Alcohol and Your Meds: Tips for Consulting Your Patients

The interaction of drugs and alcohol is a particular concern when dealing with older patients who are generally taking a variety of medications for a longer period of time. When pharmacists talk to older patients about their medications, pharmacists should also discuss the problems associated with mixing drugs and alcohol.

If you’re a pharmacist, you should inform your patients that alcohol can magnify the adverse effects of some medications and can also dilute the drug strength.

These types of problems that affect older patients are often neglected by healthcare providers. As people age, their bodies are less tolerant of alcohol, and they succumb to the effects of alcohol more quickly than younger people. Combining drugs and alcohol can enhance the risks of liver damage, heart problems, internal bleeding, impaired breathing, and depression.

Drinking alcohol while on certain medications also creates other complications, such as with diazepam. Alcohol extends the life of this drug in the body, creating greater opportunities for interactions with other drugs.

Counseling on Alcohol & Prescription Drugs

Almost 6 million people age 50 or more will have a health issue caused by drugs or alcohol by 2020, according to figures from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. With such a large number of people affected by drugs and alcohol, pharmacists’ commitment to provide counseling to patients is essential.

For example, pharmacists need to be cognizant of the fact that labels on over-the-counter drugs are not that easy for older people to read, and so they may miss warnings on the labels.

There are a number of over-the-counter drugs that should not be combined with alcohol, according to the National Institute on Alcohol and Alcoholism. Some of these drugs include aspirin, acetaminophen, cold and allergy medicine, cough syrup, sleeping pills, pain medication, and medications for depression.

Patients also need to know that over-the-counter medication like painkillers, cough, cold and allergy drugs have a number of ingredients that can react with alcohol. Even if the medication and alcohol are ingested at different times, there can still be a reaction.

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