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New warning over the mixing of alcohol and sleep aids

Sun, spirits and settling back in the sandy shores can trigger all manner of ill-health effects.

A man drinking a glass of whisky. Image by Tim Sandle.
A man drinking a glass of whisky. Image by Tim Sandle.

A new survey finds that 40 percent of U.S. citizens do not see a problem with mixing alcohol and sleep aids. This finding comes from healthcare technology company, DrFirst, and it is especially relevant as the country heads into the end of summer and the start of Labor Day weekend.

The survey of 1,047 consumers was part of DrFirst’s series exploring experiences and behaviours related to healthcare and medications.

The survey also found that 47 percent said that they have had a reaction to alcohol, the sun or both, and only later learned that it may have been due to a sensitivity caused by their prescription medication.

Most consumers have taken a medication that includes a warning about sensitivity to alcohol (75 percent). However, a significant percentage indicate they are unaware of the dangers of mixing alcohol with commonly prescribed sleep aids (40%), muscle relaxants (40%), opioids (39%), and anti-anxiety medications (39%). The survey also found only half of consumers say they thoroughly read (52 percent) the package inserts for their prescriptions, while 41 percent say they skim the information, and 7 percent say they never read it.

There are some drug specific variances, as with over half (57 percent) of those surveyed not identifying that antibiotics are a potential concern for alcohol consumption. A common antibiotic, Flagyl (metronidazole), can cause serious illness if the patient consumes alcohol.

People in the U.S., on average, drink 3.2 alcoholic drinks on Labor Day. So with many paying homage to the last unofficial day of summer with sun, spirits and settling back in the sandy shores, those who partake in the event need to be aware of certain medications that may have alcohol and or sun warnings.

Dr. Colin Banas, chief medical officer at DrFirst, is seeking to highlight the importance of patients being armed with the facts on the dangers and risks of mixing certain medications with sun exposure and alcohol.

“Drinking alcohol while taking drugs in these categories can be dangerous, even deadly,” Banas says in a statement provided to Digital Journal. He adds: “Nearly 20 percent of emergency department visits for people taking muscle relaxants are linked to alcohol consumption. Doctors shouldn’t assume their patients know this information, even if the need for precaution is well documented.”

Digital tools can provide an additional avenue to connect with patients about their prescriptions in ways that do not add to doctors’ already busy schedule. Examples include automatic text messages that connect with patients shortly after their health visit can confirm their prescription has been sent to the pharmacy, and also provide relevant educational information about their medications.

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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