Medically Reviewed By:
Dr. Patricia Sullivan MD MPH on 10/21/2021
Alcohol’s Effect on Birth Control
You’re taking birth control for a reason. The reason you’re taking it is to prevent pregnancy, so it’s only natural to have concerns about alcohol’s effect on your birth control regimen. We’ve created this in-depth guide to help you.
If you are concerned about the role that alcohol has in your life, give us a call to discuss treatment options at (888) 906-0952. We would love to share with you the inpatient and outpatient treatment options available to treat problematic drinking.
Jump to the information you need on mixing birth control and alcohol.
- Ethanol Metabolism While on Birth Control
- The Scientific Evidence of Changes to Ethanol Metabolism
- How Birth Control Methods Can Fail
- Forgetting Your Birth Control and Other Risks While Drinking
- Questions to Ask Yourself
- How to Know if You Need Help for an Alcohol Addiction
Point blank, you can consume alcohol and take birth control at the same time. However, you’re not completely out of the woods. It is crucial to know what can happen if you engage in heavy drinking while on birth control.
Birth control does affect your body’s ability to break down ethanol in your system. Therefore, if you are on birth control, you can become intoxicated more quickly. Intoxication leads to the possibility of ineffectively taking your birth control and causes a high risk of pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
Ethanol (Alcohol) Metabolism While on Birth Control
Does alcohol affect birth control? The short answer is no. Mixing birth control pills and alcohol won’t stop birth control from doing its job. Rather, alcohol can lead to intoxication, which can complicate the situation.
Ethanol is the substance in alcoholic beverages that causes their intoxicating effect. Its action changes depending on how the water in your body is distributed. The hormones in your birth control can affect the distribution of your body water. These effects combine to slow down your body’s ethanol metabolism when mixed with birth control pills and alcohol. Thus, alcohol can build up quickly due to your body being slow to filter it out, and you will become intoxicated more easily.
The Scientific Evidence of Changes to Ethanol Metabolism
A study called “Ethanol Metabolism in Women Taking Oral Contraceptives” was conducted by Marilyn K. Jones (M.A.) and Ben Morgan Jones (Ph.D.). As the title suggests, they studied the relationship between birth control and women’s ethanol metabolism. They observed 40 women between the ages of 21 and 30. Half of the women were consistently taking birth control, while the other half wasn’t on any form of contraceptive. The experiment observed these women as they drank socially during their menstrual, intermenstrual, and premenstrual phases.
The results showed that “the group of women taking oral contraceptives demonstrated a significantly decreased ethanol elimination rate than those not taking oral contraceptives. Ethanol disappearance rate also was significantly decreased for women taking oral contraceptives than women not taking them.”
The study found consistent results across all of the menstrual cycles. It proved that when alcohol and birth control pills interact, the ethanol metabolism in our body decreases. As a result of this information, if you are on birth control and drink excessively, you could become intoxicated and not have full control of your judgment and behavior.
Other Methods of Birth Control
Birth control pills are not the only form of contraceptives. It is a good idea to be familiar with the others as well. There are several ways to prevent pregnancies, but there are multiple variables involved. One mistake in the process could ensue in many possible unwanted results.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides a client workbook called “Choices: A Program for Women About Choosing Healthy Behaviors to Avoid Alcohol-Exposed Pregnancies.” According to the workbook, here are all the forms of contraceptives a woman can have access to:
- Male and Female condoms
- Birth control pills
- Diaphragm/Cervical Cap
- Emergency contraception
How Birth Control Methods Can Fail
Each of these methods can fail under the right circumstances. Condoms are ineffective if they expire, and they must not break during intercourse. Birth control pills have to be taken each day simultaneously, with even one missed dose drastically increasing the risk of pregnancy.
A diaphragm or cervical cap must be inserted before intercourse and has to stay for six hours afterward. Spermicide doesn’t work on its own; it is only effective in combination with a diaphragm or condom. Meanwhile, both the NuvaRing and the patch have to be used in sync with the menstrual cycle, staying in (or on) for three weeks and then removed for one.
An IUD (or intrauterine device) is a method of birth control that can stay in the body for up to several years. An Implanon is implanted in a woman’s arm and stays for a couple of years.
And finally, if none of these methods were put in place before intercourse, there is emergency contraception. Plan B is a pill that can be taken to prevent pregnancy within 72 hours after intercourse. Users must take a second pill twelve hours after the first.
How Alcohol Affects The Effectiveness Contraception Overall
Now that we have listed the various contraceptives, we can get into how alcohol affects their use. All ten contraceptive examples above can be affected by drinking alcohol, mainly because it alters your judgment and behavior.
As noted, you can drink while on birth control, but alcohol could easily cause you to miss a dose. Birth control pills have to be taken every single day at the same time. While you are under the influence of alcohol, you can become forgetful, so forgetting to take the pill is a real concern. Even if you take your birth control in the morning, you might end up sleeping past the set time due to drinking the night before. Thus, although alcohol impairment does not greatly disrupt the action of birth control pills, it can interfere with your ability to use them as directed.
Thus, although alcohol impairment does not greatly disrupt the action of birth control pills, it can interfere with your ability to use them as directed.
Forgetting is also not the only risk when you combine alcohol and birth control pills. Alcohol can make you sick, and this can affect your birth control to no small degree. When drinking, there is a possibility of becoming sick. If you take your pill and then later vomit, your pill may not absorb. If your birth control does not absorb because you throw up, it would increase your chances of ovulation.
Thus, alcohol and birth control pills are not the greatest mixture when it comes down to manually taking a pill. The possibility of missing a dose or throwing it up is high when under the influence. These kinds of mistakes due to alcohol impairment happen all the time, but they can have very serious consequences when a person is sexually active.
When it comes to contraceptives, alcohol and birth control pills are not the only dangerous combination. As listed previously, several forms of contraceptives and alcohol can interfere with a majority of them. It does this mostly by contributing to user error. For instance, if you are sexually active and under the influence of alcohol, there is a risk that you could ineffectively use a condom due to your impaired state.
A study called “Risk Drinking and Contraception Effectiveness among College Women” surveyed 2,012 women from 18 to 24 who were enrolled in college. 64% of these women met the criteria for risk drinking. And while 94% of the women used a form of birth control when sexually active, 18% of them did not execute the contraceptive correctly.
According to the study, “Ineffective condom use was increased by reliance on a partner’s decision to use condoms, the use of condoms for STI prevention only, and by risk drinking. Thirteen percent of university women were risk drinkers and using ineffective contraception, and 31% were risk drinkers and failing to use condoms consistently. Risk drinking is related to ineffective contraception and condom use.”
“Ineffective condom use was increased by reliance on a partner’s decision to use condoms, the use of condoms for STI prevention only, and by risk drinking. Thirteen percent of university women were risk drinkers and using ineffective contraception, and 31% were risk drinkers and failing to use condoms consistently. Risk drinking is related to ineffective contraception and condom use.”
Does alcohol affect birth control?
When it comes down to the variables involved in effectively using a contraceptive, then the answer is yes. There is no guarantee that you will remember to use a condom when you are intoxicated.
It is also not unusual to use it ineffectively due to your impairment. Thus, you may end up believing you had protected sex when you didn’t, which leads to a greater risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV or hepatitis.
As a precaution, it is a good idea to investigate alcohol’s role in your life. Misusing alcohol can happen to anyone, but it is important to know what can lead to addiction. If you feel that you may have a problem with alcohol, there are 11 questions you can ask yourself to check.
Getting Honest: Questions To Ask Yourself About Your Drinking Habits
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, you should ask yourself whether you have, in the past year:
- Have times when you ended up drinking more or longer than you intended?
- More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
- Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the after-effects?
- Experienced craving — a strong need, or urge, to drink?
- Found that drinking — or being sick from drinking — often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
- Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
- Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, to drink?
- More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?
- Continued to drink even though it made you feel depressed or anxious or added to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
- Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
- Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating? Or sensed things that were not there?
How to Know if You Need Help for an Alcohol Addiction
If you answered yes to more than 2 of the 11 questions above, then you might have an alcohol use disorder. The more questions you answered yes to, the more severe it probably is. But, if you are concerned you may be addicted to alcohol, don’t be afraid! There is help, and we are here for you.
If you are still unsure about your current situation, there is another way to determine if you might be misusing alcohol. You can take a look at the symptoms and side effects of alcoholism.
You may have an alcohol use disorder if you are struggling with:
- slurred speech
- slower reflexes
- a decreased ability to control bodily movements
- difficulty concentrating
- gaps in memory
- poor decision-making abilities
- risky behavior
- staying conscious
- having no memory of your actions (blackout)
Having a close friend or family member look for these signs and symptoms is a smart way to get an objective point of view.
If you are still unsure about your involvement with alcohol, we would love to help answer any questions or concerns you might have. We want to help guide you in any way we can.
The CDC estimates that over 3 million women are currently putting themselves at risk for alcohol-exposed pregnancies. It is good that you are concerned and ask questions surrounding alcohol’s effects on your birth control and your life in general. Being apprehensive about the effects of alcohol shows you care about your well-being! Call us today because clarity, sobriety, and happiness are closer than you think.
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