Fact Checked

Drug Interactions: A Matter Of Safety

Drug Interactions:  A Matter Of SafetyThe purpose of every drug is to change the way your body works in some way. Sometimes you take them because your body is doing something it shouldn’t, like maintaining a high blood pressure or producing too much serotonin. Other times you take them because your body is acting normally but you need it to stop doing so, such as when you take painkillers to relieve a headache or when you need anesthesia for surgery or a cavity filling.

However, because drugs change your body functions, they can also change the way that other drugs act when you take them. This can make them less effective, or it can lead to a potential overdose or other dangerous situations. Here are a few of the more common interactions you should watch out for:

  • Painkillers and alcohol. This is one that everyone should know about. Certain prescription and hospital medications, like morphine and oxycodone, relieve pain by depressing your system. This is also why these drugs will leave you feeling drowsy and relaxed. Alcohol acts the same way, and using both at once could potentially leave you too relaxed to breathe. For the same reason, you should never take alcohol and sleeping pills together. Even aspirin or ibuprofen don’t mix well with alcohol and can cause problems with your stomach.
  • SSRI antidepressants and antihistamines. If you’re taking SSRI antidepressants, you probably know that alcohol can make them less effective. However, they can also interact with over-the-counter antihistamines to produce extended bouts of drowsiness. Prescription-strength pain medication can also lead to major problems, so make sure your doctors know every drug you’re taking.
  • Diuretics and decongestants. Diuretics work to lower blood pressure, but even mild decongestants can work against them, lowering their effectiveness. Diets high in sodium are also counterproductive. In addition, some diuretics, like HCTZ, will also tend to lower your potassium levels, so you need to take potassium supplements and avoid other potassium-draining products like heart rhythm medication and black licorice.

Even if you trust your doctor’s opinion, not every doctor knows how every drug interacts with every other drug, particularly when they are new or rarely used. No two human bodies are the same, either, and what works for someone could be deadly to another. Make sure you do the research before you start taking any kind of powerful medication.

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