Is It Safe to Drink Alcohol During Chemotherapy?

The Risks and Benefits

Glass of alcohol on wooden table
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When it comes to alcohol and chemo, it is best to check with your doctor about whether or not it is safe for you to drink during treatment. In short, there are a few benefits to drinking alcohol in moderation, but there may also be some significant risks, and there's a good chance that your doctor may recommend that you abstain.

Most chemotherapy drugs are not affected by alcohol consumption, but there are some chemotherapy drugs that can cause adverse reactions or become less effective if alcohol is consumed.

One such example is procarbazine.

Also, while most chemotherapy drugs are not affected by alcohol use, many other medications that are prescribed along with chemotherapy should not be taken with alcohol. For instance, medications such as painkillers, sleep aids, and anti-nausea medications may interact negatively with alcohol, causing adverse reactions.

The following are some additional factors that your doctor is likely to consider when advising you about alcohol consumption during chemotherapy. 

The Dehydrating Effects of Alcohol

The dehydrating effects of alcohol may be a concern if you are undergoing chemotherapy, as you already have a heightened risk of dehydration because of your treatment. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are common side effects of chemotherapy and are also direct causes of dehydration. Add alcohol into the mix, and the dehydration effect is worsened.

Alcohol's Effects on the Liver

How alcohol affects the liver is also something to take into consideration.

The liver processes all of the toxins in the body, including chemotherapy. Alcohol can interfere with the liver's ability to effectively metabolize such toxins. Your doctor may recommend that you avoid alcohol altogether, especially if you already suffer from liver damage or are undergoing treatment of cancers affecting the liver.

The Benefits of Consuming Moderate Amounts

Keep in mind that drinking alcohol during chemotherapy is not something that is exactly encouraged, although it may be allowed for some patients. If your doctor allows you to consume alcohol during chemotherapy, it will be recommended that it be done in moderation. Your doctor will tell you how much alcohol is safe for you to drink. Heavy drinking is never recommended.

Some oncologists recommend an occasional glass of wine to help stimulate the appetite in people who have lost their desire to eat. Small amounts of alcohol may also be recommended to help you relax. Of course, these recommendations are made only after a doctor evaluates the medications you are taking, and how alcohol may affect their efficacy.

If You Are Battling an Alcohol Addiction

If you are suffering from alcohol addiction, it is vital to let your doctor know about it. Heavy drinking can yield severe health consequences that hinder treatment. While it may be difficult to admit this to your doctor, he or she cannot guide your treatment effectively if you withhold this information.

More than 23 million Americans battle alcoholism. You won't be the first alcohol-addicted cancer patient an oncologist encounters—or the last.

Consider this a time to get the help that you need to beat your addiction and focus on fighting cancer. Think about taking an alcohol abuse screening quiz to help guide your judgment.

Source:

American Cancer Society. (February 2014).  Alcohol use and cancer

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