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Alcohol can have impacts on a number of medications and drugs. Some medications might become stronger or have a weaker effect. Others may cause unexpected or worse side effects.

Medicine interactions and alcohol

Alcohol can react with medicines and drugs in different ways, some of which we cannot see. Some reactions like drowsiness or feeling nauseous are noticeable, but we may not realise the effects they can have on our internal organs. 

You may be used to drinking to feel comfort, but mixing alcohol and medication can be potentially dangerous. Try to make sure you have support in place or different ways you can get relief. 

For any medicine that you buy over-the-counter at a supermarket or pharmacy:

  • Always check the label and packet insert of whatever you are taking.
  • Do not drink if you are taking any medication with a label that says ‘not to be taken with alcohol’.

A lot of common over-the-counter medicines can interact with alcohol. This includes antihistamines, painkillers, and more. If you are given prescription medicine, it will usually come with advice from your pharmacist or health provider.

Always make sure you’re following directions when taking medicine that will affect your:

  • mood
  • thinking, decision making, attention span, reasoning, and memory. Some people may refer to this as ‘cognitive functioning’
  • cardiovascular system, including your heart.

Side effects and reactions

When you start a new medicine or dose, you may not be able to drink like you used to, even if it’s to treat the same thing. The effects might also be different. 

Mixing alcohol and medications can sometimes make you feel drowsy, confused, nauseous, unsteady, or dizzy, so always be on the lookout for how you’re feeling. This can get in the way of you trying to get on with your normal day. Check in with a health professional if these symptoms keep up. 

Take special care if you are:

  • driving
  • operating heavy machinery
  • looking after others
  • on your own.

If you’re looking after someone else, help them follow the right instructions and look out for how they’re reacting to their medications. Sometimes it takes somebody else to notice some small or subtle changes in usual behaviour.

Getting help

In any situation, the best advice should be from a doctor or pharmacist. In some cases, you may be able to ask them for anonymous advice. 

You should contact a healthcare professional if you:

  • are unsure about anything that involves taking your medicine, such as your dosage or what else you cannot have or do with it
  • are experiencing unexpected side effects
  • have been feeling side effects that have not gone away even if you’re cutting down your drinking or are not drinking.