Is Alcohol Forbidden When Taking Arthritis Drugs?

Doctor Gives Advice On Alcohol and Arthritis Drugs

Senior Caucasian with glass of wine. Credit: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Getty Images

Here's your chance to have a doctor answer your questions about drinking alcohol when taking arthritis drugs.

  • Should all arthritis patients avoid alcohol?
  • Do only patients taking specific medications need to avoid alcohol?
  • If an arthritis patient drinks alcohol, what are the negative effects?

We asked rheumatologist, Scott J. Zashin, M.D.

Can I Drink Alcohol When Taking Arthritis Medication?

In general, a person with good health should limit his alcohol intake to no more than two drinks per day.

Whether or not patients with arthritis can have the same liberties, depends on their medication regimen.

Alcohol Can Interact with Methotrexate

Methotrexate is the generic name for the brand name drugs Rheumatrex, Trexall, Otrexup, and Rasuvo. Physicians commonly prescribe it to rheumatoid arthritis patients because it can:

  • reduce swelling
  • lessen pain
  • slow down the progress of the disease

Patients on methotrexate should completely abstain from alcohol due to the fact that the combination of drinking plus methotrexate significantly increases your risk of developing liver damage.

I typically permit my patients to have a drink on a special occasion such as raising a champagne glass at your daughter's wedding. However, I ask them to limit alcohol consumption to only a few times per year.

Alcohol Can Produce Erroneous Liver Test Results

Drinking alcohol can produce erroneous results because it can elevate the liver function tests in the blood.

This can lead your physician to prescribe the wrong dosage of medication, which can cause a variety of unintended effects that would depend on your specific case.

Alcohol and NSAIDS

Even drinking alcohol with over the counter pain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) can cause complications.

Patients taking Tylenol (acetaminophen) regularly should be cautious about their alcohol use. I recommend no alcohol in patients taking more than 2500 mg of acetaminophen per day. Overuse of alcohol with NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can also increase the risk of stomach ulcers.

Patients who take ibuprofen (Motrin) or aspirin (Bayer) are usually safe if they drink a small amount of alcohol, according to information from the National Health Service. However, exceeding the recommended dosage of either medication increases the risk of irritating your stomach lining and drinking alcohol increases this risk and may also lead to bleeding from your stomach.

If you have liver or kidney problems, do not take aspirin or ibuprofen unless your health care practitioner tells you it is safe to do so.

Alcohol Impacts Other Symptoms

Finally, many patients with arthritis also have fibromyalgia. A disorder associated with widespread musculoskeletal pain and other distressing symptoms, including mood issues, fatigue and memory problems.

Drinking alcohol in the evening may adversely affect the quality of sleep. Poor sleep can increase the symptoms of fibromyalgia such as fatigue, pain, headaches, and depression. It is best for fibromyalgia patients to avoid drinking later in the day if  sleep medications are prescribed due to potential interactions.

Answer provided by Scott J. Zashin, M.D., clinical assistant professor at University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, Division of Rheumatology, in Dallas, Texas. Dr. Zashin is also an attending physician at Presbyterian Hospitals of Dallas and Plano. He is a fellow of the American College of Physicians and the American College of Rheumatology and a member of the American Medical Association. Dr. Zashin is author of Arthritis Without Pain - The Miracle of Anti-TNF Blockers and co-author of Natural Arthritis Treatment.

Sources:

American College of Rheumatology: Methotrexate

National Health Service: Can I Drink Alcohol If I'm Taking Pain Killers

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