The Risks of Mixing Ibuprofen & Alcohol

Published On 25-May-2020
By Tim Wood

Ibuprofen is one of the most commonly used painkillers in the UK today. Used to manage and treat a multitude of minor injuries and pains, it is within the top 30 most prescribed drugs in the world. [1]

While many people treat ibuprofen and paracetamol as interchangeable, they are different medications that are best suited to treating different kinds of pain. Paracetamol, for example, is most commonly used to treat headaches and non-nerve pains as well as inflammation. [2]

Ibuprofen, by contrast, is a form of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAIDs) which works best when inflammation or injury is causing the pain in question. [3] What they share, however, is a risk of damage to the liver and kidneys if taken in excess or mixed with other medications or substances such as alcohol.

Is it Safe to Drink and Take Ibuprofen?

In short, no it is not safe to drink while taking ibuprofen, even in moderation. This is because they are both capable of irritating the lining of your stomach.

More than this they can damage your kidneys and liver, and impact your long-term health if consumed in excess or over long periods of time. Of course, the precise effects and risk level of mixing the two vary with levels of consumption.

Why You Should Not Mix Alcohol and Ibuprofen

Of course, if you are taking the occasional ibuprofen for a pulled muscle or injury and you happen to have a glass of wine around that time you're unlikely to feel immediate or severe side-effects, except for slight nausea.

However, if you are regularly taking ibuprofen as a means of ongoing pain management you should avoid drinking alcohol; regular interaction can cause severe side effects from decreased alertness to internal bleeding. These risks include [4];

1. Drowsiness

Alcohol lowers inhibitions and alertness, of course, and ibuprofen can also make us less aware. Mixing the two can cause dangerous levels of drowsiness and severe drops in alertness.

2. Nausea

One of the least severe side effects of mixing alcohol and ibuprofen is nausea. Vomiting is also a potential side effect for those who drink while taking ibuprofen and other pain killers.

3. Kidney or Liver Damage

Long-term use or abuse of alcohol, of course, damages the liver. Long-term use or abuse of ibuprofen can damage the kidneys, as such mixing them in high doses increases the likelihood and severity of damage to both the liver and kidneys.

4. Gastrointestinal Bleeding

Both ibuprofen and alcohol can irritate and damage the lining of the stomach. When they are mixed together, they severely increase the danger of damage to the stomach and internal bleeding. Symptoms of this include stomach pain, bloody vomit, and black or tarry stool.

5. Increased Risk of Heart Disease or Stroke

Recent studies have found that taking NSAIDs on a regular basis are at a higher risk of heart attack and stroke compared with those who do not [5]. Drinking also increases the risk of cardiovascular problems.

Potential Long-Term Side Effects

Alongside these risks, there is the potential for other, long-term side effects. The most obvious is the risk of overdose, which can be incredibly damaging or even fatal. Secondly, there is a risk that a person taking both ibuprofen and alcohol may develop an addiction to painkillers, alcohol, or both.

The Risks for Older Adults

Studies undertaken by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism show that older adults are more at risk when mixing alcohol and NSAIDs such as ibuprofen. [6]

This is because of the inhibited capacity that older adults have to break down and metabolize alcohol and NSAIDs. There is also the fact that older people are more likely to take other medications on a regular basis, which increases the likelihood of a negative reaction with both alcohol and NSAIDs.

How to Take Ibuprofen Safely

There are times when painkillers and NSAIDs are necessary for pain management; those who have suffered an injury or who have to manage consistent low-level pain may be prescribed them on an ongoing basis.

Nonetheless, the safest way to take ibuprofen is irregularly and within recommended dosage limits. If you are advised by your doctor that protracted consumption is your best treatment option, you should avoid drinking alcohol as often as possible, and limit yourself to one or two drinks when you do choose to consume it.

Taking Ibuprofen After Drinking

While there is a clear and inherent danger in actively drinking while taking ibuprofen, few people realise that there are also dangers associated with taking NSAIDs while alcohol is still in your system. Alcoholic drinks like beer, wine, and spirits stay in the system for hours after consumption.

While factors such as biological gender, age, and weight all contribute towards the capability of the body to metabolize alcohol, a good rule of thumb is that a healthy body can metabolize one drink per hour.

Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to alcohol still being in your system the next day, and this means that taking ibuprofen to deal with the pains associated with a hangover could be seen as counterproductive.

Despite this, many doctors say that taking small doses of painkillers like paracetamol when you have alcohol in your system is not immediately dangerous to most people.

When to Seek Medical Advice

Knowing when to seek medical advice or support is important when taking any medication, doubly so if you are currently struggling with alcohol addiction or dependency.

Whether you are currently seeking help for an alcohol or painkiller addiction or not, there are certain signs that you should look out for while taking NSAIDs, especially if you are also drinking alcohol. These signs are:

  • Stomach pains
  • Stomach cramps
  • Blood in vomit or faeces
  • Vomit which resembles coffee grounds
  • Dizziness and/or fainting
  • A rapid pulse and/or excessive sweating

If you experience any of these symptoms, or you worry that you are struggling with alcohol dependency or addiction please seek medical support and advice so that you can manage health risks accordingly and proactively.

Searching for more help?

At Rehab 4 Alcoholism, our team of staff are highly trained in advising you on all things addiction, substance abuse, and recovery. Call us today on 0800 111 41 08.

References

[1] https://clincalc.com/DrugStats/Drugs/Ibuprofen

[2] https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/which-painkiller-to-use/

[3] https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/which-painkiller-to-use/

[4] https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0203362

[5] https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/harmful-interactions-mixing-alcohol-with-medicines

[6] https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a682159.html


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