Paracetamol and Alcohol

by on June 20, 2012

Paracetamol (Pandol) is an over-the-counter drug used for relief of fever and minor body aches and pains. It is also contained in many other drugs, particularly painkillers and cough-and-flu medications. When used as recommended, this medication is extremely safe.

Paracetamol and Alcohol Consumption

However, paracetamol may be dangerous for people who regularly drink alcohol, most especially those with alcohol problems. Combining alcohol and paracetamol increases the risk of an overdose even when the drug is taken at therapeutic doses. Because of the potential danger, manufacturers recommend that people who consume more than 2 alcoholic beverages daily consult their healthcare providers before taking this drug.

Liver Failure

Complications due to an alcohol interaction are rarely reported. The manufacturer warns users against the potentially life-threatening complications, also known as alcohol-acetaminophen syndrome. If left untreated, alcohol-acetaminophen syndrome can lead to acute liver failure.

Transaminase is a liver protein that is released by the body to help speed up metabolic processes of the liver. During alcohol-acetaminophen syndrome, serum transaminase levels shoot up which shows that the liver is working “double time” to metabolize acetaminophen and alcohol. Often, the liver works more than what it normally handle. As the alcohol is metabolized at a much faster rate, more toxic enzymes are left in the body. If untreated, increased toxins in the liver (hepatotoxicity) can lead to acute liver failure or damage. Some medical experts consider alcohol-acetaminophen syndrome as the major cause of acute liver damage in the US.

Other Considerations

Before taking paracetamol, users must consider their current alcohol consumption as well as the hepatic condition. Chronic alcohol drinkers, even moderate social drinkers (more than 3 glasses of alcohol per day), may have reduced glutathione – a liver enzyme involved in clearing toxins. This increases the risk of liver problems even at regular or “safe” doses of paracetamol.

The metabolism of paracetamol and alcohol depends on the user’s age, weight and other health factors. Usually, alcohol takes around five days before it is completely metabolized and excreted by the body’s liver, while paracetamol takes a little longer. Therefore, users should wait at least five after ingesting alcohol before they start taking paracetamol. Furthermore, for your safety, alcohol drinking may be resumed at least one week after the last dose of paracetamol. Chronic alcohol users are advised to abstain from alcohol if they expect to take paracetamol, or to consider other alternative medications. Acetaminophen is also not advised for relief of headache due to alcohol or hangover.

If you have history of alcohol or liver problems, it is best to consult your healthcare provider first before taking paracetamol. Feel free to discuss with your physician about your alcohol consumption.