Do Not Panic

For reasons that may be obvious but which I don’t really care to get into, I’ve been on a lot of Flagyl and Diflucan lately. Flagyl is an unfortunate prescription, packaged in pills roughly the size of footballs: the standard dosage is one of these things twice a day, for a week. They aren’t kind on the stomach, but then, I’ve yet to meet an antibiotic that is.

“Huh!” the fourth nurse I’d seen regarding this problem said, staring perplexedly. “So you’ve had this for nearly three months now, eh?” In a sudden, alarming motion, my insides were no longer pried open and facing the door. (Massachusetts doctors are terrible about this.) “Tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to write you another prescription for Flagyl.”

What a fantastic idea, I thought.

“Only this time, both you and your partner will take it. And not for a week. One big dose. You’ll both take it at the same time.”

Like a suicide pact?

“You’ll want to take it with food. And right before bed, so you don’t notice the nausea. Is your partner allergic to anything?”

She scribbled out a prescription with one refill good for my partner — a shady medical move if ever I’d seen one, although the folks at the pharmacy had absolutely no issue with it — and sent me on my merry way. I filled the prescription that day, and the next, Jurvis went to pick up his refill. The other night we sat down together on the couch and horked the bastards down.

* * *

I woke up at eight in the morning with a mild stomach ache. “Hmmph,” I mumbled into the pillow. “Must be the Flagyl. Or the two sangrias.”

I sat straight up.

“Jurvisjurvisjurvisjurvisjurvis,” I cried. “I drank last night!”

Jurvis opened a single eye.

“What?” he mumbled. “So?”

“So you can’t, with Flagyl! I completely forgot! I had two drinks at book club!”

“Oh. Really? You can’t drink with that?”

“Yes!”

The last time I’d taken this stuff, I’d dutifully waited five days after my last dose of one single pill before having a glass of wine. That was the fear they had instilled into me. And here I’d chased two glasses of sangria — with a few munches on some boozey soaked fruit, afterward — with four goddamn pills. I jumped out of bed and looked up my doctor’s phone number.

Closed for another hour.

I looked up the pharmacy.

Closed for another hour.

I looked desperately at my laptop, softly blinking on the coffee table. Naturally, long ago I’d promised myself I would never look up medical inquiries on the internet again, since it only ever scared the hell out of me. But this, it seemed, was a special occasion. All I wanted to know was, should I dial 911?, what about my blessed kidneys? and how much time do we have until life is awful?

* * *

I am a woman of my generation. First stop: Wikipedia.

Consuming ethanol (alcohol) while using metronidazole causes a disulfiram-like reaction with effects that can include nausea, vomiting, flushing of the skin, tachycardia (accelerated heart rate), shortness of breath, and even death.[5] Consumption of alcohol should be avoided by patients during systemic metronidazole therapy and for at least 48 hours after completion of treatment.

Wait, death? I looked again. Death! That wasn’t on my pharmacy print-out. In a terrified delirium, I returned to my search results and somehow managed to click next on a fucking answers.yahoo link. Oops. No! Stop reading! . . . Can’t, can’t stop.

Drinking alcohol while on Flagyl will cause a disulfiram-like reaction. Disulfiram is Antabuse, the drug taken to treat alcoholism and ingesting alcohol causes tachycardia, bronchospasm, sweating, nausea, vomiting or death. This is what you could expect with Flagyl + booze. For your protection, avoid even products that contain alcohol, such as perfume, aftershave, backrubs [sic], cough syrups, cold medicines (NyQuil). Avoid alcohol during and for 3 days after completing your drug therapy.

Four upvotes, two downvotes. (That means at least five people in the world think that back rubs contain alcohol.)

Finally I hit On The Pharm, a neat blog (albeit lacking in “who the hell wrote this, anyway” information) with a post working to dispel the myths of Flagyl + alcohol = redrum. Basically:

Flagyl will not absolutely cause the vomiting associated with Antabuse when consumed in conjunction with alcohol. Pharmacists should stop counseling that it will.

Hurray! I cried. There is hope!

But then, of course, I felt the need to read the comments on this post. They began with nearly twenty of them agreeing with the author, citing personal experience. But these were soon forgotten when I saw this one. It’s actually all in caps.

I TOOK IT AFTER DRINKING 2 GLASSES OF WINE. I WENT TO BED AND TWO HOURS LATER WOKE UP IN HELL. I VOMITED FOR 3 HOURS STRAIGHT, CHILLS, WEAK AND BAD BURNING IN STOMACH FOR SEVERAL DAYS.I ALMOST WENT TO THE HOSPITAL, WORST NIGHT EVER. I TOOK IT FOR THREE DAYS FINE UNTIL I HAD WINE. MAYBE ONLY WINE MAKES YOU ILL, NOT GRAIN ALCOHOL. IT DEFINATELY [sic] HAD AN EFFECT ON ME.

Enter mode: superemergencyinternetpanictime.

“Baby?” Jurvis called from the bedroom. “I just remembered. I had a beer last night with dinner, too.”

All right, I told myself calmly. You may be losing precious functionality time. The horror could begin any minute. Now let’s move it!

I scrambled onto kitchen counters and grabbed our biggest mixing bowls, lining them up in the bathroom and bedroom. I changed into proper “laying on a cold bathroom floor” attire — long pajama pants, t-shirt, sweatshirt, thick socks, and put down a rug. I found a hair clamp and lifted the toilet seat. Then I fell asleep on the bathroom floor, cellphone in hand.

“Uh, baby?” Jurvis called. “It’s cold in here. Where’d you go?”

* * *

My phone rang. It was the hospital.

“Hello?” I croaked desolately, the croak of a woman resigned to at least three full days of massive diarrhea, if not her own death, if not her partner’s.

“Is this Adrianne?”

I explained the situation. The booze. The pills. The terror. I tried not to cry.

“Two glasses? That’s it?” she asked.

“Well, yeah.”

The nurse may or may not have snorted at this point. It could have been a titter. “Look . . . it’s going to take a hell of a lot more alcohol than that to cause any kind of reaction with Flagyl.”

I stared at the bathroom ceiling, unblinking.

“What? Really?”

“I mean, maybe you’ll feel a little nauseated. But that should be it. You’d have to drink a lot. I mean, like a lot, a lot, probably of hard alcohol. Then maybe you’d be having some problems. I wouldn’t recommend that.”

“Oh. . . . Hey! That’s great.”

“Yep! You should be fine.”

“Um, and, thank you.”

The phone clicked shut. I dragged myself, somewhat nauseated, back to bed, where Jurvis had fallen back asleep, completely unconcerned. In a few minutes we would get up and go to work. Later, I would walk around the apartment, collecting mixing bowls.

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14 Comments

  1. Flagyl +Ethanol trials – Day 2 :

    Subject LaSalle completely forgot about the warnings from this morning. He consumed more ethanol (or “Juice” as they called it) during tonight’s kickball game. Subject reports euphoria and inability to wear clothing.

  2. I’ve played out this exact scenario with every medication I’ve ever been on. Frankly, this whole story seems positively tame. My hypochondria requires no adulterants — I assume every symptom list of everything I take ends in the words “or death MUAHAHAHAHA.”

  3. Oh man. This story was great, and made me feel better, because I am at LEAST that paranoid about drug interactions.

    When I had to be on something similar for a week, the doctor said I absolutely could NOT DRINK that whole week. And she seemed extremely concerned that I might not be able to resist the temptation. “If you don’t think you can not drink for that long, I can prescribe this in a different form. Would you like that?” So concerned.

    I also liked the time I was put on a medicine that apparently made my birth control pills stop working while I was on it. My doctor, who had PRESCRIBED THOSE PILLS to me, did not tell me this. The kindly anonymous pharmacist did. Stupid doctor.

  4. i can’t count the number of times i’ve accidentally had alcohol while on a course of antibiotics (although this is more just my own forgetfulness, since i’m not on antibiotics all that often).

  5. Oh my gosh this has just calmed me down so much! I ate a meal which had a few tablespoons of red wine cooked in it (cooked for 6 hours). And me being an over thinker I started freaking out!! Thankyou so much for posting this!

  6. Basically just read my current situation but in better words. Just started Flagyl today and accidentally chugged a small glass of wine before bed….. Spit when I remembered I had already started my meds. Frantically called my significant other. Searched multiple sites. Considered calling Poison Control. Read this. Now praying for the best. Got my first day back at work tomorrow!

  7. I’ve since done this a couple of times (it’s so easy to forget) and it’s always been fine! My mom recently told me she doesn’t even pay any attention to that warning.

  8. Ik this is an old post, but thanks for this. Had some beer tonight… and then it dawned on me…. Flaygl.

    Much more relieved that I will be ok.

  9. Yeah, I guess after all this time this post is still calming down people who are freaking out about the possible interactions between alcohol and flagyl. Thanks for your testimonial. I accidentaly drank two glasses of wine, and in the last hour I’ve been searching for clues about whether something horrible would happen to me… I think my stomach feels kind of weird, but not worse than it would feel if I had just drunk without being on any meds. So let’s hope for the best :)

  10. Omg, thank you sweet baby Jesus for this post and comments. I just drove home at 85 Mph after accidentally drinking a glass of wine while out celebrating a work bonus with my husband, and TOTALLY FREAKING FORGOT that I was on flagyl. I have only been on it for 3 days, downed a glass of chardonnay about an hour ago and so far only have the flushed face symptom. After attempting to stick my finger down my throat at the restaurant, I decided it would be best if I could zoom home before the GI fireworks began. So far….crickets. But Im probably jinxing myself by writing that. I’ll post again in the morning–unless I’m curled up at tve foot of my toilet :-/

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