Skip to content

5 Secret Side Effects of Drinking Alcohol With Medicine

Don't risk these unintended physical problems.

If you're taking medication that includes a warning to avoid alcohol, it's a good idea to pay attention. "The danger is real," says the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The most well-known side effect of mixing alcohol with medication is drowsiness or impaired coordination. But the combination can cause several other physical issues, some of which can lead to organ damage or even death. Here are five secret side effects of mixing alcohol and medication. Read on to hear about 5 you never knew about—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these 19 Ways You're Ruining Your Body.



man with glass of whiskey at home


If you've been knocking back too many drinks on a regular basis, you have a higher risk of becoming dependent on medications with addictive properties. According to Scientific American, 3 to 5 percent of people who take pain medication eventually end up addicted, and alcohol use can increase this likelihood. "Individuals who have a past history of a substance-use disorder—from smoking, drinking or other drugs—are at greater risk," said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.



Pensioner reading message on mobile phone

Some medications, such as sedatives, impair memory. Taking them with alcohol amplifies that effect. You may forget your actions, and the consequences can be more severe than an embarrassing text message or social media post: You might put yourself in risky situations (like getting behind the wheel of a car) or forget you initially took the medication. Taking another pill can increase the likelihood of an overdose.


Depression or Anxiety

selective focus of depressed african american man sitting with bowed head

If you drink alcohol while taking antidepressants, you may be shooting yourself in the foot. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, and it can cause depression or anxiety by itself, preventing antidepressants from doing their job. "Drinking can counteract the benefits of your antidepressant medication, making your symptoms more difficult to treat," says the Mayo Clinic. (Antidepressants aren't the only medication that alcohol can make less effective, and some can even be toxic to the body when combined with booze.)



Man hands on his head felling headache dizzy sense of spinning dizziness,a problem with the inner ear, brain, or sensory nerve pathway

If you're taking bupropion (brand names Wellbutrin, Zyban or Contrave) for depression, weight loss or to stop smoking, pay special attention to the no-booze warning on the label. Any medication that contains bupropion can increase your risk of seizures when taken with alcohol.


Internal Bleeding

Woman sitting on the bed with pain.

Some medications, such as the anticoagulant Warfarin, can cause internal bleeding when taken with alcohol. That's because alcohol thins the blood and can amplify the effects of blood thinning medication prescribed to prevent blood clots or cardiovascular events. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, drinking while on anticoagulants might also have the opposite effect, causing blood clots, stroke, or heart attack.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor whose health and lifestyle content has also been published on Beachbody and Openfit. A contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, he has also been published in New York, Architectural Digest, Interview, and many others. Read more about Michael