One way or another, antibiotics are used on a massive scale to treat and prevent a variety of infections. Without going into the topic of how often they are actually used correctly, there are other issues that can occur when taking antibiotics, such as interaction with alcohol.
While this class of drugs can certainly interact with other substances, alcohol is particularly dangerous since it is consumed, at least occasionally by the vast majority of the world’s adult population.
Antibiotics reach their target (organ, tissue…etc.) by travelling through the bloodstream. After that, the drugs wear off as they are metabolized by enzymes. Alcohol needs the same enzymes to be metabolized. When both are ingested, the organism will need to split those enzymes between these two substances, prolonging the period that the antibiotic will remain available in the body and making the patient more prone to the drug’s side effects. Medication side effects are usually more likely to appear and have more severe manifestations in older people, but any individual can develop them.
The enzymes responsible for metabolizing drugs can be activated by long-term alcohol consumption. This would cause the enzymes to remain in the body for several weeks even when alcohol is no longer consumed. The active enzymes would metabolize certain drugs (and antibiotics) faster, requiring the patient to take them in higher doses in order to work properly.
Which antibiotics interact with alcohol?
Contrary to the popular belief, not all antibiotics interact with alcohol. In fact, only a few should be avoided when drinking alcohol. Some of the most frequent cases include metronidazole, tinidazole, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (co-trimoxazole), furazolidone, griseofulvin, antimalarial quinacrine and linezolid. Just to be on the safe side, ask your doctor or pharmacist about known interactions for any drug you have to take.
The first two, metronidazole and tinidazole are also the most commonly used ones for various purposes such as dental infections, vaginal infections, stomach infections, fungating tumors, leg ulcers and pressure sores.
Both these antibiotics alter the way alcohol is metabolized and can cause a series of symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, headaches, irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath and skin flushes. While different kinds of antibiotics (such as the ones mentioned above) can interact with alcohol in different ways, the adverse effects are surely not pleasant. It is recommended that you do not consume any alcohol during a treatment with metronidazole or tinidazole and for 72 hours after the treatment ended.
Let’s not forget that antibiotics have a series of side effects even without consuming alcohol, but when the combination is present, these effects can be worsened. Also, you don’t have to be pouring yourself a glass of whisky to consume alcohol. There are alcohol-based mouthwashes, liquor-filled chocolates, herbal tinctures and many other products that contain alcohol. So during a treatment with antibiotics, make sure you know its interactions and be very careful what you drink or eat.