Every year or so, it seems, a new study comes along to complicate the debate over the risks versus benefits of alcohol use. Is a glass of wine a day good for your heart, or does it raise your risk of cancer? Does drinking beer lower your blood pressure, or raise it? Is it healthier to drink in moderation, or not at all? And where is the line between "moderate" and "too much"?
Of course, if you have a personal or family history of alcohol abuse or alcoholism, complete abstinence is likely the safest bet [source: MedlinePlus]. But even for responsible, moderate drinkers, there are some situations where even a small amount of alcohol could pose a threat to your health, your reputation or the safety of those around you.
To avoid potential danger, embarrassment and other undesirable drinking-related side effects, check out our list of 10 things you should never mix with alcohol.
If you've ever taken prescription painkillers, antidepressants or certain antibiotics, chances are you've seen that familiar warning label: "Do Not Drink Alcoholic Beverages When Taking This Medication." Many over-the-counter medicines, including antihistamines, decongestants and cough syrup, can also interact unfavorably with alcohol, although the warnings on these common household remedies are sometimes listed in the fine print, where they may be easily overlooked.
Prescription painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone (better known by the brand names Percocet and Vicodin, respectively) can cause dizziness, drowsiness, impaired motor control and risk of overdose when taken with alcohol, as can prescription and over-the-counter sleep aids. Regular use of acetaminophen (Tylenol) in combination with alcohol has been associated with liver damage, and even plain old aspirin can lead to stomach upset, bleeding and ulcers. Antibiotics including Metronidazole (Flagyl) and Azithromycin (Zithromax) can cause nausea, vomiting, rapid heartbeat, and liver damage if taken with alcohol, and certain antidepressants taken with alcohol can actually increase feelings of depression, as well as lead to high blood pressure, drowsiness and other symptoms [source: NIH].
The list of potential interactions is long, and it includes many more medications than we can possibly include here. When in doubt, always check with your doctor or pharmacist, or just play it safe and hold off on the drinks until you're sure the medicine is out of your system.
Dialing, Texting and Posting
The behavior commonly known as drunk dialing may not be a new one, but cell phones, texting and social media apps have made it easier than ever to embarrass ourselves in more ways than one.
Once upon a time, drunk dialing required both access to a landline and the ability to remember the number of the person you so desperately needed to call. With any luck, your mission would be long forgotten by the time you stumbled back to your apartment or dorm. But thanks to the smart phones virtually glued to our hands these days, your next slurred 2 A.M. phone call, string of garbled text messages or flurry of ill-advised mobile uploads to Facebook, Instagram or Vine may be just a few beers and a couple of thumb-clicks away.
If you can't trust yourself not to dial your ex after a night of drinking or post provocative selfies, you're in luck: There are dozens of anti-drunk-dialing apps that will let you temporarily block certain numbers, email addresses, and functions from your phone, presumably when you're sober and still making good decisions. Google is also at the rescue with some additional functions you can install on Gmail. For instance, "undo send" gives you 5 or 10 seconds to recall an email before it is actually sent [sources: Goldman].
Morel mushrooms are sought after for their earthy taste and meaty texture. But like many varieties of mushroom, morels can cause allergic reactions or stomach upset for some people, especially if the mushrooms are undercooked or eaten raw [sources: Cascio and Johnson, MDCH]. Even those who are normally able to enjoy morels without any ill effects may find that consuming them with alcohol causes nausea or vomiting. Stranger still, a trouble-free experience with morels and alcohol in the past doesn't necessarily mean that you won't have an adverse reaction in the future.
Yet despite all these caveats, the wine-and-morels combo is lauded by many foodies. Wine Enthusiastmagazine describes morels as "very versatile," pairing well with both white and red wine, and a quick Internet search for "morels in wine sauce" yields dozens of recipes from reputable publications. Bottom line: If you're trying morels for the first time, or for the first time in a while, stick with nonalcoholic drinks and try just a small portion.
Mixing alcohol with energy drinks may sound harmless enough at first; after all, alcohol is a depressant, so pairing it with a stimulant should even things out, right? Unfortunately, it's not that simple.
Under normal circumstances, most of us begin to feel sluggish or sleepy after a few alcoholic drinks. We can sense that we've had enough (or too much!) to drink, and ideally we'll slow down our consumption as a result. But when you add energy drinks to the mix, the stimulant effects of caffeine, plant-based ingredients, or sugars in the drink can mask the effect of the alcohol, making us feel more sober and alert than we really are. The energy drinks prevent drinkers from feeling the effects of alcohol, but they do not reduce alcohol concentrations or improve the body's ability to metabolize alcohol [sources: CDC, Ferreira].
A study at Australian National University found that men and women aged 18-30-years-old who drank alcohol combined with energy drinks had a stronger desire to keep drinking than study participants who drank alcohol on its own [source: McKetin and Miller]. Taking it a step further, a study in a college bar district in Gainesville, Florida, found that bar patrons who drank alcohol mixed with energy drinks were three times more likely than drinkers of alcoholic beverages alone to leave the bar with a breath alcohol content (BrAC) of .08 or greater and had a four times greater risk of intending to drive after leaving the bar [source: Thombs et al.].
The combination of alcohol and marijuana can lead to tachycardia (a resting heart rate higher than 100 beats per minute); raised blood pressure; and increased impairment of cognitive skills, motor skills, and driving performance as compared with the use of either alcohol or marijuana alone [sources: American Heart Association, NIDA].
Of course, you shouldn't be driving if you've used even one of these substances on its own, but when you use them together, the risk is even greater. A study by researchers at Maastricht University in the Netherlands found that both low doses of alcohol and low doses of THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) moderately impaired driving performance when administered alone. When the same low doses of alcohol and THC were combined, the effect on driving performance was severe. Although the alcohol provided to subjects was only enough to produce a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.04, the subjects' driving performance when THC was administered in conjunction with the alcohol was consistent with BAC levels between 0.09 and 0.14 [source: Ramaekers et al.].
Even if you're not driving, the combination of alcohol and marijuana can cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness, panic attacks, anxiety or paranoia, particularly if you drink alcohol before using marijuana, rather than the other way around [source: NCPIC].
The next item on our list may not be hazardous to your health, but it could have a negative impact on your bank account. Yes, we're talking about drunk shopping. Just as smartphones have brought drinking and dialing within a finger's reach, online meccas like Amazon, Etsy and eBay make it easy to indulge in online shopping sprees from the comfort of home .... right after you've indulged in a few glasses of your favorite adult beverage.
Drunken shoppers may remember their purchases only when they find the confirmation emails the next morning, or when mysterious packages arrive on the doorstep a few days later. Shoppers report purchasing everything from CDs and Gary Busey mugs, to IKEA furniture and musical instruments during their alcohol-fueled binges [sources: Dowling, The Guardian, McGlynn]. In one extreme case, a man bought a $10,000 motorcycle tour of New Zealand [source: Clifford].
If you find yourself tempted to shop online when you drink, take steps when you're sober to make it more difficult. Delete your credit card information from your favorite sites, and stash the cards in a separate room (away from your laptop) so it's not so easy to get them out when the impulse strikes [source: Torrieri]. We all know that drunk people are pretty lazy.
Whether it's the holidays, a summer picnic or a sales-goal celebration, there's something about an office party that brings out the crazy. Add alcohol to a group of people who otherwise manage to interact amicably and professionally with one another, and it doesn't take long before someone gets overly amorous with a cubicle mate, overly honest with a boss or downright belligerent toward anyone in shouting range.
Researchers at the University of Birmingham, England found that drinking in an unfamiliar context such as the office may have a stronger effect on inhibitions than drinking in a familiar environment, like a bar. Your brain apparently has learned to compensate for lowered inhibitions in a regular drinking spot but not in an unusual one [sources: Birak, et al., Harding]. So even if you know your tolerance under normal circumstances, consider abstaining from alcohol or keeping it to a minimum when you're out of your element, not only at company parties, but at conferences, networking events and particularly job interviews where alcohol may be served, such as a dinner meeting. After all, those water-cooler conversations are only fun if you're a part of them -- not the subject of one.
Sure, you've seen a pregnant Betty Draper looking glamorous on "Mad Men" as she smokes a cigarette and sips a martini. If you're a child of the '70s or earlier, your own mother may even have assured you that "everyone" drank during their pregnancies back then. Mom's well-meaning advice aside, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) maintains that there is no safe amount of alcohol to consume during pregnancy, or even while trying to conceive. This is because any alcohol the mother takes is directly absorbed by the baby through the placenta – and the baby's liver isn't developed enough to break down alcohol.
Heavy drinking during pregnancy is known to cause miscarriage, stillbirths, low birth weight, and fetal alcohol syndrome, a collection of disabilities that range in severity but may include abnormal facial features, growth problems, behavioral issues, and mental or intellectual difficulties [sources: ACOG, CDC]. While some research has suggested that light drinking during pregnancy poses no significant risk to the fetus, even the authors of those studies stop short of advocating that pregnant women should drink alcohol [source: Brooks].
Common sense would suggest that shooting a gun, like other behaviors requiring sound judgment and steady motor skills, is an activity best performed when sober. But apparently, many Americans do not agree.
Between 1997 and 2009, there were an estimated 395,366 firearm-related deaths in the United States, and about one-third of them are believed to have been alcohol-related [source: Healy]. In 2010, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania who conducted a review of U.S. laws restricting the use of firearms by intoxicated persons were motivated in part by these important facts:
- Injury is the leading cause of alcohol-related death in the United States.
- Alcohol is the leading risk factor for injury in the United States.
- Nearly as many alcohol-related deaths result from firearm injuries (one-fifth of all alcohol-related injuries) as from drunk driving accidents (one-fourth of all alcohol-related injuries).
But while every state has drunk driving laws on the books, the researchers found that only 26 states have any sort of law regarding the use of firearms while intoxicated [source: Carr et al.]. And that brings us to the top item on our list of that you should never mix with alcohol.
Do we even need to say it? Drinking and driving still don't mix.
In the U.S., the number of drunk driving deaths has been cut in half since 1980, but sadly, drunk driving fatalities increased by 4.6 percent nationwide between 2011 and 2012, with 10,322 drunk driving deaths accounting for 31 percent of all traffic deaths in 2012 [sources: MADD, MADD].
According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), one-third of all drunk driving arrests, crashes, deaths and injuries can be attributed to repeat offenders, many of whom continue to drive even with a suspended license. All 50 states now have ignition interlock laws requiring convicted drunk drivers to install devices on their cars that will disable the engine if alcohol is detected on the driver's breath. The laws vary from state to state, with some requiring interlock devices only for repeat offenders, others only for high blood alcohol content convictions, and some for every drunk driving offense – even a first one [source: GHSA]. But even with these deterrents, the CDC estimates that there were 112 million instances of alcohol-impaired driving in the year 2010 alone.
There's always another option: Have a designated driver, call a cab, call a friend, call a parent or stay overnight. Just don't drink and drive.
Formaldehyde is an odorless gas present in a ton of home stuff, cosmetics and car exhaust. Is it bad for us? HowStuffWorks breaks down the science.
Author's Note: 10 Things You Should Never Mix With Alcohol
It was interesting to look at some of the consequences, both serious and light-hearted, that alcohol can lead to when mixed with other substances, activities and behaviors. The interaction between alcohol and morel mushrooms was a complete surprise to me. (The interaction between alcohol and online shopping, not so much.) And at the risk of sounding like I'm 200-years-old, I'd like to go on the record as being extremely grateful that cell phones, texting and social media were not around when I was in college.
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