Many common pain medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, come with a familiar warning label: “Do not mix with alcohol.” Whether you take painkillers on a regular basis or you need them to deal with short-term discomfort, it’s crucial to always take this warning seriously.

On its own, alcohol can impact the body in many significant ways, altering your brain chemistry and depressing your nervous system. But drinking alcohol when you’re also taking pain medication can intensify its impact and cause dangerous, unexpected side effects, including organ damage, loss of consciousness, and even death.

Mixing alcohol with over-the-counter pain medication

When you’re suffering from a headache or a strained muscle, fast pain relief can often be found in your medicine cabinet – no prescription necessary. While taking over-the-counter pain meds usually carries an extremely low degree of risk, combining them with alcohol can cause serious adverse reactions.

Here are some of the more common over-the-counter pain medications that you should avoid mixing with alcohol:

  • Acetaminophen

When used as recommended, Tylenol is a safe, effective pain reliever. But taking it in large doses or mixing a regular dose with alcohol can lead to irreversible liver damage.

  • Ibuprofen

Products containing ibuprofen, such as Motrin, Midol, or Advil, can cause stomach upset even when taken as directed. Drinking alcohol with these anti-inflammatory drugs in your system can increase your risk of stomach problems, even causing gastrointestinal bleeding.

  • Aspirin

Many people take a low dose of aspirin everyday to ward off the effects of heart disease or stroke. But regular use of aspirin and alcohol together can actually increase your risk of internal bleeding, stroke, or kidney failure.

Mixing alcohol with prescription painkillers

While it’s undoubtedly dangerous to combine over-the-counter pain meds with alcohol, drinking while you’re taking prescription opioid painkillers can be deadly. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, overdose deaths involving prescription opioids have increased dramatically in recent years, with over 17,000 Americans losing their lives to a prescription painkiller overdose in 2017. And alcohol consumption significantly raises your risk of an opioid overdose.

Prescription painkillers, such as Vicodin, Percocet, or Oxycontin, work by blocking pain messages that are sent from your body to your brain. They also produce a general calming effect, including slowed breathing, sleepiness, and deep relaxation. Alcohol can enhance these effects, causing a more intense high, but also making you extremely drowsy. As a result, your breathing and heart rates slow down, your oxygen levels plummet, and your risk of slipping into a coma increases. If this happens, it’s critical to receive emergency medical care as soon as possible; without enough oxygen, you could suffer serious brain damage, organ failure, or death.

How to avoid the dangerous side effects of mixing alcohol with pain medication

The best way to avoid serious illness or injury due to drug and alcohol interactions is to abstain from drinking alcohol whenever you’re taking pain medication, no matter how small the dosage. Even a single social drink could put your health at risk. However, it’s always best to consult with your doctor or pharmacist for more specific instructions on alcohol consumption and medication management. And if you have a history of alcohol abuse or drug addiction, it’s important to tell your doctor about it. They can help you avoid a potentially deadly interaction and steer you clear of addictive pain medications that could lead you down a dangerous path.

Conquer your drug and alcohol addiction at Alvarado Parkway Institute

If you’re having a hard time controlling your alcohol intake, or you’re struggling to stop taking painkillers, you don’t have to do it alone. Alvarado Parkway Institute is here to help you conquer your addictions so you can live a sober, healthy life. Both our inpatient and outpatient treatment programs are designed to help you achieve stability, receive support, and learn coping strategies to avoid relapse.

For more information on how Alvarado Parkway Institute can help you on the road to recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, call us at (619) 485-1432.