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Does Alcohol Affect Birth Control? (Not In The Way You Think)

If you’re someone who enjoys a drink or two and is also using birth control, you may be wondering if alcohol affects the effectiveness of your contraception. 

The good news is that, in most cases, alcohol does not interfere with the functioning of birth control.

But there’s a catch. 

Does Alcohol Affect Birth Control?

Alcohol doesn’t affect the overall effectiveness of your birth control, whether you’re using hormonal birth control methods like the pill, patch, or ring, or barrier methods like condoms or diaphragms. 

But what it does affect is your behavior and judgment, which can lead to mistakes when it comes to using your birth control correctly. And that’s where the problems come into play. 

It’s also worth noting that some types of birth control can increase your sensitivity to alcohol. 

Medical News Today reports that hormonal birth control methods can make you more sensitive to the effects of alcohol, which means you may feel drunk more quickly or experience more severe hangovers. 

This is because the liver is responsible for breaking down both alcohol and hormones, so when you’re using hormonal birth control, your liver has to work harder to metabolize both substances.

a packet of birth control pills with some pills popped out of the packet
Does alcohol affect birth control?

Understanding Birth Control

Let’s dive into a very quick explainer of the different birth control options:

  • Hormonal methods: These include birth control pills, patches, injections, and vaginal rings. They work by preventing ovulation, thickening cervical mucus, or thinning the lining of the uterus.
  • Barrier methods: These include condoms, diaphragms, and cervical caps. They work by physically blocking sperm from reaching the egg.
  • Intrauterine devices (IUDs): These are small, T-shaped devices that are inserted into the uterus. They work by preventing fertilization or implantation.

When used correctly, these birth control methods are between 91% and 99% effective at preventing unwanted pregnancy. 

But that’s the rub, isn’t it? 

You have to use them correctly – something that can be harder to do when you’re drinking. 

Alcohol and Its Effects

While alcohol itself does not have a direct impact on how your birth control works, it can increase the risk of birth control failure. This is especially true for oral contraception that you have to remember to take every day, often at a specific time. 

Here are some ways alcohol can affect your birth control:

  • Reduced effectiveness: Drinking heavily can impair your judgment and lead to a failure to use your birth control method correctly. This looks like accidentally skipping a dose (or two) or taking your dose too late, which can also reduce efficacy.
  • Potential metabolism interference: There’s a small study from 1984 that suggests alcohol can interfere with the metabolism of birth control hormones, making them less effective. This is a point of dispute, however, among the contemporary medical community.
  • Increased risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs): Alcohol consumption can impair your judgment and decision-making abilities, leading to risky sexual behaviors. This could increase your risk of contracting an STI, even if you are using a barrier method of birth control.

Risks of Drinking Alcohol and Hormonal Birth Control Pills

Let’s dive a little deeper into the ways that drinking alcohol can inadvertently reduce the efficacy of your birth control pills. 

1. Effects How Your Body Metabolizes Your Birth Control Pill 

One of the biggest risks of consuming alcohol while on birth control pills is that it can increase your risk of birth control failure. This is because alcohol can interfere with the absorption of the hormones in the pill, making it less effective. 

In an interview with Pop Sugar, Dr. Charis Chambers explains that heavy drinking can impact your liver’s ability to metabolize the hormones in your birth control pill effectively. This is especially true for people with cirrhosis. She notes that people with severe liver cirrhosis should not use birth control pills for this reason. 

2. Alcohol-Induced Vomiting and The Pill

If you take your birth control before a night out drinking and end up vomiting within 2-3 hours of taking your pill, it’s likely your pill will not have been absorbed by your body. 

If that happens, it’s important to stop drinking, take another pill immediately, and call it a night. 

Unfortunately, by the time you’ve reached the puking stage your judgment is pretty far gone. You risk making additional bad decisions, like having unprotected sex which can lead to an unwanted pregnancy. 

3. Alcohol and Missed Doses (Depends on the Pill)

Another inadvertent way that drinking can reduce the efficacy of your pill happens after you forget to take a pill. The type of birth control you take impacts the level of risk from missing or being late on your pill. 

Combination Pills:

If you take a combination pill (one that contains both progestin and estrogen) and miss a dose, you can typically take a pill as soon as you remember and be okay. 

But what if you have a big partying weekend and forget two days in a row? Well, now you have a more serious problem and will need to rely on a backup method of birth control (like condoms) until you’ve taken an active pill seven days in a row. 

Here’s where people get into trouble, however. Using a backup method of birth control requires good judgment – something many people lack when they’re drinking. 

Progestin-Only Pills (POP):

The risks of pregnancy are much higher if you take progestin-only birth control pills. The efficacy of these pills are highly reliant on taking them in the same three-hour window every day

If you’re late taking your progestin-only pill (outside of your usual three-hour window), you’ll need to use a backup birth control method for two days to be safe from unwanted pregnancy. 

If you are one day late, you’ll need to get back your pill right away and use a backup birth control method for seven days

But again, if you’re drinking or drinking frequently, will you remember to do that? This is where some people run into trouble. 

Impact of Alcohol on Other Forms of Birth Control

According to Planned Parenthood, alcohol won’t affect the efficacy of your IUD, patch, implants, or the ring. 

Alcohol, Birth Control and Side Effects

According to GoodRx, alcohol may increase the risk of side effects associated with birth control, such as nausea, vomiting, and headaches. 

There’s also some evidence linking birth control pills with increased risk of depression. 

Know what else is linked to increased symptoms of depression? Alcohol. If you frequently combine the two, you may be increasing your risk of depression or exacerbating existing symptoms. 

Precautions and Recommendations

When it comes to birth control, it’s important to take precautions to ensure its effectiveness. Here are some recommendations to keep in mind when consuming alcohol:

  • Don’t skip your birth control pill: Skipping your pill can increase the chances of ovulation and pregnancy. If you plan on drinking, set a reminder to take your pill at the same time every day. If that’s not an option or seems too cumbersome, you may want to talk to your doctor about switching birth control methods to something like an implant or IUD.
  • Be ready with a backup method: If you have a history of drinking and skipping your birth control or taking it too late, it’s a good idea to carry condoms with you in the event you need a backup plan. .
  • Know your limits: The most obvious and guaranteed way to ensure alcohol doesn’t interfere with your birth control is to moderate your drinking. Avoid binge drinking or consuming any amount of alcohol that makes you start behaving differently and forgetting important things (like taking your pills).
  • Consider non-alcoholic alternatives: If you’re concerned about the effects of alcohol on your birth control, consider non-alcoholic alternatives like mocktails or alcohol-free beer and wine.

Bottom Line on How Alcohol Affects Birth Control:

While there’s no direct impact of alcohol on birth control, it can indirectly lead to missed doses which will make your birth control pills less effective. Your choices boil down to moderating your drinking so you don’t forget pills, quitting drinking, or changing your birth control to something less impacted by bad drinking decisions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can drinking alcohol reduce the effectiveness of birth control?

No, drinking alcohol does not reduce the effectiveness of birth control. According to American Addiction Centers, alcohol does not interfere with the effectiveness of hormonal birth control methods like pills, patches, rings, implants, or injections.

However, it is important to remember that alcohol can impair judgment and lead to risky sexual behavior, which can increase the risk of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

Does alcohol affect the absorption of birth control pills?

No, alcohol does not affect the absorption of birth control pills. However, drinking alcohol can cause nausea and vomiting, which can affect the timing of taking the pill and therefore affect its effectiveness.

Can alcohol interfere with the timing of birth control pills?

Yes, alcohol can interfere with the timing of birth control pills. When you’re drunk, your judgment is impaired and you’re more likely to forget to take your pill on time (if at all).

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