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North Shore Pain Management

Risks of combining alcohol with pain medications

Tis the Season!

I sit here listening to Christmas music on the radio, thinking about holiday parties, talking with co-workers about plans for the holidays…and the risks of combining alcohol with pain medications. Alcohol is a big part of many types of holiday celebrations, but unfortunately alcohol can interact in weird and wonderful ways with pain medications.

For example, alcohol can cause extended release formulations of pain medications to release all at once, and some short-acting formulations to release more quickly than normal, a phenomenon called “dose dumping.” This can lead to rapidly increased levels of the medications in the system, resulting in overdose and possibly death. That puts a damper on any holiday party. Alcohol can increase the sedating effects of many pain medications, and can increase the risk of bleeding and hemorrhage with some types of pain medications.

I hope we all know the concerns and problems with “drunk driving,” legally defined as a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08%, whether you feel impaired or not. But another concern is the “other guy.” If you are involved in an accident, even if it’s technically not your fault, and are tested, you could face a DUI charge even if you don’t exceed the legal blood alcohol level, if you also have other substances, even prescription medications, in your system. You may be able to fight the charges, but wouldn’t it be easier to just avoid the problem altogether and pass on the rum punch? You might be able to avoid the accident with the other guy altogether!

Maybe it’s not rum punch that is your downfall. It really doesn’t matter what the source of the alcohol is. A 12 ounce beer equals a 6 ounce wine equals a shot of hard liquor, in a rough estimate of alcohol amounts. “I only drink beer” and “I put a lot of ice and soda in the glass” doesn’t really matter – it’s still alcohol.

Some people don’t take their pain medications if they are going to be drinking. Bad idea. First of all, you’d have to stop your pain meds for several DAYS before it’s not detectable in your system, so if you do get tested, it’ll still be there. Second, some pain medications don’t work as well if they are not taken as prescribed, and for some meds that means on a regular schedule. Skipping a dose so that you can drink just doesn’t make sense, and can cause increased pain.

Stay safe – stick to the virgin cocktails, non-alcoholic beer, sparkling non-alcoholic cider, sparkling water, and eggnog without the “additives.” All are festive, and allow you to blend in with the crowd. It makes sense to plan ahead of time how you are going to manage any potential peer pressure to drink. Sometimes, a heavy sigh and a meaningful look at your date works, with the explanation “somebody has to be the designated driver,” followed by a smile and a shrug. Increase the chances of happy holidays and a happy 2016. See you next year!!

At North Shore Pain Management we provide advanced, evidence based, multidisciplinary and cost effective pain management. Our goal is to improve your ability to return to the activities you have been missing as well as provide a meaningful reduction in pain.