Say What? Four in 10 Americans See No Danger in Mixing Alcohol and Sleep Aids
Survey Finds Many People Don’t Have a Clue About Types of Drugs That Have Alcohol or Sun Warnings
Rockville, Md. – August 21, 2023 – Nearly half of Americans (47%) have experienced a reaction to alcohol, the sun, or both, and only later learned it may have been due to a sensitivity caused by their prescription medication. A new survey by health tech pioneer DrFirst reveals a disconnect between patient understanding and medication safety.
The survey of 1,047 consumers is part of DrFirst’s series exploring experiences and behaviors related to healthcare and medications.
While most consumers say they have taken a medication that includes a warning about sensitivity to alcohol (75%), a significant percentage are unaware of the dangers of mixing alcohol with commonly prescribed sleep aids (40%), muscle relaxants (40%), opioids (39%), and anti-anxiety medications (39%).
“Drinking alcohol while taking drugs in these categories can be dangerous, even deadly,” said Colin Banas, M.D., M.H.A., chief medical officer for DrFirst. “Nearly 20% of emergency department visits for people taking muscle relaxants are linked to alcohol consumption. Doctors shouldn’t assume their patients know this information, even if the need for precaution is well documented.”
The survey also found only half of consumers say they thoroughly read (52%) the package inserts for their prescriptions, while 41% say they skim the information, and 7% say they never read it, which may lead many to miss important warnings. Nearly half say they have experienced increased effects of alcohol (42%) or the sun (55%) and later learned their medications included warnings about it.
Many consumers may not suspect that drugs in certain categories may carry these and other warnings, including those used to treat common, chronic conditions. The survey found that:
- More than two-thirds (70%) of consumers are unaware that some oral arthritis and diabetes medications may cause sun sensitivity
- Over half (57%) don’t identify antibiotics as a potential concern for alcohol consumption, yet a common antibiotic, Flagyl (metronidazole), can cause serious illness if the patient consumes alcohol
- Nearly half (47%) don’t expect blood pressure drugs to include an alcohol warning, and though most drugs in this category do not, one in particular—Catapres (clonidine)—can have life-threatening side effects when combined with alcohol
Traditional ways of educating patients about their medications are not always effective, according to Banas. “Package inserts tend to use tiny fonts and language that may be harder for some patients to digest,” said Banas. “Doctors’ offices or telehealth visits can also be tough places for patients to absorb important information, especially if they feel sick or anxious about their diagnosis or treatment.”
In addition, the survey revealed that many consumers miss opportunities to learn more about their prescriptions at the pharmacy counter. One-third (32%) of consumers said they are asked “some of the time” (32%) or “never” (6%) if they have questions for the pharmacist when they pick up new prescriptions. Yet, pharmacy staff ask this question either verbally or electronically every time patients pick up new prescriptions at the pharmacy counter, as required by federal and state regulations.
Just over half of Americans (56%) report that, when asked, they take the opportunity to talk to the pharmacist “some of the time,” and about one-quarter (25%) say they never do.
“That’s a lost opportunity to learn about taking your medications safely and avoid surprises about warnings and interactions,” said Banas. “Talking to your pharmacist about your new prescriptions is always a good decision,” he adds.
Banas suggests that patients write down the name and purpose of the drugs their doctor is prescribing. And to ask their doctor or pharmacist about:
- Potential side effects and what to do if you experience them
- Interactions with food and other drugs
- Warnings for alcohol consumption, sun exposure, and other cautions
Digital tools can provide an additional avenue to connect with patients about their prescriptions in ways that don’t add to doctors’ already full plate, advised Banas. “For example, automatic text messages that connect with patients shortly after their health visit can confirm their prescription has been sent to the pharmacy, and also provide relevant educational information about their medications.”
A national online survey of 1,047 U.S. consumers, ages 18 and over, was conducted by Propeller Insights on behalf of DrFirst in August 2023. Survey responses were nationally representative of the U.S. population for age, gender, region, and ethnicity. The maximum margin of sampling error was +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence.
About RxInform by DrFirst
Since 2016, RxInform by DrFirst has helped millions of Americans manage their medications with patient-focused messaging that gets more patients to pick up their prescriptions. RxInform’s secure platform works in partnership with healthcare providers to educate patients about their medications, provide pick-up reminders to keep them on track, and offer copay assistance and discounts to help them afford their prescriptions. To date, RxInform has reached over 50 million patients and maintains a 94% positive rating score.
Since 2000, healthcare IT pioneer DrFirst has empowered providers and patients to achieve better health through intelligent medication management. We improve healthcare efficiency and effectiveness by enhancing e-prescribing workflows, improving medication history, optimizing clinical data usability, and helping patients start and stay on therapy. In the last few years, DrFirst has won over 25 awards for excellence and innovation, including winning Gold in the prestigious Edison Awards in 2023, recognizing our game-changing use of clinical-grade AI to streamline time-consuming healthcare workflows and prevent medication errors. Our solutions are used by more than 350,000 prescribers, 71,000 pharmacies, 300 EHRs and health information systems, and 2,000 hospitals in the U.S. and Canada. To learn more, visit DrFirst.com and follow @DrFirst.
Alessandra Nagy, Alessandra@bospar.com