Nearly 42 percent of U.S. adults who drink also report using medications known to interact with
alcohol, based on a study from the National Institutes of Health released today. Among those over
65 years of age who drink alcohol, nearly 78 percent report using alcohol-interactive medications.
Such medications are widely used, prescribed for common conditions such as depression, diabetes
and high blood pressure. The research is among the first to estimate the proportion of adult
drinkers in the United States who may be mixing alcohol-interactive medications with alcohol. The
resulting health effects can range from mild (nausea, headaches, loss of coordination) to severe
(internal bleeding, heart problems, difficulty breathing).
“Our findings show that a substantial percentage of people who drink regularly, particularly older
adults, could be at risk of harmful alcohol and medication interactions,” said Dr. Breslow, an
epidemiologist in NIAAA’s Division of Epidemiology and Prevention Research. “We suggest that
people talk to their doctor or pharmacist about whether they should avoid alcohol while taking
their prescribed medications.”
Older adults are at particular risk of experiencing alcohol-medication interactions. Not only are
they more likely to be taking medications in general, but certain alcohol-interactive medications,
such as diazepam (Valium), are metabolized more slowly as one ages, creating a larger window for
The researchers analyzed data from more than 26,000 adults ages 20 and older who participated in
the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1999-2010). The survey asks participants
about alcohol use in the past year and prescription drug use in the past month. Dr. Breslow notes
that the results of the study indicate potential (rather than actual) rates, because the
researchers could not confirm whether drinking and medication use overlapped based on the available
data. However, it is likely that those who drink regularly and take medication regularly are doing
so in a similar time frame.
The main types of alcohol-interactive medications reported in the survey were blood pressure
medications, sleeping pills, pain medications, muscle relaxers, diabetes and cholesterol
medications, antidepressants and antipsychotics. Based on recent estimates, about 71 percent of
U.S. adults drink alcohol. For more on alcohol-medication interactions, see this NIAAA fact sheet.