Using Alcohol to Stop Pain Can Be Dangerous

Don't Mix Alcohol With Pain Medication

Light through a whiskey
Don't mix alcohol with painkillers. © Getty Images

The use of alcohol to depress the effects of pain is as old as the fermentation process itself. Alcohol is believed to be one of the oldest and probably the most widely used drug in the world.

Did you ever watch old "cowboys and Indians" movies? Somebody needs a leg amputated? No anesthesia? No problem, just break out a bottle of whiskey and let him take a few swigs! Need to pull that arrow out of the guy's chest?

We don't need morphine, we've got whiskey!

In real life many people still turn to the use of alcohol for pain relief and due to its ability to depress the central nervous system, slowing down the brain and nervous system, it continues to deliver a certain amount of relief.

Can Build Up a Tolerance for Alcohol

The use of alcohol to lessen pain can cause problems, however - if the amount of alcohol used becomes "excessive" and, if it is used in conjunction with other pain-killing drugs.

One problem is the body begins to build up a tolerance to the effects of alcohol. In other words, it takes more alcohol to produce the same results.

Even without the tolerance factor, the amount of alcohol it would take to actually relieve severe pain would probably be more than the recommended guidelines for safe alcohol consumption.

Causing More Health Risks

An excessive amount of alcohol over an extended period of time can cause its own set of health problems, including everything from stomach ulcers to life-threatening liver ailments.

Besides the long-term health problems that can develop, a prolonged use of alcohol can lead to a chemical dependency on alcohol itself, which can bring about a whole set of problems of its own.

Alcohol Doesn't Mix Well With Medication

Those who suffer from chronic pain can face more immediate problems from the use of alcohol, especially if they are taking some other form of pain-killing drugs - even those that can be purchased over the counter!

Most of us are aware of the dangers of mixing alcohol with other depressants like tranquilizers, but the labels on almost all over the counter pain relief medications contain warnings concerning their use along with the use of alcohol. Alcohol and aspirin can damage the stomach lining. Alcohol and Tylenol (acetaminophen) can increase the risk of damage to the liver. Alcohol and Advil (ibuprofen) can cause ulcers and stomach bleeding.

Here's a list of some common drugs and the side effects which can develop if they are used in connection with alcohol:

  • Demerol, Darvon, Codeine: Impaired central nervous system function. Possibly fatal in certain strengths and combinations.
  • Bufferin, Aspirin, Excedrin, Anacin, Alka-Seltzer: Possible irritation and bleeding in stomach and intestines.
  • Valium, Librium, etc.: Decreases alertness, impairs judgment. Possibly fatal combination.
  • Sominex, Sleep-Ese: Greatly increases drug’s potency, depressing central nervous system.
  • Dalmane, Seconal, Nembutal: Very possibly fatal. Should never be combined.
  • Dristan, Coricidin, Nyquil: Drowsiness and loss of alertness.
  • Insulin, Orinase, Tolinase: Severe and unpredictable reactions. Should never be combined with alcohol.
  • Tetracycline, Seromycin, Fulvicin: Can cause nausea and vomiting. Renders medication less effective.
  • High Blood Pressure Medications: Increases potency, reducing blood pressure to dangerously low levels.
  • Anticoagulants: Increases anti-coagulating potency of drug, leading to potentially life-threatening bleeding.

Basically, there just aren't many medications out there that mix well with alcohol. If you are a drinker and taking any other medication, play it safe, ask your physician about the possible side-effects.


National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. "Mixing Alcohol With Medicines." Harmful Interactions Revised 2014

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