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Can You Mix Alcohol with Antihistamines?

two alcoholic beverages and antihistamines

Antihistamines are medications commonly used to treat allergy symptoms like allergic rhinitis, hay fever, skin rashes, and the common cold. They are available as both prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Like all medications, antihistamines can cause side effects. To use these allergy medications safely, you should be aware of certain precautions. In particular, you should be aware of the dangers of mixing alcohol and antihistamines. 

Please continue reading to learn whether it is okay to consume alcoholic drinks while taking Claritin, Zyrtec, Benadryl, Allegra, and other commonly used antihistamines.

What are antihistamines? How do they treat allergy symptoms?

Antihistamines are drugs used to treat allergic reactions caused by food, dust, pollen, mold, pet dander, insect bites, and other common allergens. When these allergens enter the body, your immune system identifies them as dangerous intruders and releases chemicals to fight them off. One of these chemicals is called histamine. Histamine triggers symptoms like runny nose, itchy eyes, swelling, and hives to get rid of the allergen. Antihistamines work by binding to the H1 receptors, where histamine binds to produce its effects. That’s why they are also called H1 blockers. By blocking the action of histamine, antihistamines relieve allergy symptoms.

What are the different types of antihistamines?

Antihistamines are first-generation (older drugs) and second-generation (newer drugs). Some examples include:

First-generation antihistamines (H-1 blockers)

Second-generation antihistamines (H-1 blockers)

Can you drink alcohol if taking antihistamines?

Whether or not it is okay to consume an alcoholic drink while taking an antihistamine depends on the type of antihistamine you are taking. You should avoid alcohol completely if you are taking a first-generation antihistamine. Mixing alcohol with a second-generation antihistamine is less likely to cause problems but is still avoidable. This is because first-generation antihistamines are more likely to cause drowsiness compared to second-generation antihistamines. The drowsiness caused by an antihistamine can be made worse when you drink alcohol. This can lead to extreme drowsiness, impairing your ability to function and increasing the chances of an injury or accident. Older adults are at an increased risk of this occurring. 

The exception to this rule is if someone has a severe allergic reaction while drinking alcohol, they should certainly be given an antihistamine. In such a situation, it may be a medical emergency, and you should call 911 or take the person to see a healthcare professional who can provide medical advice. In any case, an antihistamine like Benadryl clears from the body in four to six hours, so you don’t have to avoid alcohol forever.

Is it okay to drink alcohol with cetirizine?

Cetirizine (Zyrtec®) is a second-generation (non-drowsy) antihistamine commonly used to treat seasonal allergies. Combining cetirizine and alcohol is unlikely to cause severe drowsiness. However, cetirizine can make some people feel sleepy. Therefore it is advisable to wait and see how you feel on cetirizine before drinking alcohol. You should also avoid driving or doing anything that requires your complete concentration until you know how this antihistamine affects you.

If mixing Claritin and alcohol can be risky, what is the alternative?

Claritin is a second-generation antihistamine. Unlike first-generation antihistamines, which have a higher risk of causing problems with alcohol, it is generally safe to mix Claritin and moderate alcohol. However, if taking Claritin and alcohol together (or any other antihistamine) is a concern for you, you can talk to a health professional about using nasal corticosteroids (Nasonex®, Flonase®) as alternative treatment options for seasonal allergies. These drugs don’t cause drowsiness. Therefore, it is safe to use both alcohol and nasal corticosteroids together. However, only health professionals can decide whether nasal corticosteroids are right for you.

What about people struggling with alcohol abuse?

If you are struggling with alcohol abuse or some other mental health disorder, it’s important to seek professional medical advice from licensed medical professionals about which allergy medications are right for you. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. Mixing alcohol with antihistamines can lead to serious problems with thinking, judgement, and motor skills. 

What should you avoid while taking antihistamines?

Here are some precautions you should take while using an antihistamine:

  • Tell your doctor about all your medical conditions, especially if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), glaucoma, epilepsy, or an enlarged prostate gland.
  • Give your doctor a complete list of all your medications including prescription and over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, supplements, and natural or herbal products. This can help avoid dangerous drug interactions.
  • Follow the instructions on your package label or prescription carefully. Don't take more of the antihistamine than recommended.
  • Don't drive or perform any activities that require focus until you know how the antihistamine medication affects you.
  • Alcohol can worsen certain side effects of antihistamines. It is best to avoid mixing alcohol with antihistamines.
  • Eating grapefruit or drinking grapefruit juice, apple juice, or orange juice while taking certain antihistamines can affect how these drugs work. Ask a qualified healthcare provider for advice if this is a concern.
  • Tell your doctor if you're pregnant or breastfeeding while taking an antihistamine.
     

References:

  1. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/drugs/21223-antihistamines
  2. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000549.htm