When taking painkillers (
analgesics), you should always read the instructions to ensure that you are taking the medication correctly. Most painkillers should come with information about alcohol, and whether or not it is safe to drink while you are taking the medication. You should always follow the guidance included with the product.
Some painkillers are only available with a prescription, and it may not be safe to drink alcohol at all while taking them. However, many painkillers are available to purchase over- the-counter (OTC) from a pharmacy, and it is usually safe to drink alcohol while taking them, as long as you do not drink more than your recommended daily amount, and you take the painkillers at the correct dosage.
The recommended daily amounts of alcohol are different for men and for women. Men should not drink more than 3-4 units of alcohol a day, while women should not drink more than 2-3 units a day. One unit is equal to half a pint of normal strength beer, a glass of wine, or a single shot of spirits.
The different types of painkillers, and the ways in which alcohol can affect you when you are taking them, are detailed below.
Aspirin and ibuprofen
Aspirin and ibuprofen are both available without a prescription from pharmacies. It is normally safe to drink alcohol when taking ibuprofen or aspirin, as long as you drink within the recommended amount (between 3-4 units daily for men, and between 2-3 units daily for women).
If you drink more than this while taking aspirin or ibuprofen, the alcohol can irritate your
stomach, and may increase your likelihood of experiencing side effects, such as bleeding in your
stomach or intestines. Heavy, or long-term, daily use of aspirin may cause
inflammation, or ulceration, and this can be made worse by drinking too much alcohol. Aspirin can also increase the effects of alcohol.
If you often drink more than three units of alcohol in a day, you should talk to your doctor about whether or not it is safe for you to take aspirin, or ibuprofen.
Like aspirin and ibuprofen, acetaminophen is available over-the-counter (OTC) without a prescription from pharmacies. Drinking alcohol while taking acetaminophen is safe as long as you stick to the recommended amounts (between 3-4 units daily for men, and between 2-3 units daily for women).
However, if you have
liver problems, either from drinking alcohol, or due to other causes, you should not take acetaminophen unless you are told it is safe to do so by your doctor. Paracetamol can worsen any existing
liver damage, so it may be necessary for you to take an alternative painkiller.
Caffeine is an additive in some over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers, but alcohol does not have any adverse effect on it.
Codeine and dihydrocodeine
Codeine is a strong painkiller and it is not available without a prescription. Dihydrocodeine is a combination of codeine and an opioid (narcotic), and also usually prescribed. However, some brands with a lower
dose of opioid may be available over-the-counter (OTC) from pharmacies.
Taking codeine and codeine-based painkillers can cause
drowsiness (tiredness), and drinking alcohol while taking them, will increase this effect. It is not advisable to drink any alcohol when taking codeine, or codeine-based painkillers.
Morphine, meperidine and other prescription-only painkillers
Many painkillers are strong and are not available without a prescription. Like codeine and codeine-based painkillers, they cause
drowsiness and it is therefore not safe to drink any alcohol while you are taking them.
If you have any concerns about this information, or need any help understanding it and relating it to your own situation, you should talk to your doctor, or pharmacist.