February 20, 2015

Diabetes - If You Drink Alcohol – Read This

Dr. Rosalind Breslow, Ph.D., an epidemiologist in NIAAA's Division of Epidemiology and Prevention Research led a study that appears in the February 2015 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. Dr. Breslow said the results of the study does not report actual, but potential rate of drinking and medication use that overlap.

About 42 percent of U.S. Adults who drink also report using medications that are known to interact with alcohol. This is based on a study from the National Institutes of Health. In those over 65 years of age who drink alcohol, nearly 78 percent report using alcohol-interactive medications. These findings show that a substantial percentage of people, who drink regularly, particularly older adults, could be at risk of harmful alcohol and medication interactions. Dr. Breslow suggests that people talk to their doctor or pharmacist about whether they should avoid alcohol while taking their prescribed medications.

This research is among the first to estimate the proportion of adult drinkers in the United States who may be mixing alcohol-interactive medications with alcohol. Dr. Breslow emphasizes the resulting health effects can range from mild (nausea, headaches, loss of coordination) to severe (internal bleeding, heart problems, difficulty breathing).

Combining alcohol with medications often carries the potential for serious health risks,” said Dr. George Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of NIH. “Based on this study, many individuals may be mixing alcohol with interactive medications and they should be aware of the possible harms.”

Some of the alcohol-interactive medications reported in the survey were blood pressure medications, sleeping pills, pain medications, muscle relaxers, diabetes and cholesterol medications, antidepressants and antipsychotics. Based on recent estimates, about 71 percent of U.S. adults drink alcohol.

You have probably seen warnings on medicines you have taken. The danger is real and the warnings should be heeded. In addition to these dangers, alcohol can make a medication less effective or even useless, or it may make the medication harmful or toxic to your body.  Some medicines that you might never have suspected can react with alcohol, including many medications which can be purchased “over-the-counter,” that is, without a prescription. Surprise, even some herbal remedies can have harmful effects when combined with alcohol. Small amounts of alcohol can make it dangerous to drive, and when you mix alcohol with certain medicines, you put yourself at even greater risk. Combining alcohol with some medicines can lead to falls and serious injuries, especially among older people.

Women, in general, have a higher risk for problems than men. When a woman drinks, the alcohol in her bloodstream typically reaches a higher level than a man’s even if both are drinking the same amount. As a result, women are more susceptible to alcohol-related damage to organs such as the liver.

And remember, older people are at particularly high risk for harmful alcohol–medication interactions. Aging slows the body’s ability to break down alcohol, so alcohol remains in a person’s system longer. Older people also are more likely to take a medication that interacts with alcohol. And in fact, they often need to take more than one of these medications.

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