Health Tips Do you really need to stop drinking on antibiotics?

The truth hurts.

  • Published:
Antibiotics and alcohol play

Antibiotics and alcohol

(Photograph by Getty Images)
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You've snagged yourself a sinus infection or are battling a bout of strep throat... complete with that daggers-puncturing-your-tonsils feeling.

Of course, it comes at the worst time ever (because, when doesn’t it?) and you’re also prepping for your best friend’s wedding/a holiday party/some fancy get-together where alcohol will be present. You’ve heard it before: Consuming alcohol while taking antibiotics is bad. But one little sip (or 12) really won’t be a life-ruiner, right?

Not so fast with the champagne there, friend. First, it's important to remember why you’re on antibiotics to begin with: You feel awful and, with some help from your prescription, your body is working to fight off a nasty bacterial infection. (Antibiotics cannot treat anything viral, like a flu.) Basically, antibiotics kill the bacteria that can give you a sore throat, make your ear ache, and spike your temperatures.

And, while drinking alcohol won’t reduce how effectively antibiotics make that happen, it can worsen many of the side effects—such as mild stomach discomfort, diarrhea, nausea, and drowsiness—that are associated with antibiotics, says Louise M. Dembry, M.D., professor of medicine, infectious diseases, and epidemiology at the Yale University School of Medicine and School of Public Health. And it's not exactly ideal if you’re out at a function and a slap of exhaustion (or diarrhea!) hits you in the face. Meanwhile, alcohol can also slow your body's ability to "bounce back" and restore its energy levels once that infection is no more.

But there’s more: Consuming antibiotics and alcohol simultaneously can be dangerous for your liver, which typically detoxifies waste products so that your body can get rid of them safely. “Some antibiotics can 'stress' the liver,” Dembry says. “That means toxicity to liver cells, which can lead to liver cell death or even impact the liver’s overall function so it does not work the way it is supposed to."

We know what you’re wondering: Is it possible that you’re on some magic strain of antibiotics where all of this doesn’t actually apply? While Dembry says that, yes, some antibiotics may be less problematic for drinking than others, you should still lay off the Sauvignon. “If you’re taking antibiotics, it’s because you have an infection," she says. "It’s best to avoid anything that might impact the body's natural ability to heal and overcome the infection, including alcohol."

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