‘Tis the Season! How Alcohol Can Interact With Your Pain Medications


It’s that time of year again where we spend time with families, coworkers, and friends all throughout this Christmas Season. We will assume that you will be attending at least one Holiday function where more than likely alcohol will be present. So, in light of the Holiday spirits (no pun intended), we would like to discuss why alcohol might not be your best beverage of choice if you are currently taking any medications. Alcohol is a big part of many types of holiday celebrations, but unfortunately, alcohol can interact in less than stellar ways with pain medications. Interactions between alcohol and a medication can occur in a variety of situations that differ based on the timing of alcohol, medication consumption, gender, weight, and age. Many classes of prescription and non-prescription pain medications can interact with alcohol. For example, opioids, muscle relaxants, narcotics, benzodiazepines, over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory agents, and antidepressants all interact with alcohol in a specific manner than can wreak havoc on your body. Alcohol can cause extended release formulations of pain medications to release all at once, and some short-acting formulations to release more quickly than normal, a phenomenon called “dose dumping.” Dose dumping can lead to rapidly increased levels of the medications in the system, resulting in overdose and possibly death. So let’s jump right into discussing alcohol & pain medication interactions.

Acetaminophen: A Real Life Example of a Drug-Alcohol Interaction

Let’s use drugs containing acetaminophen as an example. Certain opioid pain medications (e.g. codeine, propoxyphene, and oxycodone) are manufactured as combination products containing acetaminophen. These combinations can be particularly harmful when combined with alcohol because they provide “hidden” doses of acetaminophen that can cause drowsiness, sedation, and decreased motor skills. Acetaminophen also increases gastric emptying, leading to faster alcohol absorption in the small intestine; may also inhibit important gastric hormones. Alcohol enhances acetaminophen metabolism into a toxic product, potentially causing liver damage.


You might be thinking, “ Well, I do take a medication but this is only for people who drink a lot of alcohol”. Unfortunately, this is not the case. In fact, most of the data on alcohol-medication interactions was done on those who drank moderate levels of alcohol. Thus please be aware that any level of alcohol may interact with your medications. As alternatives to alcohol try virgin cocktails, non-alcoholic beer, sparkling non-alcoholic cider, sparkling water, and eggnog without the alcohol. All are festive, and allow you to blend in with the crowd. Nonetheless, if you do drink, please make sure to have a ride. Alcohol-medication interactions can exacerbate medication’s adverse side effects (drowsiness, dizziness, euphoria, etc.). We hope this in-depth explanation of the effects of alcohol will help you in making the decision about drinking. Have a blast at all your holiday parties this year and try to play it safe if you are taking any sort of medicines. From all of us here at Pain Consultants of Arizona, we wish you and your family a Merry Christmas!

Tags: alcohol, pain management, medications, Christmas, opioids


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