CLEVELAND CLINIC – Prescription medications are metabolized in the same place the body metabolizes alcohol- the liver.
Combining alcohol with medications often carries the potential for serious health problems but a recent National Institutes of Health study finds that more than 40 percent of people are taking the risk.
"I think it's important as healthcare providers that we're actually asking patients what is their alcohol intake?" said Dr. Daniel Neides, a physician at Cleveland Clinic's Center for Integrative Medicine. "We also need to ask how frequently they are drinking and how much."
NIH researchers analyzed data from more than 26,000 adults ages 20 and older.
They found 42 percent of adults in the United States drink alcohol and use medications known to interact with alcohol.
Among those over 65 years old, nearly 80 percent reported using alcohol-interactive medications, including those that are widely used and prescribed for common conditions such as depression, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Researchers say there is a substantial number of people who could be at risk for harmful alcohol and medication interactions, which can range from nausea to internal bleeding.
"We may not be actually getting the effect that we're supposed to, or on the other hand, we could be getting toxic levels because of the alcohol-to-med interaction," Dr. Neides says.
He says healthcare providers should question alcohol consumption with every prescription they write and patients must provide honest information.
"We are not here to judge, but we have to make decisions based on that critical information," Dr. Neides says.
Dr. Neides says you should always talk to your doctor or pharmacist about whether you should avoid alcohol while taking prescribed medications.
Information from the Cleveland Clinic