Most healthcare professionals agree that it is not safe to combine ranitidine and alcohol. Ranitidine is a drug that alters the inner chemistry of the stomach in an attempt to lessen acid reflux and related gastrointestinal and digestive problems, but these changes can and often do mean that alcohol is absorbed and processed differently. In typical patients the combination can significantly increase the level of blood alcohol while also potentially damaging the stomach lining. Patients are usually advised to avoid alcohol entirely while taking this drug. Even small amounts can have a greater effect than normal, which can lead to quick intoxication, liver damage, and other issues. In addition, alcohol can undermine the drug’s effectiveness.
Healthcare providers often prescribe ranitidine-containing drugs for patients who suffer from chronic acid reflux or the related gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). On its own, ranitidine is an active ingredient; the drugs that contain it usually go by a different, usually a brand, name. In addition to treating acid reflux, it is sometimes also used in drugs designed to prevent ulcers and certain inflammatory skin conditions.
Ranitidine is usually classed as a histamine-2 (H2) blocker. Histamines are natural chemicals in the body, and in the stomach they stimulate different acid-producing cells. By blocking the action of histamine, ranitidine cuts down on how much stomach acid is produced. Excessive levels of stomach acid can cause inflammation and ulcers in the stomach, duodenum, and esophagus. The drug works because the temporary reduction in stomach acid gives inflammation and ulcers time to heal while at the same time preventing new damage from occurring.
Implications for Stomach Acid
When ranitidine is working properly, patients tend to experience a reduction in stomach acid. This is good for things like reflux and ulcers, since it reduces the possibility of flare-ups and negative food reactions. It but can be troubling when it comes to processing alcohol, though. Stomach acid isn’t inherently bad, and in fact it’s often really helpful when it comes to protecting the sensitive tissues of the stomach lining from burns or other contact with digestive juices. Alcohol is generally a somewhat harsh substance for the stomach to process, and proper digestion usually requires a full spectrum of acids. When the acids in the stomach are reduced, the chance for damage to the stomach lining increases.
The problem is often compounded for people who suffer from ulcers. Ulcers are tears or perforations in the stomach lining, often caused by stress or chemical imbalances. The presence of alcohol can actually cause ulcers to heal more slowly, which in many cases undermines a person’s reasons for taking the drug in the first place.
Possible Blood Alcohol Spikes
Combining ranitidine and alcohol is usually unwise as well as unsafe because the drug’s effects on the digestive system reduce the metabolism of alcohol on the first pass. This leads to an increase in blood alcohol levels, which in turn leads to the patients becoming more inebriated than they ordinarily would be. Someone who is normally fine after one drink, for instance, may feel tipsy or outright drunk if that same drink is consumed while taking the drug.
Researchers have looked at the effects of both small and large amounts of alcohol on the treatment. Small amounts of alcohol had more of an immediate effect on patients taking ranitidine, but the amount transferred to the blood was not a cause for major concern. Other tests which looked at the effects of combining ranitidine and alcohol when more than one alcoholic drink was consumed found the same effect, but showed that the increase in blood alcohol could be quite serious, at least from a medical perspective. The drug is in most cases able to increase a person’s blood alcohol by as much as 38 percent.
Reversing Damage and Getting Help
People who regularly combine ranitidine and alcohol run the risk of permanently damaging their stomach lining. Occasional misuse isn’t usually so critical, though. Patients are normally advised to talk to their doctors about any side effects they feel while taking the drug, particularly if they’ve been drinking, but most problems aren’t serious. Minor damage will usually heal itself over time. People who are concerned about how much they drink or who don’t think they’ll be able to abstain while on ranitidine might be wise to look for a different medication, and talking to a healthcare provider about alcohol addiction might also be appropriate.