On antibiotics? Can you drink? 5 key things you need to know


Written by tapGP Clinical Team

28 August 2023

We’ve all been there – you’re prescribed antibiotics to kick that pesky infection to the curb, and then an invitation to a social gathering pops up. Naturally, you wonder, can you have a drink while on antibiotics? It’s a common question, and the answer isn’t a straightforward yes or no.

Here are 5 key things you need to know about mixing antibiotics and alcohol.

  1. It Depends on the Antibiotic

The first thing to understand is that not all antibiotics interact with alcohol in the same way. Some antibiotics can cause adverse reactions when combined with alcohol, while others have a more lenient stance. It’s crucial to read the labels and consult your healthcare provider to determine the compatibility of your specific antibiotic with alcohol.

When it comes to antibiotics, they’re not a one-size-fits-all category. Different antibiotics target different types of bacteria and infections. Some antibiotics, like Metronidazole, are notorious for causing severe side effects when mixed with alcohol. These side effects can range from severe nausea and vomiting to rapid heartbeats and intense headaches. On the other hand, some antibiotics, such as most types of penicillin and cephalosporins, have a lower likelihood of interacting negatively with alcohol.

  1. Possible Side Effects

Let’s delve into those side effects a bit more. Why is it that combining alcohol and certain antibiotics can lead to such unpleasant reactions? The answer lies in how your body processes both substances. When your body metabolises alcohol, it produces a compound called acetaldehyde. This compound can cause flushing, nausea, and a host of other uncomfortable symptoms. Some antibiotics, especially those of the Metronidazole family, also lead to an accumulation of acetaldehyde when alcohol is present in the system. This results in an intensified version of those regular post-drinking discomforts.

Moreover, alcohol can hinder the effectiveness of antibiotics. Think of your immune system as an army battling the invading bacteria. Antibiotics are like reinforcements that provide your immune system with an advantage. Alcohol, unfortunately, can weaken this army by reducing the efficiency of antibiotic absorption. So, while your immune system and antibiotics are working together to win the war, alcohol is like an enemy combatant that’s trying to tip the balance in favour of the bacteria.

  1. Interference with the Healing Process

Let’s talk about why you’re taking antibiotics in the first place: to heal from an infection. Your body is already in a bit of a battle mode, and antibiotics are the support troops that help in this fight. But guess what weakens your body’s defence mechanisms? That’s right, alcohol. When you’re on a course of antibiotics, your body requires all the support it can get to recover efficiently. Downing alcoholic beverages might undermine the very purpose of the medication.

Alcohol has a way of suppressing the immune system, making it less effective in fighting off infections. This could potentially prolong the duration of your illness or even lead to complications. Infections can be a serious business, and while a glass of wine might sound tempting, it’s important to remember that your body’s priority right now is healing. The immune system needs to be firing on all cylinders, and alcohol can put a damper on that.

  1. Individual Responses Vary

Just as we all have that one friend who seems to handle their alcohol like a champ, individual responses to the mix of antibiotics and alcohol can differ. Some individuals may experience severe reactions, while others might not feel any noticeable changes. However, it’s important to remember that even if you don’t sense any immediate issues, alcohol could still be interfering with the antibiotics’ effectiveness behind the scenes.

Your body’s ability to metabolise alcohol and antibiotics can vary based on factors like genetics, overall health, and the specific antibiotics you’re taking. What might not cause any noticeable side effects for one person could lead to serious complications in another. It’s a bit like playing Russian roulette – you might get lucky a few times, but sooner or later, the consequences could catch up with you.

  1. Consult a GP

When in doubt, always consult you a GP. They have the expertise to guide you on whether it’s safe to have alcohol while on your prescribed antibiotics. They can take into consideration your medical history, the specific antibiotic you’re taking, and your overall health to provide accurate advice tailored to your situation.

A GP will consider a variety of factors before giving you the green light to consume alcohol. If you have a history of liver issues, for instance, alcohol might be an absolute no-go. Similarly, if you’re on a particularly strong antibiotic, your healthcare provider might advise you to stay away from alcohol for the duration of your treatment. Remember, their goal is to ensure your safety and the effectiveness of your treatment.

Key points

While it might be tempting to have a drink when you’re out with friends or at a special event, it’s generally best to avoid alcohol when you’re on antibiotics. The potential for adverse reactions, compromised healing, and reduced antibiotic effectiveness is simply not worth the risk. Prioritise your health and give your body the best chance to fight off the infection by staying away from alcohol until you’ve completed your antibiotic course.

Remember, your health comes first, and a little patience now can lead to a quicker recovery in the long run. So, when in doubt, opt for a refreshing non-alcoholic beverage and let your antibiotics do their important job without any hindrance. If you ever find yourself torn between that tempting cocktail and your antibiotic regimen, always remember the purpose of both – one is for leisure, the other for your well-being. Choose wisely.

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