Do You Really Need to Avoid Alcohol on Antibiotics?

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At one point or another, most people have been prescribed antibiotics by a doctor, and have been told that they should not drink alcohol while taking this medication. But there are many reasons a person might not want to comply with this. Perhaps they have an event or a wedding they’re going to. They might also have an alcohol use disorder, and have a hard time abstaining from alcohol.

So, is it really true that you should avoid alcohol on antibiotics? Or is it still possible to drink a certain amount without suffering any severe consequences?

Risks of Drinking on Antibiotics

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Longer Recovery Time

While alcohol itself doesn’t directly decrease the effectiveness of most antibiotics, excessive drinking can make it more difficult for your body to recover from whatever infection or illness you’re suffering from in the first place. This is partially because alcohol can compromise your immune system, and partially because alcohol occupies your liver and other essential organs with an activity besides recovery.

Dangerous Interactions

In certain cases, alcohol can interact dangerously with antibiotics. Beer and wine, for example, may cause dangerous increases in blood pressure when combined with linezolid. Alcohol use may increase the chances of liver damage from isoniazid. And erythromycin may cause your small intestine to absorb alcohol more quickly. Ask your doctor about such interactions before drinking on any antibiotic.

Side Effects of Mixing Alcohol and Antibiotics

While it’s safer to drink on some antibiotics vs others, the combination has certain common side effects, including:

  • Nausea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Headaches
  • Vomiting
  • Increased heart rate
  • Hot flashes
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness

In general, antibiotics can make some people feel sick, and adding alcohol to the mix can increase that discomfort.

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Is It Really Necessary to Completely Stop Drinking Alcohol While on Antibiotics?

In some circumstances, it is acceptable to drink alcohol in moderation while you’re taking antibiotics. However, there are some cases in which you truly do need to abstain. If you’re on any of the following antibiotics, it’s recommended that you don’t consume any alcohol:

  • Metronidazole. Combining this medication with alcohol can cause nausea, dizziness, increased heart rate, chest pain, and many other adverse side effects. In rare cases, the combination of metronidazole and alcohol can lead to seizures, difficulty walking, and numbness in the hands and feet.
  • Tinidazole. Similar to Metronidazole, the combination of alcohol and Tinidazole can be a dangerous one and can cause some uncomfortable side effects. In serious cases, it can also lead to liver damage.

Sulfamethoxazole, trimethoprim, isoniazid, and linezolid are also known to have negative interactions with alcohol, and you should avoid the combination.

What About Other Antibiotics?

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With other antibiotics, it’s always a good idea to abstain from alcohol, but the risks are somewhat less severe.

Flucloxacillin and Alcohol

Flucloxacillin is an antibiotic typically prescribed to treat skin and wound infections, chest infections like pneumonia, and bone infections. Technically, you can drink alcohol while taking this antibiotic. However, flucloxacillin can sometimes cause nausea and diarrhea, which can certainly be made worse by alcohol consumption.

Amoxicillin and Alcohol

Amoxicillin is an antibiotic used to treat bacterial infections, such as pneumonia, dental abscesses, and urinary tract infections. Many medical professionals report that it’s safe to drink alcohol while taking amoxicillin. The most important thing to keep in mind is that moderation is key. Like Flocloxacillin, amoxicillin can cause nausea and diarrhea, and alcohol consumption may make this more severe.

Clindamycin and Alcohol

You can generally drink alcohol on clindamycin without worrying about severe risks or side effects. However, as above, moderation is key. And if you can avoid alcohol completely, you may allow your body to recover more quickly.

How Long After Finishing Antibiotics Do You Have to Wait to Drink?

After being on a course of antibiotics, it’s recommended that you continue to avoid alcohol for two to three days after you’ve finished your medication.

Don’t Skip A Dose To Drink

If you’re wondering if skipping a dose to drink alcohol is a good idea, think again. Skipping a dose won’t actually protect you from the risks or adverse side effects of mixing alcohol and antibiotics, as it takes time for antibiotics to break down and leave your body. Instead, you’re just disrupting your course of antibiotics and making them less effective without reducing your risks.

The Bottom Line: Can You Drink on Antibiotics?

Ultimately, if you’re taking antibiotics, your best bet is to simply abstain and wait until three days after your last dose. Alcohol interacts poorly with a few specific antibiotics. For others, there are no major risks, but drinking can slow your recovery time. And since most rounds of antibiotics are relatively brief, you may as well just skip that drink.

If giving up alcohol while taking antibiotics is difficult, that may be a sign that you’re becoming somewhat dependent on alcohol. Read more about what makes a habit different from an addiction, or take our alcohol use survey to find out where you stand.

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Written By:
Rachael Goldstein
Philadelphia-based freelance writer specializing in law, mental health, psychology, and addiction.
Reviewed By:
Evan O'Donnell
Evan O’Donnell is an NYC-based content strategist with four years’ experience writing and editing in the recovery space. He has conducted research in sound, cognition, and community building, has a background in independent music marketing, and continues to work as a composer. Evan is a deep believer in fact-based, empathic communication—within business, arts, academia, or any space where words drive action or change lives.
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