Alcohol, Antibiotics, and Healing: What Happens?
Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Cambria
Consuming alcohol while taking antibiotics can impact the healing process and, depending on the medication, cause serious side effects. If you've ever been prescribed antibiotics for a bacterial infection, you may have been advised to avoid drinking alcohol while taking them.
Some (but not all) antibiotics interact with alcohol, and different types come with various risks. Following a healthcare provider's advice is important to determine what is safe for you.
This article examines the potential interactions between different types of antibiotics and alcohol, how to recognize concerning symptoms, and other beverages you can enjoy instead of alcohol while taking these medications.
Related:Every Antibiotics Question You Have, Answered
Alcohol, Antibiotics, and Recovery Time
Antibiotics are medications prescribed to help treat certain bacterial infections. Many are prescribed for a 10-day course, but others may require a shorter or longer duration depending on the infection being treated. Antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections, not viral infections.
A healthcare provider may prescribe one of several types of antibiotics, depending on the infection and your health history. When prescribing antibiotics, a healthcare provider often will discuss whether it's OK to consume alcohol while taking them.
Some antibiotics do not interact with alcohol intake, but others do. Antibiotics and alcohol consumption may both cause digestive symptoms for some people. Combining them can worsen these side effects.
Does alcohol make antibiotics less effective? Not necessarily, but it's possible that it could lower your body's ability to fight an infection.
What happens when you drink while on antibiotics? Sometimes nothing. However, potential consequences can range from mild to severe and even life-threatening if alcohol and certain antibiotics are used simultaneously.
Read the warning label and directions on the drug packaging and heed the prescribing provider's advice to understand possible antibiotic and alcohol interactions. You may need to wait at least 48 to 72 hours after finishing your course of antibiotics before consuming alcohol.
Related:Which Antibiotics Cause Diarrhea?
The Effect of Alcohol on Specific Antibiotics
How antibiotics react with alcohol can differ by type of drug. In 2020, pharmacists at the Department of Veterans' Affairs in New York published a study examining the data regarding alcohol use with certain classes of antibiotics. Some types were deemed safe to use with alcohol, while others were not. The findings are discussed below.
Penicillins, including penicillin and amoxicillin, are commonly prescribed antibiotics that fall under the category of beta-lactam antibiotics. They're often used to fight bacterial infections like strep throat, pneumonia, or meningitis and can be given by mouth or injection.
According to a 2020 review, consuming penicillin and alcohol likely won't produce side effects for most people. However, while alcohol appears to slow the rate of penicillin absorption it does not prevent how much of the drug is ultimately absorbed.
Sulfonamides are a broad-spectrum class of manufactured antibiotics, including sulfisoxazole, sulfamethizole, and sulfamethoxazole. These are often used to treat infections alongside other drugs for bacterial infections, such as urinary tract infections. The use of alcohol with sulfonamides has been found to cause facial flushing, but otherwise, data on risk are limited.
This class of antibiotics includes linezolid and tedizolid. These drugs are often reserved for illnesses like community-acquired pneumonia and severe skin and bacterial infections after other antibiotics have not worked.
Oxazolidinones may be used for certain infections, such as osteomyelitis, an infection in the bones, or endocarditis, an infection of the inner lining of the heart muscle.
It's OK to consume alcohol low in tyramine with this class of drugs. Tyramine is a naturally occurring trace compound from the amino acid tyrosine. High-tyramine alcohols include home-brewed beer, beer on tap, Korean beer, and vermouth. Most bottled beers are lower in tyramine, but it's always best to ask a healthcare provider if it's safe to consume alcohol on these antibiotics.
The types of drugs in this class of broad-spectrum antibiotics are tetracycline, doxycycline, minocycline, and tigecycline. They are commonly used for bacterial respiratory tract infections, like pneumonia, and some infections of the eyes, skin, and digestive system. They may even be used for diseases spread to humans from animals or insects or to treat food poisoning in people who cannot use penicillin.
While robust data are lacking, recent studies have determined that alcohol may be used moderately and cautiously when taking tetracyclines.
Nitroimidazoles, including metronidazole, tinidazole, and secnidazole, are often used for parasitic or anaerobic bacterial infections.
Healthcare providers recommend avoiding alcohol with metronidazole and tinidazole within 48 hours of starting or stopping them. This is because there's a risk of a reaction similar to taking disulfiram, a treatment for chronic alcoholism, caused by a buildup of the toxic byproduct of alcohol called acetaldehyde.
It can cause nausea, dizziness, headache, chest and abdominal discomfort, flushing, vomiting, and hangover-like symptoms. A 2020 review shows a lack of solid evidence behind how common this is, but caution is still warranted.
This group of antibiotics includes levofloxacin, moxifloxacin, and fluoroquinolone, which are used for various bacterial infections.
As for using alcohol with fluoroquinolones, the evidence of possible toxicity is limited to one case study in a 46-year-old man whose symptoms of an allergic skin reaction resolved when he continued the drug but discontinued alcohol use. Generally, it's best to practice caution and speak with a healthcare provider about drinking alcohol while on these antibiotics.
If you're confused about whether it's safe to drink alcohol while taking an antibiotic you were prescribed, ask a pharmacist. It's their job to answer these kinds of questions. You might ask:
Is it safe for me to have alcohol while I'm taking this drug?
Do I need to wait a certain amount of time after completing this medication to drink alcohol?
If it's OK to drink alcohol with this medication, what symptoms should I watch for that might indicate a reaction?
Are there certain types of alcohol that are OK and certain ones to avoid with this medicine?
Related:Choosing the Right Antibiotic for Bacterial Infections
Emergency Symptoms to Recognize
Any abnormal changes to your health or concerns when using antibiotics warrant a call to your healthcare provider. While not all antibiotics will negatively interact with alcohol, it's vital to practice caution and have clear information regarding alcohol safety with the prescribed medication.
Symptoms to recognize that could warrant a need for emergency medical attention when alcohol and antibiotics are mixed include:
Severe throbbing headache
Racing heart rate
Reddening and warming of your skin
Always seek medical attention if you experience symptoms that feel out of the ordinary or are concerning.
Related:Common and Serious Antibiotic Side Effects in Children
Beverages to Drink Instead on Antibiotics
There are plenty of beverages that you can enjoy while taking antibiotics without worrying about how they might interact with your treatment.
Consider the following beverages in place of alcohol:
Plain or seltzer water
Hot or cold herbal teas
Mocktails (drinks using nonalcoholic ingredients)
Once you've completed your course of antibiotics, taken as directed, it will be safer to consume alcoholic beverages again.
Related:What Can You Drink Instead of Alcohol During Dry January?
Various classes of antibiotics are prescribed to treat bacterial infections. One of the most common concerns when taking antibiotics is whether alcohol can still be consumed during treatment. While not all antibiotics interact with alcohol, some do, and the potential side effects can range from mild to severe.
Speak with the prescribing healthcare provider or a pharmacist about alcohol use while taking antibiotics. Read the warning label and instructions on the packaging.