Study Says Americans at Risk for Alcohol-Medication Interactions

Nearly 42 percent of U.S. adults who drink regularly also report using medications known to interact with alcohol, based on a study from the National Institutes of Health released last week. Among those older than 65 years of age who drink alcohol, nearly 78 percent of them report using alcohol-interactive medications. This could put people at risk for nausea, headaches, loss of coordination and even internal bleeding, heart problems and difficulty breathing.

The research is among the first to estimate the proportion of adult drinkers in the United States who may be mixing alcohol-interactive medications with alcohol.

“Combining alcohol with medications often carries the potential for serious health risks,” said Dr. George Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of NIH. “Based on this study, many individuals may be mixing alcohol with interactive medications and they should be aware of the possible harms.” Dr. Koob will be addressing CADCA’s coalitions at its 25th annual National Leadership Forum next week.

The study, led by Dr. Rosalind Breslow, Ph.D., appears in the February issue of “Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research”.

“Our findings show that a substantial percentage of people who drink regularly, particularly older adults, could be at risk of harmful alcohol and medication interactions,” Dr. Breslow said in a news release. “We suggest that people talk to their doctor or pharmacist about whether they should avoid alcohol while taking their prescribed medications.”

The researchers analyzed data from more than 26,000 adults ages 20 and older who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1999-2010). The survey asks participants about alcohol use in the past year and prescription drug use in the past month.

The main types of alcohol-interactive medications reported in the survey were blood pressure medications, sleeping pills, pain medications, muscle relaxers, diabetes and cholesterol medications, antidepressants and antipsychotics.

For more information on potential alcohol-medication interactions, see the NIAAA fact sheet.