Alcohol and Pain

When and If mixing alcohol with pain medications is okay to do.

Posted Dec 26, 2019

In this post we are continuing our series on chronic pain. The challenges that we are presenting are from a serious game "Bounce Back" that we have been using for a number of years to teach the attitudes and skills of resilience. The game presents players with challenges they may face in a particular area, such as chronic pain. Participants must respond by choosing the attitudes and skills of resilience that they would use to deal with the challenge and demonstrating through a discussion with the other players how they would apply these.

Here's the challenge: your physician has recommended that you not drink with your current pain medication. But you develop some tolerance to the pain medication that you are taking and its effectiveness has diminished over time. You believe you know exactly how many drinks you can have to minimize the pain and avoid the problematic interactions with your medication that the physician is warning you about. Your spouse warns you about drinking. She seems to think that you don't know what you're doing.

As with all the challenges that we will present, place yourself in the situation. What would you do? How would use the skills and attitudes of resilience to manage the situation? Talk with others who may have dealt with the same challenge in their life. How did they deal with it?

Mixing alcohol and pain medication together can be a dangerous proposition. The two together tend to potentiate each other, meaning that one drink may feel like you've had two or three. In my experience, most physicians recommend patients taking pain medication to drink very little or not at all.

I would encourage you to connect with other people, such as your physician and other healthcare providers you may be seeing, and asked for their opinion about what you should do. Talk with family and friends about their experience and what they would suggest that you do. There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking for more information and other opinions.

I would also encourage you to talk with your spouse about why he or she feels the way they do. This person probably knows you well and sees you after you been drinking. Hopefully you can come to a conclusion about what you will do that they can support.

Deal with the strong feelings that you may have about this issue. Most people don't like being told what to do or not do. If you are someone who is enjoyed having a drink or two giving it up completely may stir up a lot of feelings. If you been able to control and manage your drinking, that's good. No one is accusing you of being an alcoholic if they ask you to not drink while on medications and this is difficult for you.

Problem solve and be flexible. Develop a plan that your physician and you both can support. Try to look at the big picture. This is a problem that you may have to deal with and manage the rest of your life. Chronic pain just doesn't magically go away. But there may be other things that you can do yourself that are nonpharmaceutical that may help you to manage the pain. Using relaxation and stress management strategies, working with other healthcare providers such as an acupuncturist or physical therapist.

We will continue our series on chronic pain in the next post.