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JLeslie's avatar

If a doctor or label says don't take a medication with alcohol what does that mean to you?

Asked by JLeslie (54557points) November 28th, 2012

Does it mean to you don’t swallow the pills with alcohol? Or, don’t drink any alcohol while taking that medication?

What about don’t take with dairy products?

Don’t take with food?

Don’t go in the sun?

Drink with a full glass of water?

What would you do with each of these recommendations?

Would you be concerned about the efficacy of the drug if you don’t comply? Or, that it can be dangerous?

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31 Answers

WestRiverrat's avatar

It means don’t consume alcohol while on the medication. Alcohol can have a profound effect on the efficacy and or the rate of absorption of the medication.

I follow the pharmicist’s recommendations for all of my medications.

Jussange's avatar

Means not taking the meds. I love my wine too much.

ETpro's avatar

It can mean one of two very different things. It can mean that alcohol interferes with the proper operation of the medication or its removal from the system via the liver, in which case alcohol is an antagonist of the med; or it can mean that alcohol amplifies the effect of the medication and the two together can produce a dangerously high level of intoxication, in which case it is a synergist.

JLeslie's avatar

What about the other things I listed?

Jussange's avatar

Love ice cream and whip cream muchos
Don’t take with food? easy enough
Love swimming in the sun, the meds can go down the toilet
Drink with full glass of water? easy enough

woodcutter's avatar

Follow the suggestions there. If you try to swallow meds with a small amount of water it usually won’t go down. And that is a nasty situation sometimes. All docs will say we should always drink more water because most of us don’t usually. It should be a habit I guess so that would take care of itself. As for the food/ no food You will have to plan to take them before meals or between meals . It’s all in the timing of each and will take some time getting used to the regimen.

Bellatrix's avatar

Don’t drink alcohol (or whatever is specified) while you are taking that course of medication. If they are warning against it, I would assume the two things don’t mix well and would follow the instructions.

Sunny2's avatar

What would I do with the instructions? Follow them. I know the one about being in the sun. I get a rash instead of a tan because of medication I take.
I can’t have grapefruit with another. Some times a food will interfere with the medicine working as effectively as it might.

JLeslie's avatar

I know the answers by the way, I am asking because I am curious to know if other people do. I believe people often don’t know why it is important and what exactly the recommendations mean. I am not trying to pin particular jellies as not knowing, my argument here is doctors should explain better about medications when prescribing, explain why it should be taken a certain way, because so many people don’t know why if they are not in the medical field. Or, maybe I am wrong and people do know? That is what I will learn here, if people actually do know.

For instance, some people say follow the instructions. Follow what? If it says don’t take with alcohol does that mean to you with the pill or not at all? If it says don’t take with dairy, do you think it is ok to drink milk a half an hour later after taking the pill?

woodcutter's avatar

I suppose they don’t want the drug to be in the absorption part of your gut at the same time the booze is or dairy is.

jaytkay's avatar

It means I do not drink alcohol while using the medication.

Is this really a question?

I like beer more than the next guy, but I am happy to lay off the booze for special occasions (like illness and injury).

WestRiverrat's avatar

When a doctor prescribes a medication she is expecting to get a specific concentration of that medication into your system for a given amount of time.

When you are supposed to avoid a food or beverage, it can be one of four things.
1. It interferes with the body’s ability to absorb the medication resulting in you being undermedicated.
2. It interferes with the body’s ability to remove the medication from your system once it has done its job.
3. It amplifies the effects of the medication which can result in having too much of a good thing in too short of time.
4. It can increase the chances of side effects which can make the cure almost as bad as the disease.

Usually taking with a full glass of water is to reduce the medicines adverse effects on the digestive system. For instance concentrated aspirin can cause stomach bleeding, taking it with a full glass of water dilutes the aspirin.

lillycoyote's avatar

I just usually ignore that stuff. Nurse! I’ll have a Valium, straight up, with a beer chaser.

Just kidding. But you have to do your homework. @ETpro is generally correct about the admonitions. It usually that the instructions involve either… that the efficacy of the drug is effected by interactions with some other thing substance, that a particular drug’s actions/effects are enhanced by combining them with alcohol, for example… i.e., don’t operate heavy machinery until you know how the effects of the medication and alcohol will effect your performance, and in some cases, with the anti-depressant Cymbalta or the OTC pain reliever like Tylenol, taking the medication, along with alcohol can increase the risk of liver damage, particularly in people whose livers are already compromised in some way.


Tylenol /Acetaminophen

How calclium in dairy products can effect the efficacy of antibiotics

(not totally sure about that one… I wanted the “translate into English button too. But it’s basically what I understand the issue there to be)

ETpro's avatar

Excellent answers, @WestRiverrat and @lillycoyote. And I really have to remember to always read the question details. Thanks for covering for my oversight.

lillycoyote's avatar

@ETpro And thank you for not pointing out my oversight. It appears that I will have to redouble my efforts to finally learn to use “effected” and “affected” correctly.


I actually do know the difference but on the fly… and now my editing window is closed on that one. I am fixin’ to defenestrate Fluther.


ETpro's avatar

@lillycoyote My sympathies, as I am a fellow sufferer. Nowadays, it would seem to be enough to even care.

lillycoyote's avatar

@ETpro Sadly, it seems to have come to that.

JLeslie's avatar


Don’t take with alcohol is because the combination might kill you. It means don’t use alcohol at any time while the drug is still effective in your body. As someone pointed out with some drugs, like Tylenol for instance, it can cause liver failure. Also, with opiates/narcotics it magnifies the effect those drugs have on the part of the brain that tells our body to breath. Too much and you stop breathing. Most likely to happen if you have passed out or fallen asleep.

Don’t take with dairy typically means don’t have dairy while the drug is in your tummy because it affects absorption of the medication. People mentioned this above. “Food” is assumed to stay in the stomach and upper intestine for two hours. So, that means no dairy two hours before taking a med, and not for at least an hour after. Same with don’t take medication with food. Now most medications specifically say take one hour before a meal or two hours after instead of without food, so it is more clear.

Drink with a full glass of water. One of the least understood in my opinion. Someone above mentioned it helps to get the pill down. This can be a reason, especially for drugs that can be irritating to the lining of the esophogus and stomach. But, drugs that specifically state drink with a full glass of water in the instructions, usually quinolone drugs like cipro and noroxin, say it because the drug can cause crystals in the urine and the water helps prevent that. It can be serious. Those drugs also are broken down mostly in the kidneys and water helps to flush them.

Does knowing why affect whether you comply with the directions or better understand how to follow the directions? I personally think people should be told why.

Coloma's avatar

Haha…“Does it mean don’t swallow the pills with alcohol?:

It means exactly what it says, do not take ( combine ) the medication with alcohol as it will either dangerously enhance the drug, render it ineffective or diluted as with antibiotics, or, potentially cause internal chemical reactions like bleeding in the GI tract.
That said, screw it when it comes to international flights or messy divorces I’m taking a Xanax and a couple of cocktails before boarding and after the attorneys gobble up my retainer fees. lol

ragingloli's avatar

According to QI, this is just tradition without any merit.

Shippy's avatar

I reckon we don’t read labels enough. Or take directions well. I certainly read them, and follow instructions. It gets a little difficult to eat for example if you are not well, so I try and eat a fruit or something, if it says before or after food.

Seek's avatar

I made the mistake of having a beer with dinner while on Ultram (a non-narcotic painkiller). I fell asleep practically into my dinner plate, and slept for 14 hours.

Dairy products can coat the stomach lining and block absorption of certain chemicals (that’s why your Carnation Instant Breakfast isn’t as good a source of iron as it claims. Milk + Iron doesn’t work)

They’re not effing around when they say don’t go in the sun. I’ve only seen it on my mother in law’s antidepressant, but apparently there are other drugs as well that can make you photo-toxic. You’ll burn really easily, and your skin can blister, or you can end up with hives or a rash.

Me, I’m a walking side-effect, so I follow the bottles to the letter (that one beer aside, and I’ll never make that mistake again) If it says drink a glass of water, I’m drinking the damn water.

ragingloli's avatar

“I made the mistake of having a beer with dinner while on Ultram (a non-narcotic painkiller). I fell asleep practically into my dinner plate, and slept for 14 hours.”
Is that prescription free?

Seek's avatar

It was like, $4 for 50 pills. I still have some.

bookish1's avatar

Once, I mistook the drowsy eye alcohol warning for a winking eye alcohol suggestion, and I lost my cookies.
Learned my lesson!

livelaughlove21's avatar

No alcohol at all while on it, of course. As for dairy or food, I’d say you should take it 2 hours after or 1 hour before you eat/drink. A lot of medications give specific times for consuming food, such as Doxycycline. And when it says with water I usually gulp down a bottle with the pill, but I assume a cup would do. I must say I never pay attention to the sunlight thing. I mean, I won’t go tanning or anything, but I don’t slather on sunscreen before heading off to work or class.

As for efficacy if you don’t follow these rules, it probably depends on the drug. Some are just to avoid side effects like nausea (like “take with food”) so you don’t lose the pill right after you take it.

Aethelwine's avatar

I came home with two prescriptions the other day, with each prescription having 2–3 pages of very specific instructions and cautions. Doesn’t everyone get this type of information now when they get a prescription filled?

@JLeslie I believe people often don’t know why it is important and what exactly the recommendations mean. Just curious why you think the general public is so ill-informed?

JLeslie's avatar

@jonsblond Well, so far I don’t think one jelly here knew why a glass of water is sometimes on the actual recommendation on the bottle of a drug. I am not even sure people read my answer for it. Not one comment before or after about avoiding the crystals forming. The people who only think it is to swallow the pill, or to protect against stomach irritation, if they don’t feel irritated and are good pill swallowers they might not do it.

People take risks all the time and wind up dead. It accounts for more than you think of the ER visits and deaths caused by mixing certain drugs and alcohol. People who generally drug up so to speak, probably don’t worry about taking high doses of drugs nor mixing drugs, but some people who never would typically take big risks do combine alcohol and drugs at times without really understanding why it is so dangerous. Sanjay Gupta recently was on the Katie show about a program he did on the topic. He said Pres. Clinton came to him because two children of friends of his died from this type of accidental overdose within a month of each other. Katie mentioned she usually takes Ambien on long flights and also is likely to have some wine while flying.

Packaging was changed a while back to say specifically take one after before or two hours after a meal, because people did not understand what it really meant to take a med on an empty stomach.

Overdoses happen all the time because people take two pills instead of one, assuming two is the typical dose for OTC medications.

Not too long ago a relative of mine was happy to find baby aspirin in new flavors because she prefers to give that to her children than ibuprofen and Tylenol. She thinks it is more natural and is what she grew up with. When I told her it should not be given with colds and flu to children, she did not know what I was talking about. It is on the bottle not to do it. Doctors do not prescribe it nor recommend it, but she obviously did not know why. Knowing why now she won’t make the mistake.

When I was having trouble stabilizing my thyroid the first question from doctors was if I take my meds on an empty stomach, and if I take the same time every day. They ask because all too many people don’t.

When I was a teen I did not take enough medication at one point to fight an infection and I did not understand needing to take it at specific times, because of half lifes. Once someone explained it I became a great pill taker. I understood that three times a day is not the same as every 8 hours, and for some every 8 hours is more critical.

I know people who will not swallow a pill with anything but water, but then 5 minutes later eat a meal and drink coca cola with it. It’s all in the tummy together, it doesn’t matter the pill was swallowed with water.

I think most people will follow the recommendations given to them without question. A lot of people don’t need to know why to follow directions, I tend to be one of those people who likes to understand why, it helps me conform.

Mariah's avatar

I would not drink until after I had quit the med.

With dairy usually it gives more details, like don’t take within an hour of having dairy. I have never abstained completely from dairy because of a med.

lillycoyote's avatar

I suppose this all means I really should stop taking my occasional valium with a beer chaser. :-)

kitszu's avatar

I think the real questions are how much do you actually care about your health and whether or not you think you know better than the people who print up the pamplets?

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