Combining Alcohol and Medications

Older adults are at higher risk for interactions

On January 16, 2015, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) released a report on medication and alcohol use among adults in the U.S. About 71% of U.S. adults drink alcohol, and the NIH found that 42% of those who drink alcohol also reported using medications known to interact with alcohol. Among those over age 65 who drink alcohol, 78% reported taking alcohol-interactive medications.

The NIH notes that this research is among the first to estimate the proportion of adults in the U.S. who may be combining alcohol-interactive medications with alcohol. The resulting health effects can range from mild (nausea, headaches, loss of coordination) to severe (internal bleeding, heart problems, impaired respiration). Of particular concern is the elderly adult population; not only are they more likely to be taking more medications, they also are more likely to slowly metabolize medications, which further increases the risk for potential interactions.

Medication reconciliation is a routine component of care, regardless of the practice setting. The process usually involves assessing medications for drug-drug and drug-food interactions; in addition, we need to be assessing for alcohol-drug interactions and counsel our patients accordingly. The NIH report can be accessed at