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Mixing Ibuprofen and Alcohol: What Are the Risks?

Many people enjoy a nice cold beer or glass of wine after a long day at work or when socializing with family and friends. At the same time, many folks turn to over-the-counter medications to deal with common ailments. What may come as a surprise is that mixing alcohol with everyday medications can be very risky, even deadly.

Most substances have some side effects, and casual partakers may not understand how the reactions of two different items could affect their bodies. Also, specific demographics can be more susceptible to harm than others. With those thoughts in mind, anyone who uses ibuprofen or drinks alcohol should understand the risks and consequences of combining the two.

Is It Fine To Mix Ibuprofen and Alcohol?

Ibuprofen is a common painkiller. Millions of dollars of the OTC drug sell yearly, meaning many consumers of alcohol surely use the pain relief aid. Studies and practical experience demonstrate that regularly mixing ibuprofen with alcohol is not the best decision.

Ibuprofen is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. This NSAID is available on the shelf under many brand names or simply as generic ibuprofen. Additionally, physicians write millions of prescriptions for NSAIDs yearly, and ibuprofen is one of the easiest to obtain.

The drug alleviates pain by blocking prostaglandins, which are capable of causing inflammation, swelling and resultant pain. When taken in correct doses, ibuprofen rarely causes problematic consequences. However, the drug could initiate the following side effects in roughly 1% of the population when users take it orally:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Indigestion

Fortunately, such results are rare, and taking the medication with food can reduce adverse side effects. When someone chooses to mix ibuprofen with heavy alcohol consumption, the person can endure painful results, negating the feel-good benefits of each product.

What Are the Possible Side Effects of Mixing Alcohol and Ibuprofen?

Anyone who has ever had a hangover knows that alcohol can cause some pretty unpleasant side effects. Headache, nausea and fatigue are just a few of the common symptoms. Many people reach for the ibuprofen when they’ve had too much to drink, but mixing the two might create multiple health issues. Consider possible conditions.

Loss of Attention and Alertness

Ibuprofen and alcohol can both cause drowsiness because each substance induces physical and mental relaxation. If an individual mixes the two, symptoms will likely become more significant.

A person should stay home and rest after accidentally consuming alcohol and taking ibuprofen. Operating heavy machinery or driving is never advisable after drinking alcohol and is all the more dangerous when another element compounds the effects. The combination likely results in slowed reflexes and clouded judgment.

Weakened Immune System

Drinking alcohol can lead to a drop in white blood cells. These are the cells that protect the body against infection. At the same time, ibuprofen can reduce the number of platelets in the blood. Platelets help with clotting, so a reduction in their numbers might cause someone to bleed more easily.

The combination of a weakened immune system and increased bleeding risk is especially dangerous when a person experiences an injury. Because of the lack of alertness and attention, the odds of bodily harm increase when someone ingests alcohol and ibuprofen, and the combination can exacerbate the individual bleeding out.

Kidney Damage

Kidneys work to remove waste from the body and balance fluid, so the organ has a direct relationship to how the body processes alcohol. Kidneys need abundant water to function well, but drinking alcohol speeds up dehydration. The internal dryness puts a strain on the kidneys.

Someone who mixes alcohol and ibuprofen might increase the risk of kidney damage. That’s because the reduction in prostaglandins decreases the amount of blood flowing in the kidneys and the ability to filter out alcohol. A person already suffering from severe kidney conditions, such as cystinosis, Fabry disease, chronic kidney disease or polycystic kidney disease, should avoid alcohol and ibuprofen altogether.

Additionally, kidneys release hormones aiding blood pressure regulation and affecting other organs. Damage to the kidneys creates a chain reaction that can lead to many other issues.

Liver Damage

The liver is the central component of the body’s system for cleaning the blood by removing wastes, such as alcohol. Alcohol and ibuprofen interfere with the proper functioning of the organ and lead to problems such as fatty liver, cirrhosis and toxic hepatitis.

Liver damage is a more common side effect when a person takes NSAIDs in high doses for a long time. The combination of ibuprofen and alcohol only speeds up this process since both products stress the liver.

Anyone with a history of liver disease should avoid alcohol and ibuprofen, even in small amounts. A person without liver problems should limit alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks per day if their preferred pain relief medication is ibuprofen. This allows the body to clear out alcohol in the span of a day so that the individual can take ibuprofen safely.

Individuals who regularly drink three or more drinks daily keep alcohol in their systems for longer. Even waiting the typical period for alcohol to dissipate may not be enough to prevent liquor from interacting negatively with ibuprofen.

Ulcers, Gastritis and Bleeding in the GI Tract

Alcohol can potentially irritate the gastrointestinal tract on its own, and NSAIDs are notable for drug-induced liver injuries. The combination can cause bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract. The two together might create ulcers, sores or tears in the esophagus, stomach or small intestine. Someone with a history of ulcers, gastritis or GI bleeding is better off avoiding ibuprofen and alcohol.

Cardiovascular Issues

Those with a history of heart disease should abstain from alcohol and ibuprofen. Someone who consumes alcohol and takes ibuprofen increases the risk for cardiovascular problems. This is because both products put stress on the heart. The substances thin the blood through the lower count of platelets and white blood cells. Blood is 90% water, so dehydration creates lower blood volume.

The heart must compensate and work harder because of this. The extra effort increases the risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular troubles. Chest pains, shortness of breath and discomfort in the arms, back, stomach, neck or jaw usually precede a heart attack. If a person mixes alcohol and ibuprofen and notices such symptoms, immediate medical attention is crucial.

Stroke

Cardiovascular issues from continually using ibuprofen and alcohol can become so severe that a person faces a significant risk of stroke. The increased risk of bleeding in the brain can cause a stroke. Slurred speech, sudden confusion, loss of vision or numbness on one side of the body can signal the onset of a stroke.

After a night of drinking, anyone reaching for a pain reliever should think twice about whether or not it’s worth the risk.

Who Are Most Susceptible To Severe Problems?

Specific demographics may be more likely to abuse alcohol and ibuprofen or experience worse negative interactions.

Older Adults

The elderly are more likely to develop adverse effects when combining ibuprofen and alcohol. Older folks often cope with a decrease in liver function and an increased risk of gastrointestinal bleeding. Also, seniors are more likely to take multiple medications, which can interact with each other and alcohol.

Memory issues that occur with age can sometimes cause older adults to forget which drugs they’ve already taken and consume items that do not mix well. A person might also mix up what pills to take or forget instructions.

Teens

Teens usually do not have the health concerns of adults, but young people are more likely to binge drink, which can result in severe problems when combined with ibuprofen. The less developed teen brain is more susceptible to damage from alcohol and prone to a tendency to engage in risky behaviors. A higher amount of alcohol consumed when drinking means a greater chance of hangovers and the use of a pain reliever like ibuprofen to negate the effects.

People With Chronic Pain

People often take ibuprofen to relieve pain from conditions like arthritis, menstrual cramps and headaches. Ibuprofen is generally safe, but people with chronic pain may be more likely to take higher doses of ibuprofen for extended periods. This can increase the risk of internal bleeding and other problems when they add alcohol to the mix.

Individuals With Cognitive Impairments

Dementia and other cognitive impairments can make it difficult to understand how to take medication correctly. This can lead to accidentally taking too much ibuprofen or combining it with other drugs that interact negatively with alcohol.

People Struggling With Mental and Emotional Conditions

People struggling with addiction may be more likely to abuse alcohol and ibuprofen together. They may do this to self-medicate, cope with withdrawal symptoms or for other reasons. Mixing alcohol and ibuprofen can worsen mental health problems and lead to more severe side effects.

When Should A Person Seek Medical Help?

Ulcers or stomach bleeding are often the first and most common signs of alcohol and ibuprofen negatively interacting. A person should seek immediate medical attention if experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  • Fainting or dizziness
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Intense cramps and stomach pain
  • Blood in the stool or vomit
  • Black or tarry stool

If a person repeatedly deals with the overuse or abuse of alcohol or any other substance, they should seek addiction counseling to overcome the illness. A three-phase approach involving detox, counseling and maintenance over the course of weeks is effective for helping sufferers defeat dependency.

How Long After Taking Ibuprofen Is It Okay To Drink Alcohol?

In practice, an occasional small amount of alcohol, such as a glass of table wine or light beer with dinner, won’t negatively interact with ibuprofen. Nevertheless, each person’s circumstances differ, and only one’s health care provider can advise how long to delay drinking alcohol after taking ibuprofen.

Alcohol can stay in the body for as long as 24 hours, even though the digestive system can metabolize about one drink per hour. Ibuprofen offers pain relief for a few hours, but the body can take as long as 10 hours to process the chemical.

Most directions on ibuprofen labels instruct heavy drinkers to avoid using the product. A good rule of thumb is to avoid taking ibuprofen within the day following alcohol consumption. An occasional misjudgment in timing would likely not prove to be harmful.

However, people are notoriously bad at judging how much alcohol they’ve had and their level of intoxication. Since a typical side effect of alcohol use is impaired judgment and lower inhibitions, extra effort and care to avoid mixing stiff drinks and OTC drugs are the safest course.

What Are the Benefits and Cautions of Ibuprofen?

Though the side effects of ibuprofen can seem scary, the drug is generally safe to use under the guidance of a physician and when following the instructions on the label.

Benefits

The medication can relieve numerous discomforts:

  • General pain
  • Inflammation
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches
  • Toothaches
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Arthritis

The drug is inexpensive and convenient for handling many minor discomforts for a healthy individual. Even babies over 3 months old at a healthy weight can use ibuprofen to relieve fever, inflammation, and pain.

Cautions

When taking ibuprofen, it is crucial to follow the directions on the package or prescription label. A person should never take more of the medication than the label or a physician directs. A person should swallow the tablet whole and not chew or crush it.

People who are treating other conditions with medications should turn to a doctor or pharmacist for advice on the best product. When taking more than one nonprescription product, an individual needs to closely check the labels before using them together. These products may have similar active ingredients, which could result in an overdose if taken together.

Ibuprofen is not an ideal medicine for long-term pain. A doctor can prescribe another medication that will be more effective for continual use when someone suffers from chronic pain management. Anyone with preexisting conditions should check with a doctor for directions on safe use.

Pregnant mothers should avoid ibuprofen and other NSAIDs, particularly in the third trimester. The drugs can trigger a condition that decreases the correct amniotic fluid volume and incur other complications. Additionally, blood flow may reduce, and a vital cardiac blood vessel may close early and risk the life and health of the fetus.

What About Other NSAIDs and Alcohol?

The concerns for alcohol and ibuprofen apply to all NSAIDs. Alcohol and NSAIDs both interact with the digestive system and can cause stomach irritation, ulcers and bleeding. When taken together, these effects increase.

Other NSAIDs include:

  • Naproxen sodium
  • Aspirin in high doses
  • Celecoxib
  • Mefenamic acid
  • Indomethacin
  • Diclofenac
  • Etoricoxib

People who regularly drink alcohol and take any kind of NSAID need to talk to their doctors about the risks.

What Are NSAID Alternatives?

Pain is a constant fact of life that requires options to help sufferers cope. Some individuals may prefer to avoid NSAIDs entirely and rely on other solutions for pain relief and discomfort. Various solutions are available.

Acetaminophen

Acetaminophen is a pain reliever found in many OTC medications. It is a safe alternative to NSAIDs for people who cannot take them because of health concerns or other medicinal treatments. Acetaminophen can help relieve pain from various sources, including headaches, muscle aches, toothaches and menstrual cramps, as well as reduce fever.

Herbs and Natural Extracts

Many people look to natural remedies for pain relief or reducing inflammation. The results are often not as dramatic as a drug but can aid in safer, long-term pain management. Such alternatives include the following:

  • Fish oil
  • Turmeric
  • Glucosamine
  • Arnica
  • Bromelain

As with a drug, an individual who uses natural solutions must check for contraindications, side effects and dangerous interactions with other treatments.

Topical Drugs and Extracts

People can alleviate muscle and joint pain with creams and ointments made from natural ingredients or synthetic drugs. Capsaicin is a standard treatment, as is lidocaine. Lidocaine can be dangerous for people with liver problems, just like NSAIDs. Recent studies show that NSAIDs in topical administration can be as effective as oral medicines without painful GI side effects.

Physical Therapies

Massage and acupuncture are treatments that many people use to reduce pain. A physically active lifestyle that includes walking, stretching and aerobic exercise also facilitates pain reduction. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation passes low-voltage electrical currents through muscles that provide relief to some individuals.

CBT and Relaxation Techniques

Many people use relaxation techniques for stress management, such as breathing exercises and mindfulness. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a physiological treatment that seeks to alter a person’s perception of and response to pain, especially for chronic sufferers.

As with NSAIDs, a person must speak with a medical professional to determine how safe any treatment is for regular consumers of alcohol.

Where Can People Who Are Fighting Addiction Find Help?

Ibuprofen and alcohol are easily accessible products that many people use. While each product has potential benefits, the facts show that combining the two is harmful. The misuse or overuse of any substance can create long-term difficulties that individuals and families must contend with. If you suspect you or someone you love has a challenge battling substance use, compassionate help is easy to find. Call Contact Recovery Centers for help gaining control of the battle and control in life.

Sources:

  • https://www.statista.com/statistics/194510/leading-us-analgesic-tablet-brands-in-2013-based-on-sales/
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7921853/
  • https://www.nhs.uk/medicines/ibuprofen-for-adults/side-effects-of-ibuprofen/
  • https://www.kidney.org/kidneydisease/howkidneyswrk
  • https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/toxic-hepatitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20352202
  • https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/warning-signs-of-a-heart-attack
  • https://www.cdc.gov/stroke/signs_symptoms.htm
  • https://www.cleanrecoverycenters.com/program/the-three-phase-approach/
  • https://www.healthline.com/health/how-long-does-alcohol-stay-in-your-system
  • https://www.aae.org/specialty/communique/ibuprofen-well-know-favorite-drug/
  • https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/09/160918180157.htm
  • https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28516288/
  • https://utswmed.org/medblog/nsaid-warning-fda-pregnancy/
  • https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/nsaids/
  • https://cuttingedgepain.com/seven-alternatives-to-taking-nsaids/
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5629190/
  • https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/15840-transcutaneous-electrical-nerve-stimulation-tens
  • https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/amp-a0035747.pdf

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