Let me set the scene… You’re in the last week of a course of antibiotics, and there’s a big event coming up in your social calendar maybe a wedding, a birthday, table for one at Nando’s; Whatever it may be, it means heading out on the town for a night of partying. But unfortunately you’re likely to be the only sober person in the bar, because if you have a nice, cool alcoholic beverage it will stop your antibiotics from working, and most likely make you sick. A study at a London clinic found that eighty one percent of patients believed that this combination would stop antibiotics from working and seventy one percent thought it would cause side-effects. But how true is this?
Does it work the same for all antibiotics or is it just bunch of lies to get you to cut down on your alcohol intake? I’m Stu, this is Debunked, and we’re here to sort the Truths from the Myths and Facts from the Misconceptions. After penicillin was first discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928 it was soon used to treat soldiers’ infected wounds during World War Two. However, they soon found it to be extremely effective at clearing up Sexually Transmitted Infections too. Specifically ‘the clap’ or gonorrhoea.
According to Dr Eric Sidebottom from the University of Oxford ‘This presented the military with a problem: with limited supplies, which soldiers should receive the drug – those with clap or those with horrific injuries? Churchill reportedly decided to use it to “best military advantage” (give it to those with the clap to get them back onto the front lines more quickly).’ With it now established as a cure for STIs, it became widely prescribed in venereal disease clinics after World War Two.
Now this is the point in time where the idea of ‘no alcohol’ came into play. While on the course of antibiotics patients carrying an STI would still be infectious, so they were told to stay off alcohol; Doctors feared their patients would get drunk and jump into bed with someone at the first opportunity, spreading their infectious love juices all over town. By advising the patients not to drink, doctors were giving the medication a chance to work before any infections could be passed on. So, the advice was actually more psychological than medicinal. This advice has since passed through the generations and has become a sort of “tradition” as part of standard medical practice. So next time you worry about getting tipsy on your pills,
you can blame your randy grandparents. However, all of this doesn’t mean you should go out all night and get hammered while you’re on antibiotics. Drinking alcohol at the same time as taking medication can increase the time it takes for your liver to process the medication and therefore slows down your recovery period. Some antibiotics can also cause side effects like dizziness and drowsiness so this may increase the nauseating effect of alcohol. But, it won’t actually stop the antibiotics from working. However, of all the hundreds of antibiotics that are available, there are five types…
…that really should be avoided with alcohol, but only two of these are commonly prescribed. Metronidazole, is used to treat dental and gynaecological infections, as well as to treat clostridium difficile, an infection picked up in hospitals. The other is Tinidazole which is used for similar infections as well as to remove harmful bacteria from the gut. The combination of either of these medications and alcohol can make you pretty sick. It prevents your body from breaking down the alcohol properly, this leads to a build up of a toxin in the blood called acetaldehyde and can result in vomiting, severe headaches, chest pain, an increased heart rate and breathlessness. I’m sure we can all agree that none of those are particularly good for you.
And although a study in 2003 disputed this, it is still widely considered to cause these side-effects. Metronidazole is actually closely related to Antabuse, which a drug used to treat alcoholism by making alcoholics nauseous when they consume alcohol. So it’s best to stay away from the liquor if you’re on those, unless you want to paint the walls of your local boozer with your breakfast, lunch and dinner. To be on the safe side you should also avoid alcohol for 48 hours after finishing your course of Metronidazole and 72 hours after Tinidazole. I hope that cleared up a few misconceptions, but before you go,
there is another school of thought about where the whole myth came from… During World War Two, penicillin was in such short supply that medics would reuse as much as possible from patients pee, and if the patient’s drunk beer it would increase the volume of urine and make it harder to obtain the penicillin. So a ban on beer was put in place so they could recycle as much of the medication as possible.
But we can’t go debunking myths with urban legends so that just a nice side note. Anyway, I hope you learnt something new and, if you liked what you saw, then we’ve got loads more coming, so subscribe and you won’t miss out on those. If you have any suggestions for upcoming videos please leave a comment as we’d love to hear them. Thanks for watching.