A nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), naproxen is used to treat inflammation and pain associated with arthritis, bursitis, gout or menstrual cramps, and for other pathologies including Paget's disease. Despite some lower dose NSAIDs drugs' over-the-counter availability, these medications are not without the potential for life-threatening side effects. Naproxen is known to cause abrupt irritation, bleeding, ulceration and even perforation in the gastrointestinal (GI) system. The chance of these potential emergency GI side effects increases with alcohol usage. In general then, naproxen and alcohol are not safe to be used together unless specifically allowed by the patient's physician.
Medical authorities differ in their warnings regarding the concomitant use of naproxen and alcohol. Some sources prohibit the use of alcoholic beverages entirely while a patient is regularly taking this medication. Another source warns patients to limit use of alcohol during treatment. All experts cite studies, however, demonstrating that drinking three or more alcoholic drinks per day while taking naproxen increases the chances of life-threatening gastrointestinal side effects. These chances can also increase depending upon the patient's age and overall health.
Naproxen and alcohol can both cause gastritis, or irritation of the lining of the stomach. The additional use of tobacco raises the risk of GI complications from naproxen even more. Other prescription medications and the ingredients in many over-the-counter drugs can further exacerbate gastritis. Patients are advised to read the ingredients of all supplements and over-the-counter medications carefully to avoid products containing ibuprofen, ketoprofen or aspirin. Self-medication to avoid gastritis by taking antacids is not recommended as antacids can interfere with the digestion and absorption of naproxen.
Drowsiness, grogginess and an inability to safely operate some machinery are more shared effects of both naproxen and alcohol. Together, these substances can pack more than twice the punch in a synergistic combination. Naproxen and alcohol effects are also age-related, in that both substances affect older individuals to a greater degree. Studies have demonstrated that the chance of naproxen-related GI side effects is greater in the elderly.
Naproxen has also been associated with an increased chance of heart attack and stroke in individuals with existing coronary artery disease or hypertension. This risk of cardiovascular complication appears to be greater in patients who have taken this medication for a longer length of time. Naproxen's potential gastrointestinal side effects, on the other hand, can occur without warning during any phase of treatment. Concomitant alcohol use increases the chances of these GI side effects.