Last weekend, I went shopping with a few friends, one of whom suffers from chronic pain due to an autoimmune disease. After shopping for a little while, we decided to go to Cheesecake Factory to grab some lunch. When we arrive at the restaurant, my one friend complained about being in pain and decided to take one of the pills her doctor prescribed to her, but needed something to wash it down. She asked the waiter for a water, and then, ever the wino, she ordered a glass of chardonnay to drink with her lunch.
While waiting for her wine, I asked what medication she was taking and she said hydrocodone. To which I replied, “Oh. Well you definitely can’t take that with alcohol.”
But this raised questions, obviously. “Well, why not?”
I realized her doctor had never had actually explained to her the reasons why you shouldn’t combine alcohol and pain meds. I googled the side effects to show her and we concluded it would be best if she wasn’t irritable, drowsy or dizzy for the rest of the day.
But why exactly does drinking alcohol increase side effects of prescription and over the counter medication? It all comes back to the organ that processes these substances: the liver.
Among other things the liver works to synthesize, detoxify and metabolize drugs and alcohol. While it’s pretty good at its job, if you make it do too much at once, it’s not as great. Some medications act as a catalyst, meaning it allows alcohol to get into your blood stream faster. This means you’ll feel the effects of alcohol more quickly and more intensely than if you didn’t take the medication. Even though your liver is trying to detoxify the alcohol, it can’t keep up with how fast the medication is affecting your body.
Alcohol itself has a lot of side effects. It can make you drowsy, dizzy, decrease your inhibitions, and cause you to urinate frequently just to name a few. Most medications have side effects as well; some that are exactly the same as alcohol. When the medications combine with alcohol, you’re getting a double dose of side effects, which, in some cases, can be deadly. And as I said earlier, some medications can cause alcohol to react with your body more quickly instead of being released over a longer period of time.
And it doesn’t have to be prescription drugs that are dangerous either. Over the counter drugs, like Tylenol, are pretty hard on your liver to begin with if taken in large amounts, and when combined with alcohol, can wreak a lot of havoc.
The worst part is that you probably won’t notice anything is wrong with your liver until it’s too late.
So look out for future you and put that drink down when taking those pills and pick up a glass of water instead. Your future body will thank you.
Photo: Kerem Yucel |Freeimages.com