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The Dangers of Mixing Prednisone and Alcohol

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What is Prednisone?

Prednisone is a class of medicine known as a corticosteroid which is used to treat a variety of health issues from blood disorders and skin disorders to allergies, infections and certain types of cancers. It is also used to help prevent organ rejection following a transplant and as a way to treat inflammatory bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

Prednisone helps by lessening inflammation and calming down your immune system, which is why it is also helpful with autoimmune conditions in which your immune system accidentally ends up attacking its own tissues.

You’ll need a prescription in order to use prednisone, which will come as either tablets or a liquid. It is available by injection, but this is typically only done by a healthcare professional in a hospital.

If you are on a high dose or have been prescribed prednisone for more than a few weeks, you’ll be given a blue steroid card or, in certain cases, a red steroid emergency card.

What Does Prednisone Do to Your Body?

Prednisone has two main functions. First off, it suppresses inflammation, which helps with inflammatory conditions like arthritis and rashes. It does this by imitating the impact of stress hormones (you might have heard of your ‘fight or flight’ hormone, cortisol) that your body naturally produces in your adrenal glands. Cortisol’s many roles include keeping inflammation away.

Secondly, it suppresses your immune system, which can help with autoimmune issues in which your immune system mistakenly attacks its own tissues. Prednisone does this by slowing down your body’s response to disease or illness.

Can You Mix Prednisone With Alcohol?

Generally speaking, if your dose is low enough and you are not on it long-term for a chronic condition, moderate drinking of one or two drinks a day should be fine.

Nevertheless, it’s always a good idea to talk it through with your doctor as they will be able to take into account your personal medical history when advising you.

What Happens When You Mix Prednisone and Alcohol?

While there is no direct drug interaction between prednisone and alcohol, it isn’t always a wise idea to combine them. Some of the side effects of prednisone are the same as the side effects of alcohol, so mixing prednisone with alcohol may increase the risk of these effects occurring.

Here are some of the side effects of prednisone which could be complicated by mixing it with alcohol.

Immune System Suppression

Steroids work, in part, by suppressing the immune system and research has found alcohol can suppress the immune system, making it difficult for your body to recover from illness and fight infections. Combining alcohol and prednisone can be very hard going on your immune system.  

Type 2 Diabetes

Excess alcohol consumption is associated with a bigger risk of type 2 diabetes and people taking prednisone are at risk of developing steroid-induced diabetes, especially if they are already at high risk for type 2 diabetes.

Upset Digestive Tract

Research has found both alcohol and prednisone have the ability to irritate the digestive tract. For people prone to stomach issues or digestion, combining alcohol and prednisone could have unfortunate consequences.

Osteoporosis

Research has found that prednisone can cause the bones to become thin and brittle, and can eventually lead to osteoporosis. Further research has found a positive relationship between alcohol consumption and osteoporosis. Therefore drinking alcohol excessively while also taking prednisone may further increase the risk of osteoporosis.

These are just some of the overlapping side effects of both prednisone and alcohol, others may include mood and behaviour changes, blood pressure changes and liver inflammation. Because of the overlaps, it may be advisable to, if not stop, then limit alcohol intake while on prednisone.

How Long After Taking Prednisone Can I Drink Alcohol?

While the occasional drink may not cause any issues while taking prednisone, you should always speak to your healthcare provider first and follow their advice. They may think the best option is to limit, or remove alcohol entirely, for the duration of your treatment.

If you drink excessively and have been prescribed steroids for a chronic condition, it could be a good opportunity to speak with your doctor about giving up alcohol for your long-term health.

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What Are Side Effects of Prednisone?

The side effects of prednisone depend on the dose you’re taking and for how long. Typically the higher the dose and the longer the duration, the more chance you’ll have of experiencing any side effects.

Before discussing side effects in detail, there are a couple of points to note. If you have been taking prednisone for several weeks, it’s important to consider withdrawal side effects. Talk to your doctor for professional treatment advice on how to best manage coming off of it.

It’s also worth considering that side effects may appear at different points. Some, like digestive issues, can happen immediately whereas others, like noticing your face becoming rounder, may take a few months to develop.

Common Side Effects of Prednisone

Below is a list of some of the most common side effects. Luckily, there are some strategies you can use to minimise the impact of these side effects:

Weight Gain

People who have to take prednisone for more than a fortnight typically notice that they gain some weight. This is because this medicine can make you hungrier, meaning you eat more, but it can also make your body hold on to water. Fortunately, once you stop taking prednisone your appetite should return to normal and your body will no longer retain water. Until then, it’s important to eat as well as possible and keep up with your regular exercise, if you’re able to do so.

Indigestion

A common side effect of taking prednisone, the best way to manage this is to take your medicine with food to limit the impact on your stomach. You may also like to experiment with the types of food you eat; some people report feeling better after avoiding spicy or rich food. If you continue to suffer from digestion, speak with your doctor as they may prescribe you medicine to help protect your stomach.

Sleep Issues

Many people struggle with sleep while taking prednisone. Current scientific research has found that steroids not only reduce REM sleep but also increase intermittent wakefulness. And another study found it shortened sleep time, decreased melatonin secretion and disrupted internal circadian rhythm. The best way to get around this side effect is to take it in the morning so that the levels are lowest before bedtime.

Restlessness

Some patients report feeling restless while trying to wind down before bed. Again, to minimise the impact take your prednisone in the morning so that the levels are lower before you go to sleep.

Excessive Sweating

If you experience the side effect of sweating lots while taking prednisone, you can try a few lifestyle measures to manage it. Looser clothing may help, along with experimenting with deodorants. Alternatively, speak with your healthcare professional who may be able to try a different medicine instead.

Mood Issues

Corticosteroids like prednisone can affect your mood in many different ways. Research has found symptoms of “hypomania, mania, depression, and psychosis are common during therapy”. Symptoms depend on the dose you are taking and typically start during the first few weeks after taking them. If you are noticing a major change in your mood, such as depression, mood swings, anxiety or hallucinations, speak to a doctor.

Serious Side Effects of Prednisone

If you are on a higher dose of prednisone or have been taking it for several weeks, you are more likely to experience a more serious side effect. You should get in touch with your healthcare professional if you experience any signs of:

  1. Infection such as a high temperature, pain when urinating, wounds or sores which will not heal
  2. High blood sugar, which can include feeling confused or drowsy, a change in thirst or hunger levels and breathing quicker
  3. Cushing’s syndrome, which includes weight gain in your upper back, stomach or face
  4. Adrenal gland problems which can include digestive upset, vomiting, feeling dizzy or passing out, muscle weakness and fatigue
  5. Low potassium levels such as muscle pain or cramps and changes to your heart rate
  6. Pancreas issues which could be bad stomach pain, severe back pain or throwing up

Serious Allergic Reaction

In some rare cases, people can have a serious allergic reaction to prednisone. If you experience any of the following, you need to seek urgent medical care or call 999:

  • A red, swollen, blistered or peeling rash
  • Difficulties breathing or talking
  • Swollen mouth, face, lips or tongue
  • Wheezing
  • A tightness in your chest or throat

Long-Term Side Effects

If possible, it is not a good idea to take prednisone in the long-term as it can lead to a number of health complications including:

  • Hypertension
  • Osteoporosis
  • Eyesight issues
  • Badly managed diabetes

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