It’s Friday night and you’ve just started drinking when a headache/sore throat/cramps/muscle pain strikes. You automatically head toward your medicine cabinet for some over-the-counter painkillers, but then you pause. A voice in the back of your mind tells you that since you’ve been drinking, taking meds might be risky. You Google it, but you don’t feel like sifting through all the results.
Don’t worry, we’ve been there too. We’ve done all the hard work for you so you don’t have to. Here is your guide to the risks and dangers of mixing different common household medicines with alcohol.
Disclaimer: Mixing substances like drugs and alcohol is never not risky, and we are not condoning that behavior in any way.
1. Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
Acetaminophen is probably the riskiest painkiller to take while drinking. A new study suggests that people who take the correct dose of acetaminophen, combined with a even a small amount of alcohol, have a 123% greater chance of getting kidney disease. Alcohol also messes with your liver’s ability to process acetaminophen so drinking and taking this drug increases your chances of liver disease. Of course, these risks are much higher for people who use alcohol chronically, but the risks are definitely very real, even for light drinkers.
You’ve probably heard that taking an aspirin before a night out can help prevent a hangover in the morning. That is 100% myth. The aspirin and alcohol combo is never a good idea. Alcohol and aspirin can cause stomach bleeding, reduce your ability to form necessary blood clots and increase the effects of alcohol. Basically, aspirin interferes with your stomach’s ability to break down alcohol which means you could feel drunker for longer than normal.
3. Naproxen (Aleve)
Naproxen and alcohol is a big no. The two have very similar side effects so by taking both at the same time, you’re increasing your chances of experiencing drowsiness, grogginess and an inability to safely operate some machinery. Also taking naproxen while drinking increases your chance of developing a stomach ulcer or having gastrointestinal bleeding. That’s definitely something we’d like to avoid.
4. Ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin)
Ibuprofen is a much less risky option than acetaminophen. One study showed that regular use of ibuprofen and alcohol increased the risk of GI problems and bleeding. However, if you don’t take ibuprofen regularly this risk is much less of a problem. Regular usage of ibuprofen and alcohol can also lead to ulcers and kidney problems.
The takeaway here is that although there are risks, ibuprofen is usually fine as long as you don’t use it regularly.
5. Combination Painkillers (like Excedrin)
Some over the counter painkillers combine many different types of pain killers. For example, Excedrin combines caffeine, acetaminophen and ibuprofen into one handy little pill. Combo pills are super dangerous with alcohol because you’re risking the side effects of all the pills I’ve listed above. So for Excedrin you risk both the liver damage of acetaminophen and the stomach damage of ibuprofen. No thank you.
Overall, taking painkillers while drinking is never a good idea. Even though these drugs are over the counter, they still have the potential to be very dangerous.