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Can I drink alcohol if I'm taking painkillers?

It depends on the type of painkiller.

It is usually safe to drink a moderate amount of alcohol (no more than the daily guideline of alcohol units) if you are taking a painkiller that can be bought over the counter such as paracetamol or ibuprofen; providing you get relevant advice.

It is not recommended to drink alcohol if you are taking a prescription-only painkiller such as tramadol or codeine. Doing so could increase side effects such as drowsiness.

Over-the-counter painkillers

Paracetamol and ibuprofen

Paracetamol and ibuprofen are available without a prescription. Drinking a small amount of alcohol while taking paracetamol or ibuprofen is usually safe.

Paracetamol should be used with caution if you have certain health conditions, such as liver problems. A GP or pharmacist can advise you.

If you have liver or kidney problems, do not take ibuprofen unless a 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 can be severe.

Aspirin

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.

Children under the age of 16 should not use aspirin.

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.

Drinking more than the recommended daily limits may lead to bleeding from the stomach.

Prescription-only painkillers

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 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.

Further information

Page last reviewed: 11 January 2020
Next review due: 11 January 2023