Metformin and Alcohol

by on May 12, 2012

It is recommended that alcohol not be consumed when taking the diabetes medication, metformin. Drinking alcohol while taking metformin increases the risk of developing a life-threatening condition known as lactic acidosis. However, some doctors say small amounts of alcohol can be consumed without ill effects. It is important to discuss the consumption of alcohol with a health care professional when taking metformin.

Metformin is a medication used to treat diabetes, and is part of the biguinide class of drugs. Although the risk is low, taking metformin increases the risk of developing lactic acidosis, a condition characterized by a low pH level in the body and an increase of lactate in the blood. Drinking too much alcohol, in the form of binge drinking or drinking every day, also increases your risk of lactic acidosis, and combining alcohol in large amounts with metformin compounds the risk. In addition, alcohol lowers blood sugar which increases the risk of hypoglycemia.

Metformin may also be prescribed for PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) in women.  Alcohol should also be avoided by women who are being treated for PCOS with Metformin.

Safe or Moderate Amounts

Small amounts of alcohol may be safe to drink when taking metformin. How much alcohol is safe depends on a number of factors including age, weight, medical conditions and other medications that are being taken. Consulting with a physician is recommended to help determine the amount of alcohol that is safe to drink while taking metformin. It should also be noted that drinking alcohol with meals can help prevent hypoglycemia.

Signs of Overconsumption

Monitoring for signs of lactic acidosis and hypoglycemia can reduce the risk of serious consequences when drinking alcohol while taking metformin. Immediate medical attention is recommended if experiencing:

  • weakness
  • extreme fatigue
  • nausea and vomiting
  • stomach pain
  • shortness of breath
  • dizziness
  • lightheadedness
  • fast or slow heartbeat
  • flushing of the skin or feeling cold

Who Should Avoid Alcohol

While some doctors say it is okay to drink small amounts of alcohol when taking metformin, certain medical conditions, such as kidney or liver disease, may require complete avoidance. Both liver and renal diseases also increase risk of lactic acidosis. Only a doctor that has a complete medical history can determine safety limits between metformin and alcohol.

Metformin can help people with diabetes manage their blood sugars and reduce their risk of chronic illness. Alcohol in small amounts may still be enjoyed when taking metformin, but only when okayed by a doctor.