The effects of combining erythromycin and alcohol are not necessarily life threatening, but in most cases, it is not recommended the antibiotic be consumed with large amounts of alcohol. When combined with alcohol, erythromycin has been shown to increase the amount of alcohol the body absorbs, which can lead to a higher risk of liver disease and damage. The increased absorption might also magnify the sedative side effects of alcohol, which may cause impulsive, risky behavior and problems with coordination and cognitive reaction time.
Most prescribing doctors will recommend that patients not consume erythromycin and alcohol at the same time. This is because there is some concern that the positive effects of antibiotics are reduced when mixed with alcohol. In addition, since erythromycin enhances the body's ability to absorb alcohol in the small intestine and liver, the negative effects of alcohol can be enhanced. Some of those effects include irreversible damage to the liver and small intestine, memory or time loss, increased likelihood of making poor decisions, and inability to safely drive a vehicle.
When combined, the substances have not been shown to cause any immediate side effects that could lead to a medical emergency. Unlike the interactions seen with barbiturates and anti-depressants, consuming antibiotics along with light amounts of alcohol in the same day does not lead to serious health risks. Heavy consumption of alcohol with erythromycin use, however, tends to raise some concerns about the increased likelihood of prematurely developing liver disease.
Some of the side effects associated with taking antibiotics may also be enhanced when combining erythromycin and alcohol. For example, in some individuals, antibiotics can cause an upset stomach and nausea. Consuming alcohol at the same time as erythromycin might increase the severity of these uncomfortable side effects. Alcohol might also reduce the body's ability to absorb antibiotics effectively, increasing the probability that the individual's infection may worsen or spread.
The sedative and numbing effects seen with alcohol consumption could be increased when erythromycin and alcohol are consumed together. Since inhibitions tend to become lowered when an individual consumes alcoholic beverages, he may be more likely to engage in potentially harmful behavior. The increased absorption that occurs in the body when alcohol is mixed with erythromycin may lead to riskier behavioral choices after just a few drinks. In other words, the sedative effects of alcohol will be felt more strongly and quickly when taken with antibiotics.