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Can I Mix Painkillers and Alcohol?


Updated June 10, 2014

Question: Can I Mix Painkillers and Alcohol?
Answer: Alcohol and prescription drugs don’t mix. Even the combination of alcohol and over-the-counter medications can lead to severe health problems.

If you take prescription painkillers regularly, you are at risk for dangerous drug interactions every time you take a drink. Alcohol and pain medications can be a deadly combination, so it is best not to mix them.

How does alcohol interact with painkillers?

  • Anti-convulsants: Combining alcohol with an anticonvulsant can put you at risk for seizures, even if you are taking an anticonvulsant for chronic pain. The combination can also cause severe drowsiness or make you lightheaded.

  • Opioids: Mixing alcohol and opioids can be lethal. The combination can make you drowsy or cause memory problems. In some cases, mixing the two causes breathing problems or leads to an accidental overdose.

  • NSAIDs: Mixing alcohol with over-the-counter or prescription NSAIDs is not necessarily dangerous in the short term. However, it can increase your risk for developing ulcers or liver damage.

  • Antidepressants: When combined with antidepressants, alcohol can increase feelings of hopelessness and suicidal thoughts, especially in adolescents. Mixing the two can also cause drowsiness and dizziness, as well as lead to an accidental overdose.

Aside from drug interactions, other risks of using alcohol include an increased chance of getting liver disease, heart disease, pancreatitis and certain kinds of cancer. Though these are most often associated with heavy drinking, moderate drinkers are also at risk.

If you have chronic pain, is it bad to have a drink from time to time? As long as you are not taking medications that interact with alcohol, then probably not. However, moderate to heavy drinkers should definitely consider breaking the habit.


National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Harmful Interactions: Mixing Alcohol with Medicines. NIH Publication No. 03–5329. Accessed 4/29/09. http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/Medicine/medicine.htm

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol Alert. Accessed 4/29/09. http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/AA72/AA72.htm

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