Acetaminophen or paracetamol is a widely used over-the-counter pain killer and antipyretic. Though it is considered a safe medication for children and adults, it can damage the liver if taken along with alcohol.
Acetaminophen or paracetamol is an over-the-counter analgesic and antipyretic. An analgesic or pain killer is basically used for relieving pain. However, paracetamol is also an antipyretic drug, for which it can be used to lower the body temperature. Nowadays, it is an ingredient in more than 200 drugs, that are primarily used for relieving headaches, minor pain, and fever. If administered in the appropriate dosage, paracetamol is a very effective drug. But an overdose, as well as the simultaneous use of paracetamol and alcohol can prove dangerous at times.
Acetaminophen and Alcohol
An overdose of paracetamol is the leading cause of acute liver failure, especially in the United States. The risk of developing hepatotoxicity or liver toxicity can increase further, if the drug is taken along with alcohol. The regular consumption of alcohol has been found to stimulate the liver enzyme, CYP2E1, which can increase the capacity of the liver to metabolize alcohol more easily.
But this enzyme generates a toxic by-product when it breaks down acetaminophen into other chemicals. So, the interaction between alcohol and paracetamol can cause acute liver failure, which can require immediate liver transplantation. Otherwise, the affected individual can die within a few days.
It has been found that the regular and chronic drinkers are at an increased risk of experiencing the side effects that can result from the simultaneous use of alcohol and paracetamol. Therefore, alcohol consumption should be avoided, while taking this medication. Many times, physicians prescribe another medication, instead of acetaminophen for chronic or hard drinkers.
It has been observed that the risk of developing hepatotoxicity is maximum, when paracetamol is taken after drinking alcohol. The consumption of alcohol stimulates the production of the liver enzyme CPY2E1. So, when paracetamol is ingested after drinking alcohol, the enzyme starts to break down the medication immediately, and generate the toxic by-product. Therefore, the larger the amount of alcohol consumed prior to taking paracetamol, the higher is the risk of experiencing hepatotoxicity.
Other Side Effects
The most common side effects that one can experience while taking paracetamol are, gastrointestinal problems like nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, vomiting, and indigestion. Sometimes, it can also cause jaundice, unusual bleeding and bruising, convulsions, and a severe allergic reaction. An allergic reaction to this drug can manifest in swelling and breathing difficulty. Such side effects should be immediately reported to a physician to avoid major complications.
An overdose of this medication may cause stomach or peptic ulcers at times. So, paracetamol can give rise to some serious complications, if not taken with adequate care. The most serious complication, i.e., acute liver failure can result due to an overdose, and when this drug is taken along with alcohol. Therefore, one should consult a physician before taking this drug, and disclose all information pertaining to alcohol consumption.
People with an underlying liver disorder should also talk to their physicians, prior to taking this medication. Though an antidote, known as N-acetylcysteine is available for treating acetaminophen toxicity, this antidote has to be administered within 8 hours of taking the drug. For this, it is important to recognize the symptoms of acetaminophen toxicity as soon as possible. However, it is possible to avoid the serious complications associated with the drug by maintaining adequate precaution, and taking it only in the prescribed dosage.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.