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Avoiding Alcohol While on Antibiotics—A Prevalent Myth

Posted by medconsumers on January 15, 2009

Yet another medical myth was explored in a recent issue of the British Medical Journal click here. The idea that alcohol should be avoided while taking antibiotics is prevalent, according to a survey of British patients. The advice also turned up frequently in a Google search of the Internet.

A research team led by J. Lwanga and colleagues at the Department of Genitourinary Medicine, Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Hospital in London, found there was no basis for this belief and no such contraindication is listed for antibiotics in the British National Formulary. Still, the researchers showed that 72% of patients who were treated at their clinic believed that drinking alcohol while on antibiotics would make them sick. And 81% thought that alcohol might stop the antibiotics from working properly. Despite the prevalence of these incorrect assumptions, the survey found they rarely led people to skip the antibiotics in order to drink.

Lwanga and colleagues could only speculate about their findings. “Prohibition of alcohol in people being treated for a sexually transmitted disease is a recognized historical fact and may have punitive origins.”

The first two rapid responses (electronic letters to editor) to this survey justified the avoidance of alcohol for people taking antibiotics for sexually transmitted diseases. One doctor wrote that sexual abstinence is essential until antibiotic therapy has been completed. Yet the disinhibiting effects of high alcohol consumption, especially binge drinking, might lead people to disregard the standard advice about sexual abstinence.

Maryann Napoli, Center for Medical Consumers©

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