Posts Tagged ‘Alcohol’

Blackout Beers: Caffeine + Alcohol = Dangerous?

PharmD 2011 |

We know that the energy drink, Red Bull, has been around since 1987.  We don’t know, however, when the first individual had an epiphany and said to his friend, “Hey, this would be great mixed with alcohol!” Whoever he is, he probably regrets failing to patent his idea. At one point in time, it was the drink to order because it had everything most young (but, of course, over 21) drinkers would ask for. Alcohol to develop a buzz? Yes. Caffeine from an energy drink to make sure the buzz doesn’t make you sleepy? Yes. Flavored? Yes.  Flash-forward a decade or so at which point companies have caught on and have started manufacturing drinks called caffeinated alcoholic beverages (CAB’s) or alcoholic energy drinks (AED’s) that contain both caffeine and alcohol already combined for you (no bartender needed). We’ll be referring to them as CAB’s for the rest of the article for consistency’s sake. There were more than 25 different brands of CAB’s on the market a couple of years ago including popular brands like Sparks, Four Loko, Joose, and Max. Combining alcohol and energy drinks has always been controversial due to concerns over the cardiovascular effects of such a combo. Recently, the controversy has heated up due to multiple hospitalizations linked to consuming CAB’s.  As potential consumers of these drinks, you may be wondering why they are so bad for you and what the future holds for CAB’s.  Grab a drink and keep reading.

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02 2011

Guide to a Healthy & Happy Holiday Season

by Joshua Goldman, MD, MBA |

The holiday season is both an wonderful and hectic time of year.  Along with holiday cheer comes cross-country travel, quality family time, celebratory feasts…and unfortunately the seasonal flu, stress, sleepless nights in strange beds and post-feast weight gain.  The House Call, MD team has been diligently working around the clock to find proven ways to keep you safe and healthy this winter.  Follow our Holiday Survival Guide below to make it through the season just as happy and healthy as you started it.

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12 2010

Would you like some beer with your prescription?

by Tania Houspian, PharmD 2011

It’s inevitable and happens at least twice a month.  Plans will be made to go out to a bar with friends and, as the first cocktail is being ordered, someone remembers that they’re on antibiotics for an infection they’d rather not talk about. The question is raised about whether or not it’s OK to drink alcohol with that particular medication.  At that point, everyone turns to the friend with some form of medical training and asks, “So can I drink or what?” Members of the House Call, MD staff have experienced this so often we’ve started to avoid going out for drinks with infection-prone friends.  What a loaded question!  If the answer is, “No”, then the friend will spend the rest of the night pouting about not being able to drink and secretly blame the messenger for it.  To avoid those awkward conversations, we’d like to take a moment and explain why sometimes it better to put the drinks aside when on certain medications.  We apologize in advance for your drink-less night out.

Why does alcohol interact with certain medications?

Alcohol is broken down by two parts of your body: your stomach and your liver. When that shot of whiskey reaches the stomach some of the alcohol is broken down and the rest is absorbed into your blood stream. From your bloodstream, the alcohol is delivered to your liver via the portal vein.  In the liver, about 10% of the remaining alcohol is broken down. The remaining alcohol is passed back into your bloodstream and is free to create all those magical affects alcohol has on your brain (i.e. thinking you’re a better dancer than you really are, being exceedingly friendly with strangers, etc.).  At any of those stops that alcohol makes in your system (stomach, liver or brain) there is a possibility for it to interact with any medications that may possibly be taking the same path (1).  Below we’ll go through different classes of medications, covering specific medications from each class and how they interact with alcohol.

Class: Antibiotics/Antifungals

Medications: Metronidazole, Nitrofurantoin, Tinidazole, Ketoconazole, Cycloserine, Cefoperazone, Cefotetan, and Griseofulvin

Just a shot of vodka along with any of these medications and you may be hugging the porcelain throne earlier in the night than you had planned. When mixed with alcohol, these medications can cause a violent reaction in your stomach called a “disulfiram-like reaction.” This reaction results in a sudden increase in heart rate, turning beet red, upset stomach, nausea, vomiting and, in worst case scenarios, death (2).  Antabuse is the name of a medication whose main component is disulfram. When people want to quit drinking they are prescribed Antabuse so that if they do give in to their urge to drink they’ll have a violent reaction to the alcohol.  The smart alecks in the crowd are now thinking, “Well I’ll just make sure to separate my antibiotic and alcohol by a long enough interval so that they’ll never meet in my stomach! I win!”  We hope you can define a “long enough interval” (and if so, let us know) because everyone’s stomach empties these medications at different rates.  As such, we can’t even being to make recommendations as to how much time you should allow for so that none of the antibiotic will meet the alcohol.  The bottom line is that if you mix the above medications with alcohol, you’re asking for some serious punishment.  You can’t say we didn’t warn you.

Class: Antihistamines

Medications: Loratadine, Fexofenadine, Diphenhydramine, Desloratadine, Loratadine, Brompheniramine, and Cetirizine

Having read Attack of the Common Cold, you know that antihistamines can help with a lot of cold symptoms.  Since they’re available to buy at the pharmacy without a prescription, some people make the mistake of assuming they’re completely safe and won’t interact with other medications or alcohol.  We are sorry to say that this assumption is wrong.  On their own, antihistamines can cause some drowsiness.  When mixed with alcohol, you might as well tuck yourself in for the night.  Aside from making you drowsier, it’s also possible to become dizzy from a drop in your blood pressure.  Dizziness can lead to falling and falling leads to all sorts of serious injuries (i.e. broken bones, concussions, etc.)(2).  Antihistamines are found in all sorts of cough, cold, and allergy combination drugs like Nyquil so read the back of the label and see if any of the above medications are in there.  We don’t recommend that you take antihistamines and drive until you know their affect on your level of alertness.  If you’re going to drink and take antihistamines, absolutely do not drive (not that you need to be reminded that you should not drink and drive!).

Class: Cough Medications

Medication: Dextromethorphan (Robitussin)

If you’ve ever had a cough and taken Robitussin, you know how sedating it is.  Imagine mixing alcohol with that.  Two words: lights out.  Mixing the two can lead to hallucinations and strange behavior (more so than alcohol alone).  While this may sound like fun to some people, believe us when we tell you that it is dangerous and harmful to your brain (2).  Don’t do it.

Class: Heartburn Medications

Medications:  Nizatidine, Metoclopramide, Cimetidine, and Ranitidine

Heartburn is very unpleasant and we completely understand your need to alleviate that toxic feeling with medications. You pop a Zantac (Ranitidine) and start to feel better so you decide you will join your friends at the pub.  What can you expect to happen after your second vodka tonic?  Nothing good.  Your heart rate will increase suddenly and so will your blood pressure.  Imagine how the heartburn made you feel and amplify that ten-fold. In addition mixing alcohol with these medications can increase the affect alcohol has on you. If you’re someone who usually feels tipsy after six drinks you may start feeling not so great after two.  This happens because the heartburn medications decrease the breakdown of alcohol in your stomach so your body is exposed to more alcohol than it normally would be. In turn, alcohol inhibits the metabolism of the heartburn medications so you experience more severe side affects from those medications (the increased heart rate and blood pressure) (2).

Class: Pain Relief

Medications: Ibuprofen, Naproxen, and Aspirin

Whatever the source of pain (cramps, muscle pain, hangover, headache, etc.) most people reach for one of these trusty painkillers.  Aspirin has lost some of its popularity as a painkiller but Ibuprofen and Naproxen are gaining in popularity due to their anti-inflammatory properties that help with lots of different sources of pain.  How do these trusty pain-alleviating friends of ours interact with alcohol?  Ibuprofen, Naproxen, and Aspirin all disrupt the lining of your stomach and add to the erosive affects of alcohol.  Combine the two and you asking for some serious stomach pain. Together they can completely disrupt the lining of your stomach and allow the acidic contents of your stomach to reach the stomach tissue.  Long-term combination of alcohol and these agents can lead to bleeding in your stomach (a.k.a. gastrointestinal bleeding). Not fun and filled with long-term consequences.  It’s generally recommended that you separate these agents and alcohol by 8-10 hours or play it safe and don’t combine them in the same day (1).

Class: Antipyretic (Anti-Fever)

Medication: Acetaminophen (Tylenol)

Tylenol can be used for both pain relief and to reduce fever. It gets its own separate section from the other pain relievers because it comes with an entirely different risk when combined with alcohol. Tylenol, like alcohol, is broken down by the liver. When Tylenol and alcohol meet in the liver, the alcohol causes Tylenol to be broken down into a toxic compound.  This toxic compound causes the death of liver cells!  Did your liver just quiver out of fear? We don’t blame it.  Long-term combination of alcohol and Tylenol can cause liver failure, meaning that you’ll ultimately need a liver transplant.  Not good.  Avoid taking more than 4 grams of Tylenol a day and absolutely do not drink when taking Tylenol (1).

Class: Antidepressants

Medications: Phenelzine, Isocarboxazid, and Tranylcypromine

The antidepressants listed above are from the Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitor class (MAOI’s for short, we love acronyms in the medical world).  They have lost popularity in recent years because of the many interactions they can have with food and alcohol.  Aged foods (think salami, aged cheeses, etc.) and aged drinks (wine is the main culprit here) contain a compound called tyramine.  The metabolism of tyramine is prevented when someone is taking MAOI’s so the tyramine builds up in your body.  When tyramine builds up, it causes a sudden increase in heart rate and blood pressure that we call a hypertensive emergency (1). Yes, the kind of emergency people end up in the hospital for.  So if you are taking any of these antidepressants, do not drink aged alcoholic beverages.

Class: Sedatives

Medications: Diazepam, Lorazepam, Zolpidem, Eszopiclone, Estazolam, Ramelteon, Phenobarbital and Temazepam

The entire point of these medications is to help people fall asleep. Add on the sedating affects of alcohol and you’ll have an extremely un-alert person. This might not sound like reason enough not mix them with alcohol since being extra sleepy is something an insomniac may want.  However, the downside is that you may become completely unaware of your actions and experience amnesia. On the other hand some people become aggressive and anxious due to combining these medications with alcohol (2).  The reaction can vary from person to person.  Even with the variance among individuals, all the manufacturers of these medications clearly warn against taking these medications with excessive amounts of alcohol.

Class: Opioid Pain Killers

Medications: Morphine, Oxymorphone, Meperidine, Methadone, Propoxyphene, Oxycodone, Hydromorphone, and Codeine

Generally prescribed for serious pain, the consequences of mixing these medications with alcohol are serious.  Like with the sedatives, mixing these medications with alcohol can cause increased sedation, amnesia and loss of control.  If that’s not enough to scare you then maybe the fact that you may stop breathing will.  Opioid painkillers cause respiratory depression (decreased breathing) and alcohol adds to that affect (1).  It is this combination of painkillers and alcohol that has claimed the lives of several celebrities in the past.

There are a lot of other medications that interact with alcohol but the medications above are the most commonly used in our society.  Never assume it’s safe to combine medications or take medications with alcohol until you check with your pharmacist or doctor.  One night of fun is not worth any long-term damage you may cause your self.  The next time the answer is, “It’s probably best not to drink while on that medication,” trust us…we’re on your team.  We’ll even take you out for a drink when you’re medication-free.

Questions? E-mail the Author:


1.    Alcohol Related Drug Interactions. Pharmacist’s Letter/Prescriber’s Letter. Jan 2008. Vol 24.

2.    Harmful Interactions: Mixing Alcohol with Medicines. National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 2007.


06 2010

Know thy Liquor: What’s in a Drink?

by Leah Frankel, MS, RD |

Alcoholic DrinksIt’s Friday afternoon and after a long week of work you head to the bar for happy hour and order a margarita, but did you ever stop to think about what’s really in that drink? Drinks can be filled with hidden calories, sugar and sometimes even fat. So does that mean you should cut out drinking all together? Not necessarily. With a little help you should be able to navigate your way through a bar menu and enjoy your drink as a cocktail connoisseur!

Before we understand the nutrition in our drinks it’s important to understand what constitutes a “drink”:

  • 0.5 ounce of pure alcohol

  • 12 oz of beer (5% w/v)

  • 5 oz wine

  • 1.5 oz whiskey, rum, vodka etc. (80-proof)

alcohol breakdown

So when you’re out enjoying $1 pint night, after 3 pints (16 oz x 3 = 48 oz) you’ve actually had 4 drinks. Remember that moderate drinking is defined as one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men, and no you can’t “save” up all your drinks for one night.  We appreciate your creative, “outside the box” thinking, however.

To better understand where the calories in your drink come from, it is essential to have some basic knowledge of where calories come from in general. In our diet there are three macronutrients that provide calories: carbohydrates, protein and fat. Both carbohydrates and protein provide 4 calories (kcal) per gram(g) (of carbohydrate or protein), but fat provides 9 calories per gram of fat. For instance if your cookie contained 10 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of protein and 5 grams of fat it would have a total of 93 calories.

Breaking that down:  (10 g carb x 4 kcal/g carb4) + (2 g protein x 4 kcal/g protein) + (5 g fat x 9 kcal/g fat)

Pure alcohol has 7 kcal per gram, which means it provides more calories per gram than protein or carbohydrates but less than fat.  However, most drinks, luckily, aren’t 100% alcohol (which would be 200 proof).

beer bellyWe know that alcohol has more calories that protein or carbs, but that’s not the only reason a few drinks can add up to a lot of calories. Mixers, whether it’s soda, juice, margarita mix or flavored liqueur, can add excess calories to a drink. It’s not uncommon to find martinis that look and sound more like desserts, consisting of creamy liqueurs and sugar-rimmed glasses. Many of these mixed drinks are also being supersized and can have up to 1,000 calories!

To play devil’s advocate, even though drinking can add inches to our waistline there are some benefits associated with moderate drinking. Moderate drinking (1 drink for women or 2 for men per day) has been linked with a reduced risk of heart disease and heart attacks in the elderly, if they are at increased risk for developing heart disease. Wine contains potassium which may help lower blood pressure, as well as flavonoids and resveratrol. Flavonoids have an antioxidant property which can help prevent blood clots and the formation of plaques in your arties. Resveratrol is found in grape skins and seeds and has been shown to increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol and prevent blood clots. Alcohol has been shown to improve appetite in the elderly or other populations with a poor appetite (enter drunk muchies).

Now to the magic numbers you’ve been waiting for…

Calories in common drinks (Note: Calories vary slightly depending on brand):

  • 12 oz regular beer: 150 kcalMargarita

  • 12 oz light beer: 100 kcal

  • 5 oz wine: 100 kcal

  • 12 oz wine cooler: 180 kcal

  • 1.5 oz 80 proof spirit (not including mixers): 100 kcal

  • 1.5 oz cordial or liqueur (not including mixers): 160 kcal

  • 8 oz Margarita: 336 kcal

  • 9 oz Pina Colada: 460 kcal

  • 6 oz Long Island Ice Tea: 350 kcal

Is it possible to enjoy a drink and watch your waistline?  Of course it is!

Healthy Drinking Tips:

  • Alternate your alcoholic drink with water or a low calorie non-alcoholic drink

  • Use low calorie or diet mixers whenever possible

  • Plan your alcohol consumption into your daily calorie intake like you would with food

  • Stay away from “sweet” drinks, the added flavored liqueurs are primarily sugar

  • Dilute your drink with club soda or sparkling water


10 2009

The Hangover: Make it go away!

by Joshua Goldman, MD, MBA

the-hangover-wallpaperIt’s 9am and you’re cuddling your fire truck-esk alarm as you wake up to realize that you’re already an hour late for work.  You sit up and immediately notice the pounding sensation in your head, reminding you of your alcoholic escapades from the night before.  It’s official, you’re hungover.  The question is “What do you do now?”  We’re here to offer a few suggestions to help mitigate hangovers with some preventive steps before and during drinking, and some hangover-relieving tricks for the morning after.

Rather than accepting a hangover as the unfortunate side effect of a night out, there are a few tricks to help reduce the likelihood of ever becoming hungover.  Here’s our recommendations:

  • Drink slowly (obviously).  Frank the Tank is well on his way to a hangover after beer bong number 3.

  • Eat a full meal before drinking.  One study showed that glucose (which your body gets from food) effectively inhibits the metabolic disturbances induced by ethanol (i.e. a hangover).  The glucose in the meal also helps build up a store of energy so you won’t feel as weak the next day.

  • Drink in moderation. For those of you who aren’t sure what this means, The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends that women have no more than 1 drink per day and men no more than 2 drinks per day (one drink = a 12-ounce bottle of beer, a 4-ounce glass of wine, or a 1 1/2-ounce shot of liquor).  WaterAlso, the average individual can process one of these alcoholic beverages per hour.  Two drinks in one hour makes you one drink drunk.  Five drinks in two hours make you three drinks drunk.  You follow?

  • Drink a glass of water in between alcoholic drinks. This will help you drink less alcohol while simultaneously hydrating you (remember that a large part of your hangover is dehydration).

We realize that these tips are not ideal for those of you looking to get a little wild during your night out on the town.  As such, here are some additional tips to help mitigate the pounding in your head that you will experience the next morning once the hangover has set in:

  • Replace all the fluids and electrolytes you lost. If you remember, alcohol is Rehydrating with Electrolyte Drinkdehydrating and, unfortunately, you lose a lot of electrolytes along with the fluid (mainly sodium, potassium, and magnessium).  There are a number of great electrolyte drinks (pedialyte, Gatorade Performance, Powerade, Smart Water, etc.) that can replace both water and electrolytes simultaneously.  If you prefer a more natural approach, water plus bananas and a salty snack can help replenish your fluids as well as the missing sodium and potassium.  You can also take a multivitamin to rapidly (and thoroughly) get all your needed minerals back on board.

  • Replenish your energy stores. Consume foods and drinks that contain fructose (such as fruit juice or honey). There is some evidence that fructose will help your body break down and eliminate the alcohol faster.  Also, remember that alcohol inhibits your body’s production of glucose (your body’s form of gasoline).  When you wake up the next morning, your body is in desperate need of glucose replenishment.  A healthy carbohydrate-rich meal will quickly replenish these glucose stores.  Add some protein (think eggs) to breakfast and you can simultaneously boost your body’s cysteine level which will help counteract the brutal effects of alcohol’s metabolites.

  • Stock up on Vitamin C. Vitamin C has been shown to increase your body’s level of glutathione, the chemical needed to breakdown alcohol that becomes depleted in hangovers (1).  Vitamin C also neutralizes free radicals (which are formed at an increasing rate during drinking) that can cause damage to your body in the aftermath of a night out.  Oranges or those tasty chewable Vitamin C tablet will both do the trick.

  • Get your liver back on track. In addition to Vitamin C, milk thistle is an excellent way to replace your liver’s glutathione stores (which you need to process all the alcohol you consumed).  You can also find glutathione in asparagus and spinach.  Eggs are rich in cysteine which is a building block of glutathione.  Vitamin B6, riboflavin, and selenium are required in the manufacture of glutathione (they can be found in most multivitamins) and are essential to getting your body back to normal.

  • Upset StomachBe gentle on your stomach. You spent a good portion of last night dumping the equivalent of battery acid into your digestive track.  It’s understandable that it’s not feeling so hot the next morning.  The alcohol you consume irritates the lining of your digestive track much like the way it is irritated with very spicy foods.  This irritation causes you to feel nauseous and makes it hard to eat.  To help your stomach heal, eat bland foods the next day and save the spicy peppers and chili sauce for another day.  If your upset stomach is sucking your will to live, try Pepto-Bismol (it acts as a temporary stomach lining protecting your irritated gut from its natural acid while it heals…yes, the picture on the pink bottle is true).

  • Get plenty of rest. Alcohol inhibits your ability to reach your most deep and restful phase of sleep.  As such, you will be tired regardless of the number of hours you spent in bed.  Try to take a midday nap to allow your body time to catch up on some much needed deep sleep.

  • Take an aspirin. Aspirin (as well as ibuprofen and naproxen) has been proven to be effective in minimizing the pain in many types of headaches including a hangover headache.  Avoid taking any medications for your hangover that contain acetaminophen (such as Tylenol), because it may cause liver damage when combined with alcohol.  Your liver is already angry; no need to push it over the edge with Tylenol.

House Call, MD’s Hypothetical Hangover Remedy:

In simplified terms, this is our best (scientifically supported) guess at what can get you back on track:

  1. A carbohydrate-rich breakfast with eggs on the side (but remember to keep it bland)

  2. Electrolyte-enhanced fluids…lots of them

  3. A multivitamin (make sure it has Vit B6, B12, riboflavin, and selenium)

  4. Vitamin C – Consume any way you’d like (OJ or oranges will kill two birds with one stone)

  5. Aspirin – One dose in the AM is probably all you need

  6. Rest – Try an afternoon nap…you look like you need it.

1. Johnston CJ, Meyer CG, Srilakshmi JC. Vitamin C elevates red blood cell glutathione in healthy adults. Am J Clin Nutr 58:103-5, 1993
2. Kera Y, Ohbora Y, Komura S (1989). “Buthionine sulfoximine inhibition of glutathione biosynthesis enhances hepatic lipid peroxidation in rats during acute ethanol intoxication”. Alcohol Alcohol. 24 (6): 519–24.


10 2009

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