading to a buildup of acetaldehyde, an alcohol component, in the liver. This buildup is what causes many hangover symptoms. If you mix alcohol and these antibiotics, it can lead to symptoms like an uncomfortable flushing of the skin, low blood pressure and vomiting. This can happen with only a small amount of alcohol.
There are also a few antibiotics that can have an impact on the liver, such as flucloxacillin. They can inflame the liver, making the liver work harder and leading to an increased risk of liver infection.
So, to wrap up, does alcohol affect antibiotics? In most cases no, although alcohol and antibiotics combined can lead to more intense side effects. Also, while alcohol and antibiotics aren’t going to render your medication ineffective, it can worsen the symptoms of your illness and weaken your immune system, which is never good if you have a bacterial infection.
What If I Need To Take Antibiotics?
It may be tempting to drink while taking antibiotics, but this is not recommended and can be dangerous. Drinking alcohol while taking antibiotics will usually not impact their effectiveness, but combining the two substances can lead to uncomfortable side effects. Alcohol also weakens your immune system, which will not help your body fight off bacterial infection.
Always speak to your doctor about your alcohol habits to get their advice before starting a round of antibiotics.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Antibiotics.” MedlinePlus, August 24, 2021. Accessed August 31, 2021.
National Health System (NHS). “Side effects: Antibiotics.” May 23, 2019. Accessed August 31, 2021.
National Health System (NHS). “Antiobiotic Resistance: Antibiotics.” May 23, 2019. Accessed August 31, 2021.
Anderson, Leigh Ann. “Antibiotic Medications and Alcohol Interactions.” Drugs.com, October 24, 2019. Accessed August 31, 2021.
Vagg, Michael. “Monday’s medical myth: you can’t mix antibiotics with alcohol.” The Conversation, December 4, 2011. Accessed August 31, 2021.
Romeo, Javier; Wärnberg, Julia; Nova, Esther; Díaz, Ligia E; Gómez-Martinez, Sonia; & Marcos, Ascensión. “Moderate alcohol consumption and the immune system: a review.” British Journal of Nutrition, October 2007. Accessed August 31, 2021.
Pacheco, Danielle. “Alcohol and Sleep.” Sleep Foundation, September 4, 2020. Accessed August 31, 2021.
Noureldin, Marwa; Krause, Jane; Jin, Lulu; Ng, Valerie; & Tran, Mai. “Drug-Alcohol Interactions: A Review of Three Therapeutic Classes.” US Pharmacist. November 17, 2010. Accessed August 31, 2021.
Weathermon, Ron; Crabb, David W. “Alcohol and Medication Interactions.” Alcohol Research & Health, 1999. Accessed August 31, 2021.
Teixeira, Mónica; Macedo, Sara; Batista, Tânia; Martins, Sofia; Correia, Andreia; & Matos, Luís Costa. “Flucloxacillin-Induced Hepatotoxicity – Association with HLA-B*5701.” Revista da Associacao Medica Brasileira, 2020. Accessed August 31, 2021.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with 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 providers.