Alcohol does not mix well with most things. But for some reason, whether it’s a night cap before a cuddle, a binge capped with a fling, or a romantic night with red wine, alcohol often seems to precede sex.
If you have been using birth control to prevent pregnancy, you may be wondering how alcohol may affect your contraceptive. After all, alcohol has been shown to be problematic when taken with medications generally. So it’s normal to be concerned that it might also affect your birth control pills.
But contrary to what you may expect, alcohol does not impede the effectiveness of your birth control pills. It does not have the same effect on contraceptives as it has on normal medication.
However, this is not to say there are no concerns involved with mixing alcohol and birth control. This article explains how alcohol interacts with birth control and the risks you should be aware of.
Alcohol Does Not Affect Birth Control Pills
While alcohol can affect many medications, birth control is not one of them. A person can drink alcohol before or after taking birth control pills without worrying that it might make their contraceptive less effective.
You have nothing to worry about if you correctly use anyone of the following types of contraception, even if you drink alcohol:
- Birth control pills
- Emergency contraception (“morning after”) pills
- Depo-Provera shots
- Vaginal rings
- Intrauterine devices (IUDs)
When correctly used, these methods maintain their effectiveness. Birth control pills are up to 99% effective when used as they should. As many do not, the rate of effectiveness drops to about 91% at the rate of normal use.
So, alcohol will not make your birth control measures less effective than your ordinary rates of use will.
But It Can Impair Your Birth Control Measures
Alcohol is well-known to impair judgment and behavior. When a person drinks excessively, they may become more careless, throw caution to the wind or simply forget to do what they should.
This can lead to unintended results when sex enters the equation. Birth control pills must usually be taken every day, while other pills like progestin only pills (POP) must be taken within the same 3-hour period every day.
Drinking excessively may affect your memory and make you forget to take your pill at all or within the proper time frame. Missing a dose can cause ovulation, leaving you with a 27-33% chance of becoming pregnant within the next two to three days.
If you do miss a pill like this and wish to avoid pregnancy, you can combine condoms or another type of contraception with the pill for the next 3 to 4 weeks.
Apart from this, excessive drinking around the same time when you take your birth control pills can lead to vomiting. If you do throw up within 2 hours of taking the pill, it may likely be less effective.
This is because your body may not have metabolized the pills during that period, so you will likely be without the protection. If this happens to you, it is best to immediately take another pill, then see a doctor for advice.
Other Risks of Drinking Alcohol on Birth Control
There are several other risks of drinking alcohol while on birth control. These include the following:
- Alcohol tolerance: Drinking on birth control may affect your alcohol tolerance. This is because the liver must typically work to metabolize both the hormones in the pills and the alcohol at the same time. As a result, people on birth control will metabolize alcohol more slowly and tend to remain intoxicated for longer.
- Risky sexual behavior: As mentioned above, alcohol tends to impair judgment, especially after heavy drinking. This may lead to a failure to use condoms, your pills or even lead to choosing a sexual partner you ordinarily wouldn’t. A 2015 study that observed the relationship between sexual behavior and alcohol in people aged 26, 32 and 38 had a similar result. The study found that 11.9% of women and 13.5% of men aged 38 experienced unwanted outcomes after combining alcohol and sex.
- Ineffective contraception: While alcohol does not directly affect birth control, it may lead to ineffective contraception. One study reported that risky drinking increased the chances of faulty or ineffective contraception by up to 1.7 times. This means you may be 1.7 times more likely to get pregnant when drinking on birth control, especially due to reasons such as missed pills, burst condoms etc.
Drink Responsibly if you’re on the Pill
If you plan to combine drink and sex, it might be a good idea to plan your birth control ahead. Even if it all happens on the spur of the moment, spare a second to consider your protection before diving in. Here are some things you can consider doing:
- Set up a reminder: If you’re on the daily pill, or have to take your POP at a specific time, setting a reminder is a good idea. You’ll find several apps that won’t just remind you, they’ll also help you with any birth control method and even track your period if you want.
- Switch up your pill times: The times you have set for taking your pill might also work against you. You may switch things up so you take it early in the morning if you don’t have to rush out or early in the evening if you don’t have to stay long at work.
- Have a backup: It also makes sense to carry backup protection, such as a condom, just in case.
- Or try out other birth control options: If keeping up with your pills is getting to be too much of a hassle, consider choosing a low maintenance birth control option such as an IUD or an implant.
Drinking alcohol while on birth control will not directly affect your pills or their effectiveness. But it can affect you in several other ways including by making you forget when to take your pills or making you throw up after taking your pill.
Drinking excessively can also lead to risky sexual behavior that can frustrate your attempts at birth control. As a result, it will be better to abstain or go for a birth control option that you “set and forget.”
If You Find Yourself Abusing alcohol, Don’t Hesitate to Reach Out
Just because birth control isn’t affected by alcohol doesn’t give you license to abuse the substance – especially if you’re a female. In fact, according to the CDC, about 50% of women of child-bearing age (i.e. 18-44 years old) drink alcohol. And roughly 18% of that group engages in risky, binge drinking.
At Stonegate Center Hilltop, our alcohol rehab for women just west of Fort Worth, Texas, we often find our female clients face bigger hurdles getting into treatment than men. This is due to stigma, gender norms, as well as financial issues. Regardless, we believe it’s imperative for our female peers struggling with alcoholism to reach out and ask for help.
If you, your wife, mother or daughter, is struggling with alcohol use disorder (AUD), then give us a call to discuss your treatment options. Our admissions specialists can be reached by phone at (817) 993-9733 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our program is founded on a long-term, gender-separate, and spiritually-engaging approach aimed at creating real and positive change. So, if you’re tired of going through the same old cycle and often find yourself drinking too much despite facing negative consequences, then come join our recovery community.
We’ve helped thousands of alcoholics find freedom and live happy, productive lives in recovery. And will continue to do so proudly! Until then, drink responsibly, give your friends in recovery a call, and stay safe.
John Eckelbarger is a Business Development Representative for Stonegate Center. With a BSA in Chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin, he has an interest in the neurobiology of addiction as well as the pharmacology of drugs. He hopes to bolster Stonegate Center’s status at the forefront of addiction medicine through bold, innovative content creation. He is currently pursuing his MBA in Finance from Texas Christian University.