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Cortisone is a naturally occurring hormone in the human body. In response to certain environmental factors like injury, disease, and exposure to allergens or other stresses, the adrenal gland produces cortisone to reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system. As a medical treatment, cortisone and synthetic cortisone medications, known as corticosteroids, are prescribed to alleviate painful inflammation or to control allergic responses. Combining cortisone and alcohol, such as beer or wine, does not usually result in serious or life-threatening interactions. Although technically safe, the use of the two substances together can cause or worsen some unwanted side effects.
Both cortisone and alcohol are known to independently cause stomach irritation. When both substances are introduced orally, the chances of stomach irritation increase. For patients with stomach issues like ulcers, frequent heartburn, or similar digestive conditions, the use of of these substances at the same time can worsen potential irritation. While neither life-threatening nor typically serious enough to seek medical attention, the possible increased stomach upset is unpleasant enough to prevent most patients from drinking and taking cortisone at the same time again.
Injected cortisone does not pass through the stomach and, therefore, may not present the same risk of increased stomach irritation when combined with alcohol. Other side effects, however, typically present problems that cause most medical professionals to recommend avoiding alcohol while on cortisone or corticosteroids. Some patients, for example, experience increased sleeplessness or excitability when taking cortisone or corticosteroids. Alternatively, other patients may feel drowsy or sleepy while on some forms of cortisone. Alcohol may intensify this drowsiness, making the operation of cars or heavy equipment dangerous.
Potassium deficiency is also an area of concern with both cortisone and alcohol, whether taken together or separate. Alcohol is known to act as a diuretic, often flushing potassium and other nutrients from the body, leaving heavy drinkers malnourished. Similarly, cortisone is known to cause a drop in potassium. The potential for dangerous drops in potassium levels is possible, although unlikely, when patients consume both cortisone and alcohol.
Generally, health care professionals advise against consuming alcohol with any medication, including steroids like cortisone. Safety is not necessarily an issue in terms of cortisone and alcohol. Aside from stomach discomfort and the worsening of other side effects, there are few interactions regarding the combined use of cortisone and alcohol. Instead, patient comfort is the primary motivation for recommending against the combination. Accordingly, health care professionals prefer that patients abstain from drinking while taking any medication, to prevent any potential hazards and to minimize patient discomfort.