The Dangers of Mixing Statins & Alcohol

Published On: May 17, 2020

It is a well-known fact that alcohol can interfere with certain medications and often times doctors will recommend abstaining from drinking alcohol altogether.

However, what you might not be told are the risks that come with using alcohol alongside medications such as statins.

In this article, we are going to provide you with an in-depth look at the risks and effects of taking statins with alcohol and what to expect if you do.

What Are Statins?

If you suffer from high LDL (low-density lipoprotein) levels in your blood, you may be offered statins as a way to control this. These proteins, which are more commonly referred to as ‘bad cholesterol’ are produced inside the liver. They can cause the arteries to become obstructed if left untreated. [1]

This happens when the arteries become narrow and hardened as a result of the high levels of LDL. However, statins can force the liver into producing less, therefore reducing the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Since high cholesterol can lead to heart complications, statins are also often offered to patients who have a family history of heart conditions. These include angina and heart attacks as well as patients who have diabetes.

Diabetes can be responsible for heart problems and so for this class of patient, the medication is used as a preventative measure.

What Are The Side Effects Of Statins?

Most medications carry a small risk of side-effects. In most cases, these are limited and do not cause anything more than a minor inconvenience.

Drinking alcohol whilst taking statins can cause the possible side effects to be exacerbated, turning them from minor to very serious.

Minor Side Effects

Whilst taking statins, you might experience any of the following side effects:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Headaches
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhoea
  • Skin rashes
  • A sensation of ‘pins and needles’

More Severe Side Effects

There are some risks of much more serious side effects when taking statins.

1. Muscle pain

The first being muscle pain, which is a result of damage to the muscles.

However, this can be treated by switching to a different statin medication. This may seem frightening but in actual fact, it has been observed that only around 5% of patients who take statins experience these. [2]

2. Liver damage

Secondly, there is a risk of liver damage in the form of inflammation and liver disease. The reason for this is because in some cases the liver may begin to increase the level of enzymes it produces.

Again, this problem can be solved by trying a different form of statin medication. It is vital to remember that anyone who has existing liver damage as a result of alcohol may be more susceptible to developing liver problems whilst taking statins.

3. Increased blood sugar

It has been observed that there is a link between an increase in blood sugar whilst taking statins, which can result in patients developing type 2 diabetes.

The chances of this occurring are quite low, and in most cases happens when a patient already experiences raised levels of blood sugar.

4. Memory loss

Finally, there has been some suggestion that statins can be responsible for a loss of memory or feelings of confusion. Whilst this is a scary prospect, this side effect can be completely reversed by stopping the medication.

However, this is something that should be discussed with a medical professional. You should not stop medication without your doctor’s approval as this may make things worse.

Who Is More At Risk Of Adverse Side Effects?

There are certain people who are more at risk of developing complications with side effects when taking statins.

As we mentioned, those who drink excessive amounts of alcohol may stand to suffer more liver problems than those who don’t. However, there are other groups that may be more at risk that include:

  • People over the age of 70
  • Those with a history of liver disease
  • People who have previously experienced muscle pain when taking this type of medication
  • Anyone with a family history of rhabdomyolysis or myopathy

How Does Alcohol Interfere With Statins?

Before your doctor offers you statins, he or she will ask about your alcohol intake and it is important to be honest about this. If you are drinking high levels of alcohol, this may interfere with the treatment. 

According to the NHS, patients may be able to drink some alcohol whilst using statins however, recommended guidelines should be observed. [3]

If you do drink a lot of alcohol whilst taking statins, you may notice that any side effects are intensified. Some of these such as headaches may be easier to deal with – however, damage to the liver may not be so simple.

The reason that alcohol increases the risk of liver damage is that both itself and statins are known to cause liver problems. Using the two together can increase the risk of an overproduction of enzymes within the liver.

Owing to the fact that alcohol is a depressant, any neurological symptoms associated with statins may worsen when drinking. You may also notice that you become drowsier and less able to function as you usually would.

Drinking Alcohol While Taking Statins

We mentioned earlier that it may be OK to continue consuming alcohol whilst using statins. However, the NHS recommends drinking no more than 14 units per week. [4]

It is advised to spread the 14 units out over the week rather than using them all in one session. Healthy people should not see any problems if they drink 2 alcoholic beverages a day while taking statins.

If you struggle with alcohol dependency or addiction, you should avoid taking statins until you have dealt with the issue as a way of preventing serious damage to your liver.

For those who have already experienced liver damage as a result of alcohol, statins should not be taken alongside alcohol.

Why Is It Important To Follow The Low-Risk Drinking Guidelines When Taking Statins?

Following the low-risk drinking guidelines is important for many reasons. Most obviously by doing so you drastically reduce the risk of illness or disease, especially when taking statins.

You will not only notice lessened side effects with your medication but in general, you will notice an improvement in your health.

Effects Of Statins On The Liver

It is evident that statins can cause problems with the liver, and being aware of these problems and what the symptoms might look like can help in preventing or treating them.

1. Liver Injury

The liver can become injured while taking statins as anti-bodies may be produced which forces the liver to attack itself. There have been cases of such severe liver injury as a result of statins that death has occurred, although it is important to note that this is very rare.

2. Liver Disease

When an increase in enzymes occurs, this can cause the liver to become inflamed. However, by altering the medication or stopping it completely, this can be reversed. [5]

Side Effects To Look Out For When Taking Statins And Alcohol

If you are concerned that your alcohol intake may be having an effect on the statins that you are taking, there are certain side effects that you can watch out for. These include:

  • Muscle cramping or pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • A general feeling of being unwell

These side effects may be a sign of muscle damage which can also lead to problems with the kidneys. It is important to speak to your doctor if you notice any of these.

If you experience any of the following symptoms, you should see your doctor in order to rule out any problems with the liver:

  • Pain and swelling in the ankles or abdomen
  • Jaundice
  • Itching
  • Dark urine/pale stools
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea

Things To Remember When Taking Statins And Drinking Alcohol

There are several things to keep in mind when taking statins and the amount of alcohol you consume is one of the most important.

Statins are a group of medicines that are designed to lower bad cholesterol and control possible heart conditions. They are a very common type of medication but it is important to discuss your alcohol use with your doctor before taking them.

This is because alcohol can interfere with any side effects of the medication, in some cases causing severe liver damage and muscle pain. 

For anyone who struggles with alcohol or for those who have experienced liver damage as a result of alcohol, taking statins should be done with care.

Whilst it is OK to drink to the recommended UK guidelines, too much alcohol can have an adverse effect and increase the risk of further liver damage.

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