Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Alcohol may prevent medicines from working properly.

Alcohol may prevent medicines from working properly.
beginning of content

Medicines and alcohol

2-minute read

Alcohol can interact with some medicines, including those you can buy over the counter. Some of these interactions can be harmful or stop your medicine from working properly, so it’s important to know when it isn’t safe to mix the two.

How are medicines and alcohol metabolised?

Your liver breaks down much of the food, drinks, medicines and alcohol that enter your body. It does this through chemical reactions in the cells.

Chemical reactions in cells often need other chemicals called enzymes to speed them along. The cell uses particular enzymes to help them break down different substances.

In some cases, both medicines and alcohol use the same enzymes. The medicines and alcohol interfere with each other, with the result that some medicines can be made less effective, and some can become toxic.

There’s also the risk that alcohol enhances the side effects of some medicines and make them worse.

Problems from alcohol interacting with medicines

Problems can happen with many different medicines. The most common ones are antibiotics, antidepressants, painkillers, sleeping tablets and certain antihistamines used in cough and cold remedies as well as some travel and allergy medicines.

If you take the wrong medicine with alcohol, you can get:

It can take time for your body to metabolise alcohol and medicines, so you can have these symptoms even if you don’t take the medicine at exactly the same time as consuming alcohol.

Possible complications

There is a risk of serious complications such as:

Who is at greatest risk?

Women, older people and those with liver problems are at greatest risk. You are also at greater risk of you:

  • drink a lot of alcohol
  • are small
  • aren’t healthy

Safe use of medicines and alcohol

Always read the label of your medicine. If it carries a warning, avoid alcohol. It’s also best to seek doctor’s or pharmacist’s advice if you are unsure, and before you take any new medicine, including complementary (sometimes called natural or herbal) medicines.

Last reviewed: April 2018

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Alcohol and medications

Alcohol can interact in harmful ways with many prescribed and over-the-counter medications, and with some herbal preparations. These interactions can change the effect of the alcohol and/or the medication.

Read more on Department of Veterans' Affairs website

Understanding drug interactions | Consumer Info | Medical Info | NPS MedicineWise

Find out what you can do to avoid unwanted interactions between your medicines, food & drink.

Read more on NPS MedicineWise website

Varenicline (Champix) | Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)

Safety advisory – risks of psychiatric symptoms and potential interaction with alcohol

Read more on TGA – Therapeutic Goods Administration website

Alcohol addiction | Alcohol | ReachOut Australia

There's a big difference between enjoying a drink and having an alcohol addiction. Knowing what the difference is can prevent the harmful effects of alcohol addiction.

Read more on ReachOut.com website

Alcoholism (Alcohol Dependence) | myVMC

Alcohol dependence is also known as alcoholism; however, health professionals tend not to use this term because of its potential to increase stigma and discrimination of the condition

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Liver and alcohol breakdown - myDr.com.au

Your liver is the main place in your body where alcohol is broken down. See what happens to the alcohol you drink.

Read more on myDr website

Alcohol hangovers | myVMC

An alcohol hangover refers to the mental, emotional and physical symptoms which an individual experiences after they have consumed alcohol. A hangover occurs when the person has recovered from the intoxicating effects of alcohol that is, when the body has metabolised or processed the alcohol consumed and is sober.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Alcohol related harm | WayAhead

Australians are considered to consume large quantities of alcohol, with many drinking at harmful levels, including adolescents and young adults. While research indicates that alcohol consumption is decreasing in some age groups, alcohol-related harm remains a significant social and health issue within Australian

Read more on WayAhead Mental Health Association NSW website

Alcohol and Christmas: tips - myDr.com.au

Christmas can be a difficult time to manage your alcohol intake. myDr.com.au has 10 tips to see you through the festive season with your liver intact!

Read more on myDr website

Partying safely tips for teenagers - Better Health Channel

Don't advertise a party via SMS or the internet to limit the risk of gate-crashers and violent situations.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice and information you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo
Feedback