What Are the Risks of NSAIDs and Alcohol? (with pictures)

Amy Hunter
Amy Hunter
Drinking alcohol while using NSAIDs can lead to gastrointestinal bleeding.
Drinking alcohol while using NSAIDs can lead to gastrointestinal bleeding.

Taking NSAIDs and alcohol together can lead to gastrointestinal bleeding. The risk is higher in the elderly, people who also take corticosteroids or anti-coagulants, or have a history of ulcers. Anyone taking either prescription or over the counter NSAIDs and alcohol should be alert for warning signs of gastrointestinal bleeding, including vomiting blood, black stools, severe heartburn, or severe stomach pain or cramps. These symptoms indicate a potentially serious condition, and individuals experiencing them should stop taking the medication and consult a physician.

Diclofenac is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug.
Diclofenac is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, are used to treat mild pain and headaches, as well as chronic conditions such as arthritis. They are known by various names, including ibuprofen, diclofenac, and naproxen. This class of medication has many alternative uses. Anyone taking over the counter or prescription medication should confirm whether the medicine is an NSAID before consuming alcohol.

Refrain from consuming alcohol for at least 12 hours after taking an NSAID.
Refrain from consuming alcohol for at least 12 hours after taking an NSAID.

The elderly are more likely to develop gastrointestinal bleeding from NSAIDs and alcohol because of differences in metabolism. As part of the aging process, the liver and kidneys do not work as efficiently as in the past. This leads to a higher concentration of NSAIDs in the body, where it can damage the stomach and gastrointestinal tract.

Damage to the GI tract occurs because NSAIDs block the body's production of prostaglandins, which cause pain and swelling. Prostaglandins also protect the lining of the GI tract. When NSAIDs block their production, the stomach and GI tract are easily damaged by normal digestive acids. The lining of the stomach also contains enzymes that help the body metabolize alcohol, which makes drinking while taking NSAIDs even more damaging.

Mixing alcohol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can cause negative side effects that should be reported to a medical professional.
Mixing alcohol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can cause negative side effects that should be reported to a medical professional.

Switching medications is not always a viable option for individuals concerned about the interaction between NSAIDs and alcohol. Other similar medications, such as acetaminophen, are also contraindicated when consuming alcohol. To minimize risks associated with NSAIDs and alcohol, refrain from drinking for 12 hours before or after taking the medication, and take the medicine with food. Regular use of NSAIDs increases the likelihood of developing gastrointestinal bleeding while taking the medication.

The risks of taking NSAIDs and alcohol together are greater for elderly people.
The risks of taking NSAIDs and alcohol together are greater for elderly people.

NSAIDs can also cause other health problems, such as high blood pressure. NSAIDs slow blood flow from the kidneys, which means less fluid is removed from the blood stream. High levels of fluid in the blood stream causes an increase in blood pressure. Some people also have severe allergies to NSAIDs. Individuals with asthma are at a particularly high risk of dangerous allergic reactions. Anyone concerned about taking NSAIDs with should speak with their healthcare provider about possible alternatives.

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Discussion Comments

burcinc

@turquoise-- I do have alcohol while on NSAIDs. Occasionally, I get stomach problems from it, but taking over-the-counter antacids and acid reducers usually do the trick.

turquoise

Both alcohol and NSAIDs are hard on the liver. The worst case scenario is liver cirrhosis, but at the least, consuming alcohol and NSAIDs together can cause fatty liver disease.

I have fatty liver disease and my doctor told me to avoid both NSAIDs and alcohol, together or separately.

donasmrs

My sister developed stomach ulcers from taking NSAIDs and alcohol together. She takes an NSAID pain reliever every day for arthritis. And several days a week, she has a glass or two of wine. It doesn't sound dangerous but I guess her stomach couldn't put up with it. She went to the ER one night from intense stomach cramps and pain. She's under treatment for ulcers now.

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    • Drinking alcohol while using NSAIDs can lead to gastrointestinal bleeding.
      Drinking alcohol while using NSAIDs can lead to gastrointestinal bleeding.
    • Diclofenac is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug.
      Diclofenac is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug.
    • Refrain from consuming alcohol for at least 12 hours after taking an NSAID.
      Refrain from consuming alcohol for at least 12 hours after taking an NSAID.
    • Mixing alcohol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can cause negative side effects that should be reported to a medical professional.
      Mixing alcohol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can cause negative side effects that should be reported to a medical professional.
    • The risks of taking NSAIDs and alcohol together are greater for elderly people.
      The risks of taking NSAIDs and alcohol together are greater for elderly people.
    • Taking NSAIDs and alcohol together may result in severe abdominal cramps.
      Taking NSAIDs and alcohol together may result in severe abdominal cramps.
    • NSAIDs are often used to treat arthritis.
      NSAIDs are often used to treat arthritis.
    • Taking NSAIDs on an empty stomach may cause nausea and vomiting.
      Taking NSAIDs on an empty stomach may cause nausea and vomiting.