It depends on the type of painkiller.
It is usually safe to drink a moderate amount of alcohol (no more than the daily guideline) if you are taking a painkiller that can be bought over the counter such as paracetamol or ibuprofen; providing you get relevant advice (as described below).
It is not recommended to drink alcohol if you are taking a prescription-only painkiller such as tramadol or codeine. Doing so could trigger unpleasant and potentially serious side effects such as drowsiness.
Painkillers come with a patient information leaflet or have a label that tells you:
- what dose you should be taking
- whether it's safe to drink alcohol while you're taking the medication
Always follow this guidance. If you need more information, you can:
- speak to your pharmacist or GP
- call NHS 111
Below is some advice about specific types of painkillers.
Paracetamol and ibuprofen
Paracetamol should be used with caution if you have certain health conditions, such as liver problems. Your GP or pharmacist can advise you. Similarly if you have liver or kidney problems, do not take ibuprofen unless your GP tells you it is safe to do so.
Never take more than the recommended dose of either painkiller as this could increase the risk of side effects; some of which are potentially serious.
Aspirin is now less commonly used as a painkiller due to the fact that it is more likely to cause side effects than paracetamol and ibuprofen.
People now often take low-dose aspirin for its blood thinning properties as this can reduce the risk of heart attacks and stroke.
Drinking a small amount of alcohol while taking aspirin is usually safe, as long as you follow the advice above.
Drinking more than the recommended daily limits may lead to bleeding from the stomach.
Prescription-only painkillers for moderate pain include dihydrocodeine, gabapentin and tramadol. Morphine and pethidine are used for more severe pain.
Drinking alcohol with any of these types of medicines may make you drowsy and increase the risk of other side effects occurring, such as nausea,
Do not drink any alcohol while you're taking them.
Read the answers to more questions about medicines.
Page last reviewed: 11 January 2017
Next review due: 11 January 2020