What Happens When You Drink Alcohol While on Antibiotics?

By Contributing Writer

Antibiotics are drugs made, in whole or in part, from microorganisms such as bacterias, molds and fungi. Antibiotics are designed to treat and kill bacteria or fungi that infiltrate the body, causing illness. Antibiotics cure bacteria only. They do not cure viruses. However, although they are ineffective against the common cold, most forms of sore throats and the flu, antibiotics can still save lives by curing illnesses and preventing infections.

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Perscription pills

Most antibiotics are relatively safe, although there are some side effects associated with antibiotics. Antibiotics should not be used–i.e., taken in too large of a dose or taken when unnecessary–because the body can build up immunity to antibiotics and become resistant to them. When a body is resistant to antibiotics, antibiotics no longer function effectively to kill disease.

Although antibiotics are relatively safe drugs, as stated, there are some side effects. These side effects could potentially become exacerbated if a person ingests alcohol when taking antibiotics. Furthermore, the mixture of both antibiotics and alcohol can also have some additional negative effects on the body.

Alcohol and the Effectiveness of Antibiotics

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Shelf of liquor bottles

Alcohol does not effect the effectiveness of the majority of antibiotics. However, antibiotics within the tetracycline group, including doxycycline, are hindered by alcohol. If alcohol is consumed while taking a tetraycycline antibiotic, the antibiotic may prove to be less effective at treating the bacteria or virus. A longer course of the antibiotic would thus be required. This can be risky, because by taking a longer course of the antibiotic you are increasing your body's resistance to antibiotics. Thus, antibiotics in the future may prove less effective at killing disease.

Tetraycycline Antibiotics That Could be Affected by Alcohol

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Tetraycycline Antibiotics include: doxycyclines, including Doryx, Bio-Tab, Vibra-Tabs, Doxy-Caps, Periostat, Monodox, Vibramycin and Doxychel; monocylcine hydrochlorides including Minocin, Dynacin and Vectrin; oxytetracycline hydrochlorides including Uri-Tet and Terramycin, tetracycline hydrochlorides including Panmycin, Sumycin, Tetralan, Robitet, Achromycin V, Tetracyn, Teline and Tetracap and finally demeclocycline hydrochlorides including Declomycin.

Alcohol, Antibiotics and Your Liver

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Microscopic cells

Antibiotics travel through the bloodstream to the bacteria, fungi or site that the antibiotics are intended to treat. Once antibiotics act on the relevant site, antibiotics are metabolized and eliminated from the body. This process of bodily enzymes breaking down the antibiotic and removing it from your body, occurs in the liver.

Alcohol also is metabolized and removed from your body in your liver. When alcohol and antibiotics compete for the liver's resources, this can keep either the antibiotic or the alcohol in your body for longer than it should be, if the metabolic process was not being hindered by the interaction.

This reaction increases the risk of dangerous side effects, both from the over consumption of alcohol and from the antibiotics.

Potential Side Effects of Alcohol and Antibiotics

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Unwell young woman

Any side effect associated with an antibiotic can be exacerbated by ingesting alcohol with the antibiotic, for the reasons described above. The potential side effects most likely to be exacerbated by the antibiotic remaining in the body too long due to the alcohol and antibiotic competing for resources, include fever, nausea, diarrhea and allergic reactions.

Chemical Reactions

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Certain antibiotics can have a chemical reaction when mixed with alcohol in the body. These antibiotics include cefoperazone, cefmenoxime, cephamandole, co-trimoxazole, metronidazole, ketoconazole, latamoxef, latamoxef and tinidazole. If any of these antibiotics are mixed with alcohol, the chemical reactions can cause serious side effects including severe nausea or vomiting or difficulty breathing.

Long Term Alcohol Use and Antibiotics

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Long-term alcohol abuse can cause liver issues, which result in medication being metabolized too quickly. If this occurs, antibiotics leave the body sooner than intended and may not be as effective in treating illness.