You and alcohol


Alcohol in combination with medications
Medications to help you stop drinking

Alcohol in combination with medications

Many medications do not combine well with alcohol. Alcohol can increase potency of the medication or negate it completely. This applies especially to the following groups of medications:

  • Anti-psychotics, such as Zyprexa® or Risperdal®.
    Read more: alcohol, fear and anxiety and alcohol and psychosis.
  • Psychoactive drugs, such as Rohypnol®, Tranxen®, Librium®, Valium®, Mogadon®, Seresta®, Normison® and Mogadon®.
  • Stomach medications, such as Tagamet®, Zantac® or Losec®. Alcohol is notorious for causing stomach upsets since it damages the mucous membranes in the stomach walls. If you have a stomach ache, the best thing to do first of all is stop drinking.
    Read more: physical effects (see ‘effects of alcohol on the body’)
  • Contraceptives, 'the pill'. Heavy drinking makes it less reliable. 
  • Anti-epileptics, such as Tegretol®. Alcohol acts on the brain. It’s recommended that you stop drinking if you have epilepsy, otherwise it may counteract the medication.
    Read more: alcohol and epilepsy
  • Anti-depressants, such as Prozac®, Seroxat®, Remeron®. These medications do not work well in combination with alcohol. Moreover, alcohol often causes people to feel depressed. Many people who have quit drinking report that the most positive effect is the improvement in mood. 
    Read more: alcohol and depression
  • Sleeping pills and tranquilisers (sedatives), such as Seresta® (oxazepam), Valium® (diazepam) and Librium® (chlordiazepoxide). Since alcohol also has a relaxing effect, drinking intensifies the effects of these medications. Conversely, these medications also intensify the effects of the alcohol. Combining these drugs with alcohol can have undesirable effects, for example if you’re driving, but there is a greater risk of accidents at home as well. Inhibitions disappear, and you may have trouble controlling your behaviour and experience outbursts of aggression. Sedatives are highly addictive themselves, so take care that you don’t develop a new addiction just as you’re getting rid of the old one.
    Read more: alcohol and sleep and sleeping tips
  • Antibiotics, (such as penicillin), can have unpleasant effects if combined with alcohol.
  • Painkillers, such as Paracetamol®, aspirin, Diclophenac®, Ibuprofen®.
    Read more: alcohol and pain
  • Anti-coagulants, also known as ‘blood thinners’, such as Sintromitis® or Marcoumar®. Determining the proper dosage of these medications is difficult and risky if you drink. If you take anticoagulants, occasional or frequent binge drinking carries a risk of a haemorrhage that will be difficult to stop.

Due to space limitations we can’t describe all the effects of alcohol on all medications in detail here. However, there are more medications that do not combine well with alcohol. If you have any doubts or would like more information, read the leaflet accompanying your medication or ask your pharmacist or doctor.

Medications to help you stop drinking

Drinking less, or quitting altogether, is of course something you have to do yourself. There is no magic pill that can do it for you. However, people sometimes take medication as support. These medications are only available by prescription.

Librium® (chlordiazepoxide) is sometimes prescribed to relieve alcohol withdrawal symptoms. This is only necessary if you expect to experience real, physical withdrawal. This medication should only be used for a short period as it too is addictive.

Campral® (acamprosate) diminishes the desire to drink. It has been on the market for several years, and studies have shown that it is effective in combating craving for alcohol in combination with therapy.

Refusal® or Antabus® (disulfiram) is an aversion (or deterrent) therapy. If you drink alcohol while taking this medication, you become extremely nauseous and vomit. The idea is that the medication is taken daily, and the fear of the reaction is the deterrent to prevent you from drinking. Given the severity of the reaction, this medication should only be taken if you’re physically fit, for example, if you have no heart problems.