TELLING people you're on antibiotics is often the common excuse for people when they want to turn down a drink.
But is it really true that you shouldn't drink alcohol while on a course of the drug? Here's what you need to know…
Can you drink alcohol on antibiotics?
Some people believe that booze can prevent antibiotics from work properly, while others presume it can cause nasty side effects.
But NHS advice states that drinking alcohol in moderation is unlikely to cause problems if you're on the most common antibiotics.
However, health experts say that it is "sensible" to avoid drinking alcohol when taking antibiotics of feeling unwell.
That's because boozing can make it harder for the body to fight off infections and leave you dehydrated.
Drinking may not cause any major side-effects but it could slow down the effectiveness of your medication, taking you longer to recover, they say.
How long after taking antibiotics is it safe to drink?
Always check what antibiotics you’re on and if they have any adverse side-effects to alcohol.
Some may specify a time-frame where you should avoid drinking even after you’ve taken them.
For example you should avoid drinking alcohol for at least 24 hours after finishing a prescribed course of metronidazole, and at least 72 hours after finishing a prescribed course of tinidazole.
With other antibiotics, there usually isn’t any adverse side-effect if you drink but it makes sense to avoid alcohol until you have recovered.
What are antibiotics?
Antibiotics are used to treat or prevent certain bacterial infections by killing certain bacteria.
Some antibiotics are also handed out if an infection carries a risk of more serious complications – such as after surgery.
Different antibiotics target different strains of bacteria.
Some are highly specialised and are only effective against particular bacteria while others, called "broad-spectrum" antibiotics, attack a wider range of bacteria.
Doses are either oral, topical – such as creams and lotions used to treat skin infections – or intravenous, meaning they are administered by injection or drip.
The latter tend to be used when an infection is more serious.
What are the risks of taking antibiotics?
There are a number of common side effects when taking antibiotics:
- Being sick
- Feeling sick
- Bloating and indigestion
Some people are also allergic to certain types of antibiotics – especially penicillin and cephalosporins.
Always speak to a medical professional if you experience severe or unexpected side effects.
Are there any exceptions?
There are some circumstances where people should avoid alcohol altogether.
Anyone taking either metronidazole – commonly used to clear dental and vaginal infections, or infected leg ulcers and pressure sores – or tinidazole – sometimes used to treat many of the same infections as metronidazole, as well as to help clear bacteria called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) from the gut – must avoid alcohol altogether.
Alcohol can cause a serious reaction when combined with these medications. Symptoms can include:
- Chest pain
- Skin flushing
- Increased or irregular heartbeat
- Nausea and vomiting
The NHS says because of the risk, you should avoid drinking for 48 hours after you stop taking metronidazole and 72 hours after you stop taking tinidazole.
There are some antibiotics that can sometimes interact with booze, so you should also be wary of drinking if you are taking:
- co-trimoxazole – drinking alcohol while taking co-trimoxazole can occasionally cause a similar reaction to that of metronidazole or tinidazole, although this is very rare.
- linezolid – linezolid can interact with undistilled (fermented) alcoholic drinks, such as wine, beer, sherry and lager.
- doxycycline – this is known to interact with alcohol, and the effectiveness of doxycycline may be reduced in people with a history of chronic alcohol consumption.
- erythromycin – there is some evidence of a minor interaction with alcohol, which may slightly reduce or delay the effect of erythromycin.
What is antibiotic resistance?
The NHS and health organisations across the world are trying to reduce the use of antibiotics because overuse has caused the medicines to become less effective – and led to the emergence of "superbugs".
Superbugs can be serious and challenging to treat, and are becoming an increasing cause of death across the world.
It has now emerged doctors' warnings that a course of antibiotics must be completed are wrong – and may be putting patients at risk and fuelling the rise of deadly superbugs.
Current NHS advice states “it is essential to finish taking a prescribed course of antibiotics, even if you feel better”.
Health officials claim stopping early can cause bacteria to become resistant to the drugs, because they are not always killed off.
But leading infection experts have told the BMJ medical journal that the opposite is true.
Public Health England said: “We continue to recommend patients follow their health professional’s advice on antibiotics.”
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