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Safely enjoy the holidays
From the glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner to the champagne toast on New Year's, alcohol is often a familiar sight at holiday celebrations.
But if you're taking one or more medications a day — whether they're over-the-counter or prescription — is it safe to raise a glass or two, or should you avoid drinking altogether?
In some cases, mixing alcohol with medications can be dangerous. Some drugs contain ingredients that can react with alcohol, making them less effective.
Drinking while on other types of medications might have a negative effect on your symptoms or the disease itself. For example, consuming alcohol can reduce blood-sugar levels, leading to poor control of diabetes. [7 Ways Alcohol Affects Your Health]
Knocking a few back can also intensify the sleep-inducting effect of medications that may cause drowsiness, making it risky to get behind the wheel or use dangerous machinery.
"The danger of combining alcohol and some medications is real and sometimes fatal," said Danya Qato, a practicing pharmacist and doctoral candidate in health services research at Brown University in Providence, R.I.
"Alcohol works in various and unexpected ways to impact the effectiveness of a medication," Qato told LiveScience.
Older people are at a particularly high risk for drug-alcohol interactions because they often take more medications than younger adults do, and are more susceptible to alcohol's effects on thinking and motor skills, which may result in falls and other injuries. Aging also slows the body's ability to break down alcohol, so its negative effects are felt sooner, and it remains in an older person's bloodstream longer.
Knowing which of the eight common medication classes below may interact harmfully with alcohol, and what side effects may occur as a result, could go a long way toward helping you to enjoy a happier and healthier holiday season.
Be sure to consult your pharmacist or doctor if you have additional questions about the medications you are taking.
AntidepressantsSlide 2 of 17
About one in 10 Americans ages 12 and over takes an antidepressant, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
With antidepressants, the concern with drinking alcohol is that they both slow down the central nervous system, affecting the brain and impairing thinking skills and alertness. This combination can also make people feel sleepier and decrease their judgment abilities, coordination and reaction time.
Combining alcohol and antidepressants may also worsen the symptoms of depression.
For people taking a particular class of antidepressants called monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), it's best to avoid alcohol entirely, Qato said. Alcohol can interact with these drugs and cause a dangerous rise in blood pressure.
Most Americans who use antidepressants are taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) — such as Zoloft, Prozac and Paxil — and there is less evidence of these particular drugs interacting adversely with alcohol, Qato said.
Still, she advised, if you have a drink while taking SSRIs, avoid driving because of alcohol's influence on drowsiness, dizziness and concentration.Slide 3 of 17
Cholesterol-lowering medicationsSlide 4 of 17
Statins, such as Lipitor and Crestor, rank among the country's top-selling drugs. About 32 million Americans are taking a statin, according to a Harvard Medical School publication.
"In general, it's best to err on the side of drinking moderately if you're on statins," Qato said.
Moderate drinking means one drink a day for women and up to two daily for men, according to the U.S. government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans.(One drink is considered 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of liquor.)
But Qato said a bigger concern is the people who take these cholesterol-lowering drugs and have a history of heavy drinking. That's because liver damage is a potential side effect of statin treatment, and regular statin use combined with frequent bouts of heavy drinking can both take a toll on the liver.
Liver problems may not cause any noticeable symptoms, and may be detected only through a liver function test.Slide 5 of 17
Blood-pressure and heart medicationsSlide 6 of 17
Blood-pressure and heart medications
Roughly seven in 10 U.S. adults with high blood pressure use medication to treat the condition, according to the CDC.
Alcohol is thought to decrease the effect of beta-blockers, medications taken by people who have had heart attacks or are being treated for heart failure, chest pain or an abnormal heart rhythm. Therefore, experts recommend that people using beta-blockers avoid drinking alcohol.
For those taking angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE inhibitors) to control hypertension or treat heart attack and strokes, alcohol can actually cause blood pressure to drop too much, said Elder, who is also an internal medicine clinical specialist at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
When blood pressure dips too low, a person may feel dizzy or lightheaded, and might even faint.
Because alcohol compounds the blood-pressure reduction effects of ACE inhibitors, it's best to avoid drinking while taking them, Elder said.Slide 7 of 17
Birth-control pillsSlide 8 of 17