Antibiotics and alcohol

This Page was last reviewed and changed on August 9th, 2021

Content Overview

If you have ever been prescribed antibiotics, you may have noticed the warning labels about mixing alcohol with your treatment. Although drinking alcohol whilst taking most common antibiotics will not cause you detrimental health problems, all trustworthy health information advises you to avoid drinking alcohol during treatment. This will promote a safe healing process and the most successful recovery. This page will explain why alcohol and antibiotics should not be taken together.

Can you mix antibiotics and alcohol?

Your treatment provider will advise against consuming alcohol whilst taking antibiotics. This is because drinking alcohol whilst taking drugs to treat bacterial infections can affect certain immune system processes. Alcohol can interact badly with medications, causing unpleasant side effects and weakening your immune system. It can slow your body’s ability to treat infection and naturally heal itself. This is why when you are prescribed antibiotics, the medication is labelled with a warning to avoid alcohol.

Is mixing antibiotics and alcohol dangerous?

It is dangerous to mix alcohol and antibiotics. Although most commonly prescribed antibiotics will still target the infection site, drinking alcohol will lead to an increased risk of side effects. There are certain antibiotics (such as metronidazole and isoniazid) that function less when you consume alcohol, causing a severe reaction. This is because when you drink alcohol, your body must focus on treating the side effects from the alcohol as well as fight bacteria, reducing how much the drug can attack the infection.

Metronidazole is a common antibiotic with the side effect of nausea. It is prescribed to treat bacterial infections and skin infections. When you drink alcohol, your body works harder to break it down and produces a toxin called acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde also causes nausea, so consuming alcohol and antibiotics such as metronidazole increases symptoms of sickness. Due to this, your doctor will not prescribe you metronidazole if you have a history of alcohol abuse or alcohol addiction because of how the alcohol can interact badly with the antibiotic. Isoniazid is one of the main medications used to treat tuberculosis (which is now one of the less common bacterial diseases). It works by stopping the growth of bacteria. Taking isoniazid whilst drinking alcohol can be dangerous because it can have a negative impact on your body, causing high blood pressure or liver damage. If you are concerned about the use of alcohol with isoniazid, we advise you to seek medical attention, as alcohol interacts badly with the medication.

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What are antibiotics?

Antibiotics are substances that either prevent the growth of bacteria or kill bacteria completely. These two functions are what is required to fight infection in the human body.

Having prescribed medication to treat illness will ensure that you have the highest chance of successful recovery.

Antibiotics, as opposed to over-the-counter medications such as painkillers, can only be prescribed by a doctor, because many antibiotics can cause a severe reaction. Different illnesses require different antibiotics to treat, and each antibiotic has its own side effects and unique dosages. Due to these remits, antibiotics should only be taken for a short period of time. We have included some examples of different types of antibiotics below and some of the illnesses that they treat:

  1. Penicillin – penicillin fights bacterial infections, including ear infections, urinary tract infections, pneumonia and tonsillitis.
  2. Tetracyclines – these antibiotics can be used to fight many different bacteria. Most commonly, they are used to treat acne, sexually transmitted diseases and intestinal tract infections.
  3. Cephalosporins – Cephalosporins are similar to penicillin in that they kill bacteria. They can treat many types of infections such as skin infections, lung infections, meningitis and strep throat.
  4. Quinolones – quinolones are for hard-to-treat illnesses that have not been successfully treated with other medication. They can be used to fight harmful bacteria that cause pneumonia, severe urinary tract infections and even the plague.
  5. Lincomycin – this can be used to treat pelvic inflammatory disease, lower respiratory tract infections, and bone and joint infections.

How do antibiotics work?

There was no treatment available to fight bacteria until the early 20th century, meaning even minor health issues were life-threatening. However, this changed in 1929 when Alexander Fleming first discovered penicillin, which was the first type of antibiotic.

Most antibiotics work by attacking the cell wall of bacteria, causing damage to its molecules. This prevents the bacteria from surviving in the body. Other antibiotics work by preventing bacteria from multiplying by harming the DNA in the bacteria that is responsible for replication or preventing key molecules from binding, which also stops harmful cells from reproducing. Some forms of antibiotics present a higher risk than others when taken in conjunction with alcohol. This is because an alcohol and antibiotic interaction can occur called a disulfiram-like reaction. A disulfiram-like reaction is most common when mixing alcohol with metronidazole, which is a treatment used to treat a wide range of illnesses.

What side effects can occur?

There are many different side effects that can be caused by drinking alcohol whilst you are taking antibiotics. These symptoms present more severely when a disulfiram-like reaction occurs. Some of the most common side effects include:

  • Sickness
  • Severe diarrhoea
  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Stomach cramps
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Flushed skin
  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness

If you experience any of these side effects, it is important that you visit a treatment centre or doctor who can provide medical advice.

What are the risks of taking antibiotics and drinking alcohol?

Alcohol interacts badly with all medications, so it is never a good idea to risk drinking alcohol during your treatment. Binge drinking is especially associated with reducing the effectiveness of your medication working because of the high level of alcohol that gets into your bloodstream. Drinking any alcoholic beverage (whether it be red wine, tap beer, or more) can reduce the effectiveness of fighting bacteria because alcohol and antibiotics are broken down in the body in the same way. This means that your body will focus on breaking down the alcohol molecules in your body instead of breaking down the medication that will fight the bacteria.

Additive effects are an additional risk if you are taking other drugs in conjunction with antibiotics and alcohol. Additive effects present more severe side effects than a single drug would present alone because the chemicals in the drugs combine to create a heightened effect.

Are antibiotics addictive?

While antibiotics do not contain highly addictive properties, there is a large emphasis in our healthcare system that all health issues need to be resolved using medications over any other resolution. This narrative causes us to rely on drugs to heal all health problems, instead of exploring healthier lifestyle routes to promote the body’s ability to heal as a natural treatment method. Although there are many health issues that require prescribed drugs to treat the illness, an over-reliance on this form of treatment makes us take medication more often.

A reliance on drugs to fix health issues over time causes the body to develop antibiotic resistance due to their prolonged use. This can make some people tempted to take higher dosages to achieve the same effect, which can lead to prescription drug addiction or even trigger people to turn to other drugs to self-medicate. It can create a cycle of addiction by causing more side effects, which people then try to treat with additional drugs. This is why many antibiotics come with an advice warning about addiction with prolonged use.

Avoid alcohol for best results

You should avoid alcohol when taking antibiotics to reduce the risk of side effects and assist your recovery. Some side effects can cause drowsiness, which risks accidents happening during daily activities (such as driving or operating machinery).

You should check your symptoms with a doctor if you are concerned about your safety completing such a task. Drinking alcohol lowers your immune system even with no sign of illness. Therefore, doing so whilst taking antibiotics will only prolong your illness. If you are concerned about when you can drink alcohol after treatment, you can visit most treatment centres to obtain reliable advice.

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Alcohol and antibiotics are both a form of drug, so taking these substances simultaneously will naturally affect the reliability of your treatment. Antibiotics are not readily available as an over-the-counter medicine for a reason, so you should always follow the advice from health professionals to not drink alcohol when taking them. This will give your body the best possible chance of fighting the infection and ensure that you embark on treatment safely.

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