About Acetaminophen & Alcohol

By Nicole Canfora

Acetaminophen is a popular pain reliever that can be found both over the counter and in some prescription drug combinations. While there is minimal risk of side effects when it is taken as directed, mixing it with alcohol and taking more than recommended dosages is a dangerous prospect. Besides causing general stomach irritation, the combination can lead to acute liver failure and, in some cases, death.

The Facts: Acetaminophen and Alcohol

Medical studies show that continued, heavy alcoholic intake combined with the ingestion of the over-the-counter pain reliever acetaminophen likely stimulates the enzyme CYP2E1 to transform the medication into dangerous chemicals that can damage the liver. Even taking correct daily dosages of acetaminophen, when combined with alcohol, can lead to such extreme liver damage that it results in the failure of the organ. Alcoholic drinks should be avoided while taking acetaminophen and vice versa. Many prescriptions also contain acetaminophen, so make sure your doctor is aware of your alcoholic intake.

Risk Factors of Alcohol and Acetaminophen Use

If you drink alcohol and take acetaminophen, you are at great risk for liver damage from the combination. Medical experts advise heavy drinkers (three or more alcoholic drinks per day) to avoid acetaminophen altogether and instead take a different type of pain reliever. Those who have two or fewer drinks per day are still at risk, particularly if you take the maximum daily dose of the medication. The higher the amounts of alcohol and acetaminophen, the higher the likelihood of medical problems. Anyone with liver problems should avoid alcohol and acetaminophen completely, in order to salvage remaining liver function.

Effects of Acetaminophen and Alcohol Use

Taking acetaminophen after drinking alcohol appears to cause the most liver damage, as the alcohol has begun to be metabolized by the body. The interaction leads to a breakdown of the liver and repeated usage leads to irreversible damage, acute liver failure and possibly death. Acetaminophen corrupts your liver's ability to remove toxins from the body, resulting in a condition of hepatotoxicity, which leads to liver damage and failure.

Significance of Alcohol and Acetaminophen Use

Chronic heavy drinkers and alcoholics need to be aware of the medical dangers that can result from taking acetaminophen while consuming large amounts of alcohol daily. Everyone is different--one person may metabolize the combination differently from another person, so avoiding one or the other is the best policy. Older adults and seniors should also heed the warning not to mix acetaminophen and alcohol, as the older you get, the more likely you are to take pain relievers.

Misconceptions of Acetaminophen and Alcohol Use

There are many instances online where non-experts have concluded that there is no link between alcohol and acetaminophen and liver damage, or that in small doses, it's OK to take the pain reliever while drinking. Medical experts refute this and there are governmental and independent studies that confirm the dangers. Also, it is not wise to take acetaminophen the morning after a drinking binge; it's more dangerous to take the medicine after your body has metabolized the alcohol.

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