Pseudoephedrine is a medication that helps to reduce nasal congestion commonly caused by allergies or a cold. It is a decongestant, helping to reduce inflammation in the sinus cavities by narrowing blood vessels. Those who have allergies, sinus pressure, or a cold may take medicines that contain pseudoephedrine to feel some relief.
Common brand names of drugs that include pseudoephedrine include Sudafed, Drixoral, Advil Allergy Sinus, Decofed, and Suphedrine. Many doctors advise their patients to take such medicines to help minimize symptoms associated with allergies, sinus issues, and colds. A prescription is not necessary to obtain these over-the-counter (OTC) medications. However, you’ll have to ask the pharmacist for them, as they are not sold on the shelves.
Pseudoephedrine Side Effects
As with most medications, side effects can occur when you take pseudoephedrine. Common ones are:
- Feeling weak
- Stomach ache
- Trouble sleeping
- Increased heart rate
Some people abuse pseudoephedrine because of how it makes them feel. By abuse, we mean they take more of the drug than the dosage recommended. As a stimulant, it tends to cause people to feel more excited or energetic, so some people take more of it to get a more intense feeling. However, taking more than the recommended dosage can be quite dangerous.
In addition, it was discovered that people were making meth from pseudoephedrine. People were buying a lot of OTC drugs that contained the ingredient and were cooking meth.
When lawmakers got wind of this, they took action. In 2006, President George W. Bush signed the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005. This initiative made over-the-counter sales of products containing pseudoephedrine illegal.
Today, they are only sold from behind the counter where you have to present your ID and sign a logbook. This prevents people from buying up large quantities and possibly cooking meth with it.
Dangers of Pseudoephedrine
According to a Harvard University article on pseudoephedrine, the over-the-counter drug constricts blood vessels in the nose and sinuses. It works by shrinking swelling and draining fluids to let you breathe again. Unfortunately, pseudoephedrine does not only affect the head. It can also tighten blood vessels throughout the body.
One such effect is an increase in blood pressure. Those who already experience symptoms relating to elevated heart rate and blood pressure put themselves at risk of a heart attack. You should always speak with a physician to determine which medications you are okay to take. Not everyone is the same, and it is crucial to have a professional opinion guiding you.
The FDA describes pseudoephedrine as a safe and highly effective medicine when used as directed. Millions of people use it each year without any consequences. It does not mean it is risk-free, and over the years, many reports have highlighted its link to heart attacks, disturbed heart rhythms, strokes, and other cardiovascular problems as a result of pseudoephedrine use.
Interactions With Other Drugs
There are drugs in which pseudoephedrine can interact with, so you should avoid taking while on the medicine. These medications include:
- Blood pressure medication
- Medications that treat the heart
- MAO inhibitors
- Appetite suppressants
- Other stimulants
- Various antidepressants
- Additional decongestants
- Urinary tract infection (UTI) medications
- Metoclopramide (prevents nausea)
- Epilepsy medications
Mixing Pseudoephedrine and Alcohol
Mixing alcohol with any drug could be a recipe for disaster. Regardless of what the drug is, there is the potential of an interaction that can cause your body to suffer. The combination of alcohol with various drugs can cause things like headaches, nausea, vomiting, fainting, sleepiness, and loss of motor skills. It can also put you at risk for heart and breathing issues, and internal bleeding.
Some people wonder if they can drink alcohol while taking pseudoephedrine. Most of the warnings associated with medicines that have this ingredient, such as Sudafed, have to do with the use of it to make meth. When it comes to mixing alcohol and pseudoephedrine, the consensus is that drinking a small amount of alcohol should not cause problems.
Understand that pseudoephedrine is a stimulant, and alcohol is a depressant. When you mix the two, you might get various side effects. Common symptoms reported are feeling “out of it,” such as an altered perception. Others report more intense side effects, such as those mentioned above. For example, if you mix the two medicines, you may feel extra dizzy or nauseous.
If you have high blood pressure, keep in mind that alcohol and pseudoephedrine cause an increase in blood pressure. Alcohol is also a toxin that can decrease the effectiveness of your immune system. In small doses, it might not be an issue, but if you’re drinking large quantities of alcohol, this can adversely affect your immune system.
Lastly, drinking a lot of alcohol while taking pseudoephedrine can be rough on your liver, the organ that filters the blood and sends it off to other parts of your body. Alcohol takes a toll on the liver because it is harder to filter and takes longer to filter. So, if you’re over-drinking, your liver is working extra hard at trying to eliminate those toxins. This can cause you to feel sluggish, and over time, cause liver damage.
Alcohol and Pseudoephedrine: Is There a Safe Amount?
If you’re still wondering if you can mix alcohol and pseudoephedrine, the answer is yes – but only a small amount. If you’re taking medicine like Sudafed, you should consult with your doctor before drinking alcohol just to be on the safe side. They will want to see what other medications you’re on and discuss your options with you.
Of course, if you want to be entirely safe, avoid all alcohol use while using medicines that have pseudoephedrine in them.
Keep Yourself Safe
Always read the ingredients on the packaging of the medication you’re taking. If you have questions, ask your doctor or pharmacist, as they may be able to help you. Also, keep in mind that the older you are, the more likely drug interactions may occur. For example, drinking alcohol and taking Sudafed at age 65 is riskier than if you were age 25. This is because as you age, your liver slows down in its ability to detox the toxins associated with alcohol.
You may have been taking a medicine that contains pseudoephedrine to treat allergies or sinus issues. You may get some relief from taking them, which is wonderful. But some people can end up becoming dependent on such medications. You may not realize that some OTC medications have the potential for abuse or dependence.
If you’re struggling with an addiction to medicine like Sudafed, Benadryl, or another one that has pseudoephedrine in it, know that you’re not alone. You may have become dependent on this medicine, but the good news is that you can end your addiction. If you’ve tried to stop using the drug and can’t, reach out for help. Professionals are more than willing to steer you in the right direction regarding freedom from dependence or addiction.
Treating Pseudoephedrine Addiction
There are various paths to treating an addiction to pseudoephedrine. Some people opt to attend a residential treatment center for anywhere from 28 days to six months or more. This is a great option for those who desire to leave their home and dedicate their focus solely on recovery.
You’ll be surrounded by substance abuse professionals who will care for you 24/7 when it comes to the addiction, as well as any mental health or emotional issues that may be going on.
If you cannot leave home due to work or family obligations, attending an outpatient treatment center may be the best route for you. You’ll still receive excellent care, but you will get to live at home during your treatment. You may choose to attend sessions at the center perhaps three to four times a week, receive counseling, learn about addiction and recovery, and attend support groups.