Of all cholesterol-lowering drugs, statins are the most widely used. However, these drugs don’t come without side effects. For those who enjoy an occasional (or frequent) alcoholic drink, these effects and risks can vary.
Statins are a class of drugs used to help lower cholesterol. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 93 percent of U.S. adults taking a cholesterol medication in 2012 were taking a statin. Statins interfere with the body’s production of cholesterol. They help to lower LDL, or bad cholesterol, when diet and exercise haven’t worked.
Statin Side Effects
Prescription drugs all come with side effects, or the risk of side effects. With statins, the lengthy list of side effects may cause some people to question whether it’s worth the trade-off.
Occasionally, statin use can affect liver health. These effects are rare, however. Several years ago, the FDA recommended regular enzyme testing for statin patients. However, because the risk of liver damage is so rare, this is no longer the case. Still, since the liver plays such a strong role in alcohol metabolism, those who drink heavily could be at greater risk for liver damage.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the most common side effect of statin use is muscle pain and damage. This usually feels like soreness or weakness of the muscles. In extreme cases, it can lead to rhabdomyolysis. This is a life-threatening condition that may cause liver damage, kidney failure, and even death.
Other Side Effects
Other side effects that have been reported are:
- digestive problems
- poor blood glucose management
- memory loss and confusion
Alcohol and Statins
Overall, there are no specific health risks associated with drinking while using statins. In other words, the alcohol will not immediately interfere with or react with the statins in your body. However, heavy drinkers could be at greater risk of serious side effects. Those who already have liver damage due to heavy drinking could also be at greater risk of serious side effects. Because both heavy drinking and (rarely) statin use can interfere with liver function, the two together could put patients at a greater risk of suffering health problems.
Statin Use and Heavy Drinking
According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, heavy drinking is defined as drinking more than five drinks at one time for five days in a row at some point over the past 30 days. Binge drinking is drinking more than five drinks in one day over the past 30 days. If you drink less than this, it is considered more low risk, but not safe. There is not any level of drinking that is considered safe.
Heavy drinking can lead to a number of health problems and illnesses. Some of these are:
- heart disease
- liver disease
- brain damage
- some cancers
- nervous system damage
Even drinking too much, too quickly can be a health risk. This can cause injuries from a fall, heart disease, and alcohol poisoning, to name a few. In order to reduce the health risks caused by drinking too much too quickly, drink slowly, with food, and limit your alcohol intake by alternating with nonalcoholic drinks.
Identifying Alcohol Abuse
It can sometimes be difficult to know when social drinking turns into alcohol abuse. According to the Mayo Clinic, the following are signs of alcohol abuse:
- inability to control or limit your drinking
- needing to drink more to get the same effect
- frequent thoughts about alcohol
- strong desires to drink
- inability to fulfill major responsibilities at school or work
- continue drinking even when it causes problems with help or personal relationships
- a large portion of time is spent on alcohol — drinking, getting more, or recovering from drinking
- any alcohol use that puts your health or safety at risk
Talk to your doctor immediately if you think you may be abusing alcohol. They can help and provide medication or treatments.
High Cholesterol and Alcohol
Drinking alcohol in moderation is one lifestyle change that you can make to help treat your high cholesterol. There have been a few studies that show drinking in moderation may help raise HDL cholesterol levels. However, there is not enough evidence of its benefit for doctors to recommend it.
If you drink large amounts of alcohol, it can raise both triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
Most experts agree that drinking more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women could put you at a greater risk of statin side effects.
If you have a history of heavy drinking or liver damage, failing to mention it when your doctor first suggests statins could be risky. Letting your doctor know you have been or are currently a heavy drinker will alert them to look for other treatments. They will also monitor your liver function for signs of damage.
When treating high cholesterol or using statins, it is important to keep your drinking to a moderate level, or not drink at all. Excessive drinking, binge drinking, and alcohol abuse have a number of health risks. Alcohol use can raise your cholesterol levels and increase your risk of liver damage. It can also lead to other serious health problems and injuries. If you are not sure if your drinking is excessive or not, be sure to talk to your doctor about it immediately. There is no evidence at this time that the combination of statins and alcohol increase liver damage more so than each one independently. However, as statins can be associated with liver damage, it is important to be cautious with alcohol if you are taking a statin.