Almost 42 percent of American adults who drink also use medications that can interact dangerously with alcohol, according to a new study.
Among adults 65 and older, the rate rises to almost 78 percent.
About 71 percent of American adults drink alcohol, Fox News reports.
Researchers from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism studied 26,657 adults who provided information on their use of alcohol and prescription drugs. The most common medications taken include drugs for diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, as well as sleeping pills and painkillers.
Older adults are more likely to be taking multiple medications to treat a variety of health problems, which adds to the risk of dangerous side effects if they also drink alcohol, says lead author Dr. Rosalind Breslow.
"As we age, our ability to metabolize alcohol decreases. So alcohol might remain in our systems longer to interact with medications," she said. "Furthermore, the metabolism of several medications that interact with alcohol slows as we get older, creating a larger window for potential alcohol/medication interactions."
Co-author Aaron White noted mixing prescription drugs and alcohol can have a variety of life-threatening effects. "Mixing alcohol and other sedatives, like sleeping pills, narcotic pain medications or muscle relaxers, can compound these problems and potentially cause injuries and death," he said. "They can cause sleepiness, problems with coordination and potentially suppress brain stem areas tasked with controlling vital reflexes like breathing, heart rate, and gagging to clear the airway."
The findings appear in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
"We suggest that people talk to their doctor or pharmacist about whether they should avoid alcohol while taking their prescribed medications," Dr. Breslow noted in a news release.