How Medications, Alcohol, and Recreational Drugs Impact Your Balance

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Everyone reacts differently to medications, alcohol, and recreational drugs. Misuse or unexpected reactions to any of these is classified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as poisoning.  Over 95 percent of all poisonings in the United States are caused by the body’s reaction to medications, alcohol, and recreational drugs.

This classification of poisoning is the only accidental cause of death that has grown faster than falls, although there may be some ambiguity between the cause of an accident for these two categories. For example, if a person drinks too much and is injured in a fall (or worse), the accident could be classified as a consequence of either poisoning or a fall, depending on the box checked by the medical personnel who fill out the form.

Medications, alcohol, and other drugs affect our balance and our ability to react to risks

We’re susceptible to STF injuries when we least expect it. Medications, alcohol, and other drugs affect our balance and our ability to react to STF risks. To complicate things, there’s no way to predict how you’ll be affected by a change in your medications. Keep this additional risk in mind whenever you’re using any chemicals that might affect your balance or reaction time. We’ll split the discussion of prevention into two categories: recreation and medication.

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We all know that alcohol and recreational drugs affect our coordination and balance. You can experience a loss of personal control that may lead to an injury. The best advice is the tagline on every beer commercial: Please use responsibly.


For the purposes of this book, medications include all prescription and over-the-counter drugs, dietary supplements, vitamins, botanicals, minerals, and herbal remedies. Medications may interact with each other, as well as with alcohol, recreational drugs, food, or even your body’s natural chemistry, resulting in increased STF risk. Use extreme caution when you add or change your medications, and always consult a medical professional.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has developed these tips about drug interactions:

Drug-drug interactions happen when two or more medicines react with one another to cause unwanted effects. This kind of interaction can also cause one medicine to not work as well or even make one medicine stronger than it should be. For example, you should not take aspirin if you’re taking a prescription blood thinner, such as warfarin unless directed by your health care professional. Drug-condition interactions happen when a medical condition you already have makes certain drugs potentially harmful. For example, if you have high blood pressure or asthma, you could have an unwanted reaction if you take a nasal decongestant.  Drug-food interactions result from drugs reacting with foods or drinks. In some cases, food in the digestive tract can affect how a drug is absorbed. Some medicines also may affect the way nutrients are absorbed or used in the body. Drug-alcohol interactions can happen when the medicine you take reacts with an alcoholic drink. For instance, mixing alcohol with some medicines may cause you to feel tired and slow your reactions.

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As we age, many of us take more medications. This, combined with the changes that our bodies go through as part of aging, can result in drug interactions that increase STF risk. Also keep in mind that some problems you might think are medicine-related, such as loss of coordination, memory loss, or irritability, could be the result of a drug interaction. Your doctor and pharmacist can help you understand the way that over-the-counter drugs and supplements may affect you.

The FDA has compiled a list of questions you can use with your doctor or pharmacist when you change your medications to help you start the conversation:

  • Can I take it with other drugs?
  • Should I avoid certain foods, beverages, or other products?
  • What are possible drug interaction signs I should know about?
  • How will the drug work in my body?
  • Is there more information available about the drug or my condition (on the Internet or in health and medical literature)?

Learn how to take drugs safely and responsibly. Remember, the drug label and inserts will tell you:

  • What the drug is used for
  • How to take the drug
  • How to reduce the risk of drug interactions and unwanted side effects
  • The possible side effects of each medication
  • Possible interactions that each new medicine may have with medicines you’re already taking
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