Atenolol and Alcohol

by on May 4, 2012

Drinking alcohol along with cardiovascular medications (including antihypertensives such as atenolol) is not recommended because of the potential health risks in combining these substances.

Basically, alcohol does not directly interact with atenolol but consuming excessive amounts of alcohol can counteract many of the desired therapeutic effects of this drug.

Atenolol belongs to the group of medications called beta-blockers. This class of medications is particularly used in the management of hypertension (high blood pressure), tachycardia (rapid heart rate), angina pectoris (chest pain) and can also be used in the management of migraine headache. In contrast, alcohol can result in all these symptoms.

Alcohol can potentially increase blood pressure thereby reducing the efficiency of atenolol in managing hypertension. Alcohol can cause abnormal heart rhythm, particularly atrial fibrillation, which counteracts the effects of atenolol in patients suffering from tachycardia or rapid heart rate. Some clinical studies also suggest that alcohol can have adverse effects on heart muscles. In patients with coronary heart disease, too much stimulation of the heart muscles increases oxygen demand hence increasing the risk for chest pain as well as heart attack. Headache is also a common side-effect of alcohol therefore it can actually precipitate migraine.

Like many other psychotherapeutic and CNS-active substances, alcohol can also cause hypotensive effects (low blood pressure), especially during the initiation of treatment and dose escalation. Alcohol can increase blood vessel dilation resulting in a significantly low blood pressure and orthostatic hypotension (pooling of blood when in upright position). These sudden drop in blood pressure can result in disturbing symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, fainting, lightheadedness, and passing out.

Furthermore, since alcohol can potentiate the effect of beta-blockers, it tends to increase the risk for atenolol side effects that include fatigue, shortness of breath or wheezing, bradycardia or abnormally slow heart rate, low blood pressure and, in some patients, asthma. In patients chronically treated with atenolol, taking alcohol can cause exacerbation of some side effects such as depression, fatigue and lightheadedness.

These possible adverse effects make co-administration of alcohol and atenolol less than optimal choice. While drinking small quantities of alcohol while on atenolol would not cause serious problems, consuming large amounts poses serious health risks, hence is not recommended.

Management of Alcohol-Atenolol Interaction

If you have taken alcohol and experienced any of these adverse effects, you should contact your healthcare provider right away. If you experience signs of low blood pressure, you must avoid sudden position changes such as abruptly rising from sitting to upright position. It is also important not to adjust your dosage without consulting your healthcare provider. Usually, your doctor will recommend close monitoring to determine any signs of hypotension.