Tylenol and Alcohol
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Serious side effects can occur when you mix alcohol and Tylenol. Both substances affect the liver, so mixing them can lead to permanent liver damage.
What Is Acetaminophen?
Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, is a medication used to treat both pain and fever. Acetaminophen blocks the production of chemicals called prostaglandins that help to create pain signals. Prostaglandins also play a role in increasing body temperature. When these chemicals are blocked, it can lead to reduced pain and a regular body temperature.
Tylenol is one of the most commonly used and widely available over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications. When most people refer to Tylenol, they are actually referring to acetaminophen — the active ingredient in Tylenol. Tylenol is a brand name for acetaminophen, and there are several other types of medications that use the same brand name, such as Tylenol PM. Many of these other medications are mixtures that combine acetaminophen with other drugs.
Acetaminophen and Alcohol
Most people who drink alcohol know that the substance may interact with other medications, especially prescription drugs. However, many people are unaware of whether it’s safe to take Tylenol while using alcohol and do it anyway.
Alcohol can cause hangovers, and many people consider using Tylenol to treat the headache that often accompanies a hangover. Those who drink alcohol and then use Tylenol for another reason (like a headache or joint pain) may also inadvertently mix the two without realizing they have done so. This can lead to dangerous side effects if too much of either substance is used.
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Can You Take Tylenol With Alcohol?
Ultimately, it’s best to avoid mixing alcohol with acetaminophen. Alcohol and acetaminophen both affect the liver, and mixing them together can negatively impact the organ.
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Can Tylenol and Alcohol Kill You?
Combining alcohol and Tylenol can be quite dangerous, especially if excessive amounts of either substance are used. Alcohol is known to increase the risk of liver damage when used heavily. Tylenol can also affect the liver, potentially causing liver failure when used excessively. When either of these substances is used in excess, the risk of liver-related problems increases substantially. If liver damage occurs, it can be permanent and could eventually lead to death.
How Long After Drinking Can I Take Tylenol?
Tylenol should not be taken while alcohol is still in your system. The amount of time that it takes to eliminate alcohol from the body depends on how much was used, but most alcohol will usually be gone within six to 12 hours. If the amount of alcohol used would be classified as binge drinking, it may take 18 to 24 hours to be alcohol-free. It may take your liver a while to recover even after alcohol is fully removed from your body, so it is safest to wait at least 72 hours after drinking to take Tylenol.
Can I Take Tylenol Before Drinking?
If Tylenol is in your system while you are drinking, toxic effects can occur. It is best not to take Tylenol before drinking if it could still be in your system when you begin drinking alcohol.
Tylenol for Hangover
Taking Tylenol for a hangover may seem like it would help, but it is not safe. Alcohol use that is heavy enough to cause a hangover can have a negative effect on the liver, and combining this with the effects of a medication that impacts liver health is not advisable. The short-term pain relief that Tylenol could provide is not worth the potential long-term liver damage that can occur.
Health Risks of Mixing Tylenol and Alcohol
The risks of mixing alcohol and Tylenol vary significantly based on how much of each substance is used. The amount and frequency of alcohol use can also affect these risks. For example, someone who has two or more standard drinks a day may be at greater risk for health problems when combining both substances.
A “standard drink” refers to a drink that contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol. This standardization helps people to understand how much alcohol they have had. A standard drink for different alcoholic beverages would generally be:
- 12 oz of regular beer
- 8–9 oz of malt liquor
- 5 oz of wine
- 1.5 oz of distilled spirits (gin, rum, whisky, vodka, etc.)
You may be at greater risk when using Tylenol if:
- You are a man who drinks more than three standard drinks per day
- You are a woman who drinks more than two standard drinks per day
- You binge drink, meaning you have several standard drinks in one sitting
Alcohol is a toxin, and the liver processes alcohol to help the body get rid of it. Alcohol use can cause liver damage, especially when larger amounts of alcohol are used. Tylenol is also processed in the liver. While the liver does not typically struggle to process normal doses of Tylenol, taking too much or using it chronically can lead to liver problems.
While alcohol and Tylenol can both cause liver damage on their own, the effects can multiply when both substances are used together. The liver has a finite ability to process chemicals, and when both substances are combined, they multiply the stress on the liver. This can lead to a greater buildup of toxins as well as permanent liver damage.
While Tylenol usually does not significantly affect the kidneys, it can in large doses. Alcohol use is dehydrating, and less hydration being supplied to the kidneys also raises the risk of kidney damage. When these two substances are combined, alcohol can make the kidneys more susceptible to Tylenol’s effects, leading to acute or chronic kidney injury. While this effect is possible, liver damage is far more likely.
What Increases the Risks?
The risks of mixing Tylenol and alcohol are higher when larger doses of either substance are used. You should always use Tylenol how the label says to use it or as instructed by your doctor. Even Tylenol by itself can lead to irreparable liver damage when used in large doses.
Tylenol and Moderate Alcohol Use
If a person does not use alcohol every day and then takes a normal dose of Tylenol with one or two drinks, they will be less likely to experience harmful effects. This is not to say that it is safe — there can still be harmful effects, even when used in this more limited situation. People who are underweight, are older or have underlying kidney or liver problems may be at a greater risk of developing long-term problems in these situations.
Tylenol and Excessive Alcohol Use
When Tylenol is used by someone who drinks excessively, the risk becomes much more substantial. Excessive drinking often leads to liver problems, and Tylenol use in addition to heavy alcohol use will only accelerate potential damage to the liver. If you are considered a heavy drinker, you should avoid using Tylenol without consulting a doctor first.
Can I Drink Alcohol if I Take Tylenol Regularly?
When a healthy person is using Tylenol for prolonged periods of time, drinking a small amount of alcohol is generally safe if the Tylenol is being used according to the label’s instructions. However, it may still lead to health problems, especially in someone who has underlying health problems or is older.
Reducing the Risk
Avoiding the combination of Tylenol and alcohol is ultimately the only way to prevent potential risks. While this is the only way to remain completely free from effects, there are ways that people who use both substances can at least reduce their risks. These include:
- Not drinking more than two standard drinks per day for men or one per day for women
- Not taking more than 3,000 mg of Tylenol in 24 hours
- Not taking more than 1,000 mg of Tylenol in four to six hours
- Waiting at least 24 hours after drinking alcohol to use Tylenol
- Waiting at least 24 hours after using Tylenol to drink
- Consulting with your doctor about your specific situation
By following these tips, you can make mixing Tylenol and alcohol safer than it would be otherwise. However, it is still best to avoid mixing the two if possible.
Getting Help for Alcohol Abuse
People sometimes find it difficult to cut back or control their drinking, making it harder to avoid mixing alcohol and medications. If you are struggling to reduce your alcohol use or stop drinking altogether, you may need to consider seeking professional help to reach your goals.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “What Is A Standard Drink?” 2020. Accessed February 18, 2022.
Kelkar, Mugdha; et al. “Acute and Chronic Acetaminophen Use and Renal Disease: A Case-Control Study Using Pharmacy and Medical Claims.” Journal of Managed Care & Specialty Pharmacy, April 2012. Accessed February 18, 2022.
Cleveland Clinic. “Is Acetaminophen Safe to Take When You’re Drinking?” 2020. Accessed February 18, 2022.
American Chemical Society. “Understand the theories on how Tylenol (acetaminophen or paracetamol) relieves pain and reduces fever and know the side effects of its overdose.” Accessed February 18, 2022.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Hangover treatment.” MedlinePlus, April 24, 2021. Accessed February 18, 2022.
Harvard Health Publishing. “Acetaminophen safety: Be cautious but not afraid.” April 15, 2020. Accessed February 18, 2022.
Cochrane, Zara Risoldi. “Is It Safe to Drink Alcohol While Taking Acetaminophen?” Healthline, November 13, 2018. Accessed February 18, 2022.