Q: What medications interact harmfully with alcohol? Are there specific categories that I should actively avoid? —Nelson C., Boston
A: It's extremely important to carefully research how any medication you take may interact with alcohol if you plan on consuming even just a few drinks. Some medications can compound alcohol's effects, while alcohol can minimize some drugs' efficacy or magnify their negative side effects. Even over-the-counter drugs and herbal supplements may have unintended effects when combined with a drink.
Scientists classify alcohol interactions under two broad categories. The first is pharmacodynamic, wherein alcohol enhances a medication's effects, especially those that affect the central nervous system like sedatives. The second category is pharmacokinetic, wherein alcohol interferes with the way a drug is metabolized.
Among the classes of drugs that can interact dangerously with alcohol are antidepressants, muscle relaxants, opioids, barbiturates, antibiotics, pain medications, antihistamines, benzodiazepines, anti-inflammatory agents and many more. The best way to stay safe is to abstain from ingesting any combination of alcohol and drugs. Always ask your physician, pharmacist or other health-care provider if it's safe to drink when on a certain medication.