Can I drink alcohol on penicillin and other antibiotics, what are the risks and how long after taking medication is safe?

LIFE doesn’t always end when the weather is bad for us.

But in some cases, visits to the pub while on medication should be likely.

With the weekend just around the corner, we might be thinking of a glass of wine, but should you be drinking alcohol when you're also on antibiotics?


With the weekend just around the corner, we might be thinking of a glass of wine, but should you be drinking alcohol when you’re also on antibiotics?

If you have a bad bacterial infection, chances are you have been prescribed antibiotics.

However, with the weekend just hours away, you might have plans to paint the city red with friends or enjoy a quiet pint.

It’s handy to know the details of when you can and can’t get drunk while taking antibiotics:

Can you drink alcohol with antibiotics?

Inside every medicine you are prescribed or buy you will find a ‘Patient Information Leaflet’ – it’s always worth reading before you start a new medicine.

It details things like side effects, warnings, and whether or not you can consume alcohol.

The NHS reassuringly says: “drinking in moderation is unlikely to cause any problems if you’re taking the most common antibiotics” – with some exceptions (see below).

But overall, it says it’s a “good idea to avoid alcohol if you’re on medication or if you’re unwell.”

Some experts say alcohol can prevent antibiotics from working properly.

The Mayo Clinic says alcohol can reduce your energy and delay recovery from illness.

Alcohol is also a diuretic that causes dehydration, which isn’t ideal if you’re feeling unwell.

Alcohol can also increase existing symptoms such as dizziness or lightheadedness.

It’s important to read the package leaflet of any antibiotic you’ve been prescribed if you plan to have a drink.

When is it dangerous to drink alcohol on antibiotics?

There are instances when you should avoid drinking altogether, such as if you’re taking metronidazole or tinidazole.

The NHS says you shouldn’t drink alcohol for 48 hours after you’ve stopped taking metronidazole and 72 hours after you’ve stopped taking tinidazole.

Both can be used to clear dental and vaginal infections or infected leg ulcers and pressure sores, while the latter is sometimes used to clear bacteria called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) from the gut.

Alcohol can cause serious reactions when combined with these drugs. Symptoms can include:

  • breathlessness
  • Headache
  • chest pain
  • skin redness
  • Increased or irregular heartbeat
  • drowsiness
  • nausea and vomiting

There are some antibiotics that can sometimes interact with alcohol, so you should also be careful if you’re taking:

  • co-trimoxazole – Drinking alcohol while taking co-trimoxazole may occasionally produce a reaction similar to that of metronidazole or tinidazole, although this is very rare.
  • Linezolid – Linezolid (mentioned above) may interact with non-distilled (fermented) alcoholic beverages such as wine, beer, sherry and lager.
  • Doxycycline – It is known to interact with alcohol and the effectiveness of doxycycline may be reduced in individuals with a history of chronic alcohol consumption.
  • erythromycin – There is some evidence of a minor interaction with alcohol that may slightly weaken or delay the effects of erythromycin.

What are antibiotics?

Antibiotics are used to treat or prevent certain bacterial infections by killing certain bacteria.

Some antibiotics are also prescribed when there is a risk of more serious complications from an infection – for example after surgery.

Different antibiotics target different strains of bacteria.

Some are highly specialized and only effective against certain bacteria, while others, called “broad-spectrum” antibiotics, attack a wider range of bacteria.

Doses are either oral, topical — like creams and lotions used to treat skin infections — or intravenous, meaning they’re given by injection or drip.

The latter are usually used when an infection is more severe.

How long after taking antibiotics is it safe to drink?

Many antibiotics indicate how soon after taking them you can drink again.

For example, you should not drink alcohol for at least 24 hours after completing a prescribed metronidazole cycle and at least 72 hours after completing a prescribed tinidazole cycle.

With other antibiotics, there are usually no side effects if you drink, but it’s a good idea to avoid alcohol until you’ve recovered.

Independent Pharmacy experts previously said drinking alcohol with antibiotics could slow your recovery.

“There are a few antibiotics that you must avoid drinking alcohol completely if you are taking them. metronidazole, which is usually prescribed for dental work or to clear infected ulcers, and tinidazole, which is often prescribed to clear infections and fight unwanted gut bacteria.

“Combining alcohol with these two antibiotics can cause painful side effects, including stomach pain, vomiting, flushing, and a fast or irregular heartbeat.

“Other antibiotics that one should be careful with if they react with alcohol are linezolid and doxycycline.

“However, drinking alcohol is unlikely to cause problems if you’re taking the most common antibiotics, so ask your doctor or pharmacist when you pick up your prescription about drinking alcohol in moderation while taking the medication.”

What is antibiotic resistance?

The NHS and health organizations around the world are trying to reduce the use of antibiotics, as overuse has meant the drugs are less effective – and has led to the emergence of ‘superbugs’.

Superbugs can be serious and difficult to treat, and are becoming a growing killer worldwide.

Previously, it turned out that doctors’ warnings that a course of antibiotics must be completed were wrong – and potentially endangering patients and encouraging the rise of deadly superbugs.

Current NHS advice says: “It is important to stop taking a prescribed course of antibiotics even if you are feeling better”. Can I drink alcohol on penicillin and other antibiotics, what are the risks and how long after taking medication is safe?

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