Is it OK to drink while on medication?
If you’re taking medication, always consult with your doctor or pharmacist if you think you might want to drink any alcohol.
You should always consult your doctor or pharmacist about whether it is safe to drink alcohol if you are on medication. This page provides general information, but it isn’t a substitute for professional medical advice – so it’s essential to check.
Alcohol interacts with some medications. Depending on what you’re taking and your health condition, drinking can make medication less effective, or lead to dangerous health consequences.
There are also medications that don’t have harmful interactions with alcohol – but it’s important to check before consuming alcohol, to ensure you’re not putting yourself at risk.
And whether you’re taking any medication or not, it’s important to stick to the UK Chief Medical Officers' low risk drinking guidelines. This means no more than 14 units a week, whether you’re male or female, spread over three or more days, with several drink-free days every week – and no bingeing.
A few specific antibiotics affect how the body processes alcohol. This can lead to very unpleasant and sometimes dangerous consequences after a small amount of alcohol, including severe vomiting and raised temperature. So always check with your doctor or pharmacist before you start your course of antibiotics if it is OK to have even one drink or not.
Your body breaks down and absorbs different medications in different ways. Drinking alcohol at the same time your body is processing medicine can affect the speed it’s broken down inside you – in some cases increasing the effect of the medicine and decreasing it in others.
It’s also known that older adults are particularly vulnerable to adverse effects from consuming alcohol alongside their medication.1
Anyone taking long-term medication should be careful about drinking alcohol, as the two can interact and reduce the effectiveness of the treatment, or lead to serious side-effects.
That’s why you should always read the leaflet for any medication you’re taking, and consult your doctor or pharmacist for further advice.2
You should never drink alcohol while taking certain types of antibiotics. This is because some antibiotics interfere with the breakdown of alcohol in the body, leading to serious side effects including nausea, vomiting, flushing of the skin, accelerated heart rate, dizziness, drowsiness.
Two examples of antibiotics that are never safe to combine with alcohol are metronidazole and tinidazole, but there are others too. That’s why it’s vital to read the leaflet and check with your pharmacist or doctor, if necessary, before consuming any alcohol when you’re taking antibiotics. You might also be advised to avoid alcohol for up to 72 hours after finishing the course.
Several other antibiotics also interact with alcohol in a way that stops them from working properly. It’s important not drink alcohol if you are prescribed these, too, so the medicine is able to work as intended.
The NHS website advises that it’s best to avoid alcohol if you’re feeling unwell. However, for many commonly prescribed antibiotics, it also states that drinking within the UK low risk drinking guidelines is unlikely to cause additional problems.
Drinking within the UK low risk drinking guidelines while taking a standard dose of most over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen is unlikely to cause any problems.
But you should always read the leaflet that comes with the medication and get further advice from your pharmacist or doctor if you need it. For example, some over-the-counter painkillers are stronger than others, and certain cold and flu remedies also contain sedatives which can be dangerous when mixed with alcohol.
Alcohol must be avoided while on a course of prescription-only painkillers, such as tramadol, gabapentin and codeine and other morphine-like drugs. Consuming alcohol alongside these medications can be dangerous - leading to severe drowsiness and other side effects, such as nausea.4
Remember, if you’re taking any medication, always check with your doctor or a healthcare professional for their advice on whether you may be permitted to drink any alcohol. You should also let them know if you experience any negative effects while on medication.
 Holton, A.E., Gallagher, P., Fahey, T. and Cousins, G. (2017). Concurrent use of alcohol interactive medications and alcohol in older adults: a systematic review of prevalence and associated adverse outcomes. BMC Geriatrics, 17(1), 148.
 NHS website. Can I drink alcohol if I am taking painkillers (11 January 2020) https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/medicines/can-i-drink-alcohol-if-i-am-taking-painkillers/ [Accessed 18 February 2022]
 NHS website. Cautions - antidepressants (4 November 2021) Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/medicines/can-i-drink-alcohol-if-i-am-taking-antidepressants/ [Accessed 18 February 2022
Last Reviewed: 26th May 2022
Next Review due: 26th May 2025