Can I drink alcohol while taking antibiotics?

It’s sensible to avoid drinking alcohol when taking medication or when feeling unwell. However, it is unlikely that alcohol in moderation will cause problems if you are taking most common antibiotics.

To reduce the health risks that are associated with drinking alcohol, the Department of Health recommends that men should drink no more than 3-4 units of alcohol a day, and that women should drink no more than 2-3 units of alcohol a day.

When to avoid drinking alcohol completely

Completely avoid drinking alcohol when taking:

  • metronidazole – an antibiotic sometimes used to clear dental, or vaginal, infections, or to clear infected leg ulcers, or pressure sores
  • tinidazole – an antibiotic sometimes used to treat many of the same infections as metronidazole, as well as to help clear bacteria called Helicobacter pylori (H pylori) from the gut.

Alcohol can cause a serious reaction when combined with these medications. Symptoms of this reaction can include:

  • breathlessness
  • headaches
  • chest pain
  • skin flushing
  • increased, or irregular, heartbeat
  • lightheadedness
  • nausea and vomiting

Due to this risk, you should avoid alcohol while you are taking these medications, and you should continue to avoid alcohol for 48 hours after you stop taking metronidazole and 72 hours after you stop taking tinidazole.

Things like mouthwashes and other medicines sometimes contain alcohol, so you should avoid using these while you are taking metronidazole or tinidazole.

Other antibiotics that can interact with alcohol

There are some antibiotics that can sometimes interact with alcohol, so you should be wary of drinking alcohol if you are taking:

  • co-trimoxazole – drinking alcohol while taking co-trimoxazole can occasionally cause a similar reaction to that of metronidazole or tinidazole, although this is very rare. Drinking alcohol in moderation does not normally cause a problem
  • linezolid – linezolid can interact with un-distilled (fermented) alcoholic drinks, such as wine, beer, sherry and lager
  • doxycycline – this is known to interact with alcohol and in people with a history of chronic alcohol consumption the effectiveness of doxyclycline may be reduced. It should not be taken by people with liver problems
  • erythromycin – there is some evidence or a minor interaction with alcohol that may slightly reduce or delay the effect of erythromycin  

Side effects

Some antibiotics have a variety of side effects, such as causing nausea and dizziness, which might be made worse by drinking alcohol. It's best anyway to avoid alcohol while feeling unwell, as the alcohol itself can make you feel worse.

Both metronidazole and tinidazole can cause drowsiness. Check with your pharmacist whether your antibiotic could make you drowsy.

You should not drive, or operate machinery, if you are taking an antibiotic that makes you drowsy.

Advice about your medication

Check with your GP, or pharmacist, when you are given your prescription, if you are unsure about whether or not you can drink alcohol while you are taking antibiotics. You can also phone NHS 111 for advice.

Further information:

Page last reviewed: 15/05/2013

Next review due: 14/05/2015