Background: Many older adults (ie, those aged >65 years) drink alcohol and use medications that may be harmful when consumed together.
Objective: This article reviews the literature on alcohol and medication interactions, with a focus on older adults.
Methods: Relevant articles were identified through a search of MEDLINE and International Pharmaceutical Abstracts (1966-August 2006) for English-language articles. The following medical subject headings and key words were used: alcohol medication interactions, diseases worsened by alcohol use, and alcohol metabolism, absorption, and distribution. Additional articles were identified by a manual search of the reference lists of the identified articles, review articles, textbooks, and personal reference sources.
Results: Many older adults drink alcohol and take medications that may interact negatively with alcohol. Some of these interactions are due to age-related changes in the absorption, distribution, and metabolism of alcohol an medications. Others are due to disulfiram-like reactions observed with some medications, exacerbation of therapeutic effects and adverse effects of medications when combined with alcohol, and alcohol's interference with the effectiveness of some medications.
Conclusions: Older adults who drink alcohol and who take medications are at risk for a variety of adverse consequences depending on the amount of alcohol and the type of medications consumed. It is important for clinicians to know how much alcohol their older patients are drinking to be able to effectively assess their risks and to counsel them about the safe use of alcohol and medications. Similarly, it is important for older adults to understand the potential risks of their combined alcohol and medication use to avoid the myriad of problems possible with unsafe use of these substances..