Ulcer drugs can make you drunk

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BRONX, N.Y.--Most doctors tell their patients with ulcers not to drink, because alcohol can irritate the condition. But alcohol poses another risk that physicians haven't known about: People who take anti-ulcer medications and then have a drink or two can get drunk a lot faster than they might expect.

Alcohol researcher Charles Lieber and his colleagues at the Bronx Veterans Affairs Medical Center checked the blood alcohol levels of 20 healthy men before and after they were given standard doses of the two most frequently prescribed anti-ulcer medications, Zantac and Tagamet. On the first day, after breakfast, they served the men orange juice spiked with the equivalent of one and a half drinks' worth of alcohol. They tested their blood alcohol levels, then put them on the anti-ulcer medications.

They found that ulcer medications and alcohol are a potent mix: The men's blood alcohol levels increased 34 percent on Zantac, and a whopping 92 percent on Tagamet. That means a convivial evening of drinking, say, two or three glasses of wine over a couple of hours would leave them too drunk to legally drive.

Most anti-ulcer medications work by slowing down the gastric acids that chew on ulcers. But Zantac and Tagamet also seem to inhibit the stomach enzymes that normally help break down alcohol before it gets into the bloodstream.

In fact, says Lieber, drinking alcohol with these medications is as good as injecting it directly into a vein. A normal dose of a third ulcer medication, Pepcid, didn't have an effect on blood alcohol levels.

Even though gastroenterologists warn their ulcer patients away from alcohol, doctors say it's not at all unusual for patients to occasionally imbibe. Neither Zantac nor Tagamet currently carries a warning that the medication shouldn't be used with alcohol. Lieber says he thinks they should.

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