Alcohol And Seniors


Alcohol and Medication Interactions

Guidelines for Seniors  (click here for a .pdf version of this information. Useful for handouts)

Medicines and other drugs or supplements can treat or reduce the symptoms of many health problems that people have. However, they should be taken properly to make sure that they are safe and effective.

Certain foods, beverages, alcohol, caffeine, and even cigarettes can interact with medicines or supplements. This may make the medicines or supplements less effective or may cause dangerous side effects or other problems (such as falls and confusion). Sometimes people end up in the hospital because of these problems, particularly for alcohol-medication interactions.


To reduce your risk of developing a problem:

1. Make sure your doctor and pharmacist know about every drug you are taking, including non-prescription drugs, over the counter drugs, and any supplements such as vitamins, minerals and herbal drugs. Don’t omit anything, it is important for your health.

2. Let them know if you smoke or you drink alcohol, even if it is only occasionally. “Alcohol” includes all hard liquor (e.g. brandy, gin, whiskey), wine or sherry, and beer.

3. If you drink alcohol, ask your doctor or pharmacist to explain to you in down to earth language about how alcohol interacts with the particular drugs you are taking.

Ask how your other drugs and supplements affect each other. Many drugs interact with other drugs. Some may cause serious medical conditions.

4. Carefully follow the instructions on your medications.

5. If you have problems or experience side effects related to your medication, call your health care provider right away. 


Resources (Brochure information for seniors from Health Canada)

Sleeping pills and tranquillizers


What to do if you ...can't sleep ... feel lonely... feel anxious, tense or worried

It is Important to Avoid Grapefruit Juice When on Certain Medications

Health Canada notes "Consuming grapefruit juice (fresh or frozen) or grapefruit sections can increase, or less commonly decrease, the effects of some drugs, which could lead to serious or even life-threatening adverse reactions". See:

They go on to advise people to NOT drink grapefruit juice if taking medication for any of the following conditions:


  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • High blood pressure
  • Cancer
  • Irregular heart rhythms
  • Infections
  • Psychotic problems
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Angina
  • Convulsions
  • Gastrointestinal reflux
  • High lipid (cholesterol) levels
  • Organ graft rejections


More Detailed Information for People

The National Consumers League in the United States has produced a booklet "Food & Drug" in cooperation with the US Food and Drug Administration on the interactions between alcohol and several different categories of drugs. See:

The booklet has information about possible interactions between many common prescription and non-prescription (over-the-counter) medications with food, alcohol and caffeine. The booklet covers  



Allergy drugs (antihistamines)

Cardiovascular disorders

  • Diuretics
  • Beta blockers
  • HMG-COA reductase inhibitors ("statins")
  • Nitrates
  • Angiotensin converting enzyme (ace) inhibitors


Drugs for mood disorders (depression, emotional, and anxiety disorders)

  • Monoamine Oxidase (mao) inhibitors
  • Anti-anxiety drugs
  • Antidepressant drugs


Arthritis and pain analgesic/antipyretic

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (N-SAIDs)
  • Corticosteroids
  • Narcotic analgesics


Anti-bacterials and antifungals

  • Penicillin
  • Quinolones
  • Cephalosporins
  • Tetracyclines
  • Nitroimidazole
  • Antifungals


Drugs for stomach conditions
Asthma broncho-dilators Anticoagulants Histamine blockers


The booklet briefly explains what each of these categories of drugs does, and how drinking alcohol while taking the drug may affect a person.


Another handy alcohol medication brochure is produced by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Does not include info on some important drugs for older adults, such as blood pressure medications though.



Other Information Sources


1. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (No. 27 PH 355 January 1995) has produced a brochure on Alcohol - Medication Interactions. See It covers many of the same matters as the National Consumer League brochure, but is not as plain language as the League's one. However, it gives references for each of the conclusions that it draws, and explains the higher risk of adverse drug-alcohol interactions among older adults.


2. Alberta Alcohol and Drug Addiction Commission (AADAC) has produced a series called "Beyond the ABCs", which offers information for professionals.


"Alcohol-Medication Interactions" is one of this series. See:


They have a general publication on common over-the-counter drugs:



AADAC also has a special publication on Gravol, a drug to treat and prevent nausea and vomiting. It is a drug which some seniors do seriously misuse. Taken in combination with alcohol, it is dangerous (See:


3. Prevention Source B.C.

provides a partial list of drug-alcohol interactions, covering pain killers, aspirin, anti-depressants, insulin, anti-histamines, blood pressure pills, barbiturates, tranquillizers and anti-coagulants. Gives a set of reminders when taking medications.


4. Hopkins Technology has a webpage on Alcohol and Drug Interactions  similar to the NCL one, with common brand names for the different drug types, and identifying the interactions. See:


5. The American Food And Drug Administration has a small piece called "OTC Know How: It's on the Label" on how to read and understand a non-prescription drug label. See:



6. Sarah Bland in "Pharamacotherapy Perspectives" provides a thorough reference tool on drug-food interactions for the Pharmacy Society of Wisconsin. See:



7. Medication Matters: How you can help seniors use medications safely.  Produced by Health Canada. Has a section on medication, alcohol and food. 


Notes that 80% of seniors in Canada have low-literacy skills and may not understand what health professionals tell them and give them to read. Seniors with lower literacy abilities may not be able to ask questions about their medication.





8. Alcoweb's information sheet on "Alcohol and Medications" explains interaction differnces in effects, depending on whether we are talking about acute drinking (short term, immediate drinking) and the chronic effects (long term drinking).


 9. "Knowledge is the Best Medicine" is a general information medication brochure for seniors. It is available in several languages including Italian, Polish, Spanish, Tamil, Portuguese, Arabic, Japanese, Ukrainian, and Macedonian.


Page last updated Sunday January 16, 2005

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