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Alcohol and Medications

Can You Drink on Sudafed?

June 17, 2024
14 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
June 17, 2024
14 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
June 17, 2024
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
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Reframe Content Team
June 17, 2024
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Sip or Skip? Why Sudafed and Alcohol Don’t Mix Well

  • Drinking while on Sudafed is potentially dangerous, mainly due to the interaction of its stimulant properties with the depressant properties of alcohol.
  • It’s safest to avoid drinking alcohol while you are using Sudafed. 
  • Reframe can help you by providing you with science-backed information about the interaction of alcohol and stimulants such as pseudoephedrine. We can also cheer you on and help you throughout your journey to quit or cut back on alcohol.

There’s a meme that describes the problem of sinus infections to a T: “You just don’t appreciate breathing out of both nostrils until one suddenly is taken away from you.” And boy, does that ring true! 

Many of us find that Sudafed can be a godsend when it comes to clearing up congestion. But what happens if we add alcohol to the mix? Can you drink on Sudafed? What are the interactions between the active ingredient, pseudoephedrine, and alcohol? Let’s find out!

What Is Sudafed?

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The active ingredient in Sudafed — pseudoephedrine — has raised some eyebrows over the years, but remains an effective way to clear up that pesky sinus congestion. Structurally similar to the more potent ephedrine, it’s a stimulant from the phenethylamine and amphetamine chemical classes. 

Both pseudoephedrine and ephedrine are found naturally in the ephedra plant, which has a long history of medicinal use in Eastern traditions. It works by shrinking swollen mucous membranes in the nose, reducing congestion that often comes with colds or allergies. While it is widely used and generally safe (when used correctly), it can also have some gnarly side effects: 

  • It can make us restless. Being a stimulant, pseudoephedrine can ramp things up a bit too much at times. It’s been known to make some folks anxious and can cause difficulties sleeping. 
  • It can cause cardiovascular effects. Another downside to the stimulant effects? Rapid or irregular heartbeat.
  • It can be hard on the stomach. Pseudoephedrine can occasionally cause stomach discomfort, resulting in nausea or vomiting.

Some folks misuse the drug for its stimulant properties, which can cause even more side effects. Even worse, some will use it to “cook” methamphetamines. This is why you have to show an ID to get it at the drugstore.

Can You Drink Alcohol With Sudafed?

Now that we have a better idea of what Sudafed is and how it works, we can see why mixing it with booze is asking for trouble. The combination can cause many problems, mentally and physically.

Stimulants vs. Depressants: A Chemical Tug-of-War

Since alcohol is a depressant and Sudafed is a stimulant, the combination of the two confuses our central nervous system and cardiovascular system, compounding symptoms: 

  • Masked effects. The upper might make us feel less intoxicated than we are, leading us to drink more than we otherwise would. This puts us at risk of an accidental overdose, which could lead to alcohol poisoning.
  • Mood swings. The mixed messages our brain gets from the stimulant-depressant combo can also lead to unpredictable moods.
  • Blood pressure fluctuations. Pseudoephedrine constricts blood vessels, which can increase blood pressure. Alcohol, on the other hand, can do both, often initially lowering our blood pressure and causing rebound spikes later on. The interaction between these two effects can throw our system for a loop (literally), leading to unsteadiness and unnecessary strain.
  • Heart rhythm glitches. Both Sudafed and alcohol are notorious for disrupting the heart rhythm, and while the glitches caused by Sudafed alone are usually pretty manageable, alcohol changes the story. Just a few drinks can cause atrial fibrillation. (For a more in-depth look, check out our blog “How Does Alcohol Affect the Heart?”)

  • Dehydration. Alcohol is notorious for causing dehydration by reducing the levels of the hormone vasopressin, which tells the kidneys to hold on to water. Sudafed, on the other hand, depletes the body of water through a slightly different mechanism. All the extra dryness means our congestion gets worse, defeating the purpose we’re taking Sudafed in the first place.
  • Dizziness. Remember those fluctuations in blood pressure we were talking about before? They can make us feel unsteady on our feet. Plus, dizziness is a side effect of Sudafed and alcohol alone, which can make us feel even more unstable. Add to that the dizziness that sometimes stems from dehydration caused by both substances, and it’s clear why the two are double trouble.
  • Nausea. Both alcohol and pseudoephedrine are known to be hard on the stomach at times, and together they’re that much more likely to cause intestinal distress. 
  • Heightened anxiety. Stimulants are known to cause anxiety, but alcohol can make us uneasy as well. While the initial effect of booze is, indeed, to slow down our nervous system, there’s a rebound effect waiting to happen just a few hours later. That indescribable uneasy feeling we often wake up with the morning after? That’s our body trying to rebalance itself, and it can be very uncomfortable. Add Sudafed to the mix, and we could be in for an even more fretful day.
Side Effects of Sudafed

What If I Have One Drink on Sudafed?

While a single drink taken with Sudafed probably won’t harm you, it’s never a good idea to mix the two, since we don’t know exactly where the line between safety and harm is. There are lots of factors involved, such as age, metabolism, genetics, what you’ve eaten that day, and what other medications you might be taking. It’s always best to stay on the safe side! Besides, the side effects of the mix, as well as the fact that your symptoms might get worse, would probably make the experience pretty unpleasant.

Tips To Recover From a Cold or Sinus Infection

Finally, here’s a bit of advice for taking Sudafed and staying away from booze in the meantime (or even longer!).

  1. One thing at a time. Stimulants and depressants don’t play well together, and it’s best to keep the two in their separate corners. All the extra side effects, the mood instability, and the heart effects are just not worth it!
  2. Let your body heal. If you’re taking Sudafed for a cold or sinus infection, it’s important to let your body heal — and alcohol tends to disrupt the process. Instead, make sure you’re getting plenty of rest and replenishing fluids lost from the dehydrating effects of pseudoephedrine (without losing more by adding booze to the picture). 
  3. Nourish your body. It’s crucial to nourish your body with good food as you recover (and alcohol certainly isn’t on the list). Did you know that food has a lot to do with developing and recovering from sinus infections? According to Sinus Relief Centers, it absolutely does. Try to stay away from triggers such as foods high in fats, sugars, and MSG. Instead, opt for peppers to keep those airways open, garlic and ginger to boost your body’s ability to fight infections, fish and seafood to reap the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, and honey — the all-time favorite cold-fighting remedy.
  4. Ask for help. If you’re having trouble putting drinking on pause, don’t hesitate to ask for help. There’s plenty of assistance available, and Reframe is here to support you every step of the way as you reexamine your relationship with alcohol to find a path to a happier, healthier version of yourself.

The Ups and Downs

Life has its ups and downs, but adding artificial ones by mixing Sudafed and alcohol can spell trouble. Instead, let’s focus on taking care of our mind and body and discover healthier ways to manage our mood and relax, especially as we heal from an illness. There’s plenty of booze-free fun to be had whether we’re currently taking Sudafed or we reach the other side of whatever has us taking it in the first place.

Summary FAQs

1. What is Sudafed and how does it work?

Sudafed contains pseudoephedrine, a stimulant that reduces nasal congestion by shrinking swollen mucous membranes. It works through a dual mechanism that stimulates alpha-adrenergic and beta-adrenergic receptors, leading to reduced congestion.

2. Can you drink alcohol while taking Sudafed?

It is not recommended to mix Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) with alcohol due to potential adverse interactions. Alcohol and pseudoephedrine affect the body in opposite ways, which can lead to masked effects of intoxication, mood swings, and increased side effects.

3. What are the risks of mixing Sudafed with alcohol?

Mixing Sudafed and alcohol can lead to serious cardiovascular strain, including blood pressure fluctuations and heart rhythm issues. It can also worsen dehydration, making congestion symptoms worse and increasing the likelihood of dizziness, nausea, and heightened anxiety.

4. What should you do instead of drinking alcohol when taking Sudafed?

Focus on healing by resting, staying hydrated (without alcohol), and nourishing your body with healthy foods. Avoid stimulants and depressants together, and seek support if you're struggling to stay booze-free!

Ready To Change Your Relationship With Alcohol? Reframe Can Help!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

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