Aspirus expert shares tips on navigating alcohol, medications during holiday season

For the Tomahawk Leader

WISCONSIN – Aspirus Health recently shared tips on how to prioritize responsible choices when it comes to consuming alcohol and taking medications during the holiday season.

“Recent research from the University of Wisconsin (UW) reveals a sobering fact: Wisconsin leads the U.S. with a 26% rate of excessive drinking, including both binge and heavy drinking,” Aspirus stated. “This statistic gains even more significance this time of the year.” 

“Mixing alcohol with prescription drugs or over-the-counter medications can compromise their effectiveness, worsen side effects and even introduce new, unpleasant symptoms over time,” said Matthew Wateski, Aspirus Pharmacy Resident. “The side effects really depend on the specific medications you’re taking, so it’s important to learn your individual risks to help you make informed choices while enjoying the holiday season.”

Wateski. Photo courtesy of Aspirus Health.

For individuals managing high blood pressure or chest pain with medications, Aspirus said, the combination with alcohol can lead to adverse effects.

“Drinking alcohol, even in short periods, can increase blood pressure, rendering medications less effective,” Wateski stated. “Symptoms such as dizziness, headache and lightheadedness may intensify, accompanied by an elevated heart rate.”

In the realm of diabetes management, Wateski pointed out a critical concern.

“Common medications like metformin come with a warning for lactic acidosis, which is an increase in lactic acid,” he explained. “Alcohol can also cause increases in lactic acid production, so when taken together, lactic acid buildup can reach dangerously high levels. You may experience nausea, vomiting, fainting and lightheadedness.”

For those grappling with depression or anxiety, combining medications such as Elavil, Zoloft, Xanax, Valium, Ambien or Lunesta with alcohol can be dangerous, Aspirus noted.

“This mixture may result in increased dizziness, extreme fatigue and even dangerous decreases in consciousness or breathing rates,” Wateski stated.

“When it comes to antibiotics, take extreme caution,” Aspirus said.

“Alcohol and antibiotics, when combined, can have harsh side effects on the stomach, such as nausea and diarrhea,” Wateski said. “Severe reactions are possible with specific antibiotics like Flagyl or Bactrim, taken for certain infections, and can lead to facial flushing, sweating, increased heart rate or drops in blood pressure.”

Wateski emphasized the need for open communication with health care providers, especially for those prescribed opioids like Vicodin, Lortab or Oxycodone.

“Combining these medications with alcohol can lead to life-threatening respiratory issues and extreme fatigue,” he stated. “Discussing your alcohol use with your provider is crucial to avoid these dangerous side effects.”

Aspirus noted that even seemingly harmless over-the-counter pain medications like Tylenol require caution.

“When you’re drinking alcohol and taking Tylenol together, your liver is working double duty with these two agents,” Wateski said, noting the risk of stomach bleeding or ulcers when combining nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications like Ibuprofen or Naproxen with alcohol.

Wateski said that, ultimately, moderation and transparency are key.

“It’s extremely important to have open communication with health care providers and pharmacists when considering alcohol and medication interactions,” Wateski stated. “Everyone should be aware of any potential side effects to ensure safe and healthy holiday celebrations.”

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