CINCINNATI—After a night of New Year's Eve cocktailing—or drinking alcohol any time, day or night—be careful what medications you reach for to soothe the aches and pains of a hangover.
"You definitely don’t want to take acetaminophen (the main ingredient in Tylenol) with alcohol because of the problems it can cause in the liver,” says Marianne Ivey, PharmD, associate professor of clinical practice at the University of Cincinnati’s (UC) James L. Winkle College of Pharmacy.
While there have been documented cases of illness, near fatal and fatal consequences from combining acetaminophen and alcohol, Ivey says that most people don’t make the "danger” association with drinking because acetaminophen and other over-the-counter (OTC) medications are commonly used to self-treat illness such as a headache without worry. Ivey says that some concerns also exist with the combining alcohol and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as Motrin, Advil or Aleve, all of which carry warning labels specific to use with alcohol, and aspirin-based products such as Alka-Seltzer which can be doubly irritating to the stomach lining because alcohol is a known stomach irritant.
So what’s left to take when the champagne high turns into a champagne sigh?
Hydration, Ivey says, before and after drinking, and not drinking on an empty stomach are two ways to help avoid the headache issue in the first place, but if you feel compelled to "take something” then you should avoid acetaminophen altogether and only take the label recommended dosage of NSAIDS or aspirin based products. When complications arise, Ivey says, it’s almost always an issue of moderation, by either having too much to drink or taking more than the recommended dosage, or both.
Party goers should also keep in mind that other OTC medications they take regularly, such as antihistamines, can have an interaction when combined with alcohol—the most troublesome being sedation or sleepiness. And while prescription medications carry brightly colored auxiliary or "warning” labels on the container (co-developed and copyrighted by UC’s Winkle professor emeritus Richard Wuest, PharmD), OTC warnings are usually listed in the product insert, or in small print on the container.
Thus, Ivey’s word of advice to bleary-eyed revelers is to read the fine print.
"People think because a medication is over the counter it's OK to combine with drinking, and it isn't ” she says, adding that generic, or store-brand, OTCs carry the same precautionary warnings as the popular name brands.