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Is It Safe to Combine Antihistamines and Alcohol?

By Tracey Sandilands
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Antihistamines are drugs that act against the body’s production of histamines, which happens as part of an allergic reaction. The combination of antihistamines and alcohol, as with any other drugs, is unwise and can be dangerous, particularly if the patient consumes a large quantity of either substance. Some antihistamines interact badly with alcohol, and are not safe to take in combination with a drink. Other, more modern types of antihistamines are formulated to prevent side effects such as drowsiness, and these drugs can be taken safely in combination with a moderate consumption of alcohol.

A number of different types of antihistamines are available, either by doctor’s prescription or over the counter. Most over-the-counter drugs have existed for several years, and fall into the category of first-generation antihistamines. The common side effects of antihistamines in this group include drowsiness, a degree of sedation, heart palpitations and vision impairment such as difficulty focusing. Consuming these antihistamines and alcohol within the same eight hour period can lead to increased side effects of the drugs and is not safe.

Second-generation antihistamines exclude many of the chemicals that were primary causes of the side effects of antihistamines in the first generation. Typically, these antihistamines are not available without a prescription; they also last longer than the first-generation drugs and are non-drowsy. Combining second-generation antihistamines and alcohol, therefore, does not result in the risk of increased drowsiness. Medical professionals warn against the combination, however, due to other potentially dangerous antihistamine interactions that can cause serious cardiac problems.

The new class of non-sedating and non-drowsy antihistamines works by targeting specific nerve cell receptors and in this way, the chemicals avoid stimulating the cells that cause the sedative side effects of antihistamines. The packaging of these drugs contain no warnings about the use of the antihistamines and alcohol. Medical professionals warn against drinking alcohol with any drug; however, it appears that is it not dangerous to drink alcohol in moderation when taking non-sedating antihistamines.

Uses of antihistamines have increased since the discovery of the non-sedating class of drugs, which have brought relief to patients with chronic allergic conditions. Many users suffered for years from the side effects of antihistamines from the first and second generations. The new generation of drugs can control the most serious allergies without any of the risks of the older versions.

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Discussion Comments
By anon990411 — On Apr 20, 2015

Second generation antihistamines magnify the effect of alcohol. Every spring my mother mixes antihistamines with at least a pint of wine she drinks every night and the result is what you might call nasty-drunk syndrome. She does not seem drunk but has a hair-trigger temper and can launch into a tirade in an instant. Even if you are saying you agree with the point of what she is saying, she behaves as though there is a major confrontation going on.

The effects get worse over the few weeks in the spring when she mixes drugs and alcohol, starting with a tirade because I opened a window and more recently about a particular cleaning product used to clean a sink.

Last year, I showed her some online advice published by a hospital in Cambridge but she went straight into denial and started a personal attack. I wasn't telling her not drink but was calmly trying to tell her about the risks. It doesn't say not to consume with alcohol on the bottle which is all the justification she needs and won't listen to anybody else. One part of it is alcohol addiction, made worse by mixing it with another drug. It's pointless trying to say anything.

By rburow — On Jan 12, 2014
What laymen knows the difference between first and second degree antihistamines or drowsy and non drowsy varieties? I am with SpecialBug. Don't take a chance. Don't drink and take antihistamines.
By SpecialBug — On Jan 11, 2014
So, in some cases antihistamines can be taken with moderate alcohol consumption, while the majority of antihistamines are dangerous if taken with alcohol. I would take the "better safe than sorry" approach and avoid it altogether.
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