Birth Control and Alcohol: Risks, Effects, and Safety
A recent national survey found that, from 2017 to 2019, 65.3% of American women aged 15 to 49 were currently using birth control.1 In 2021, 64.8% of women aged 18 and older reported that they drank alcohol during the last year.2 Since the majority of adult women use birth control and also drink alcohol, some may be concerned about whether drinking alcohol impacts the effectiveness of their contraception efforts.
This article discusses how alcohol may affect birth control, explores whether it is safe to drink alcohol on birth control, and reviews things that woman may want to consider when using both alcohol and contraceptives.
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How Does Alcohol Affect Birth Control?
Birth control (contraception) refers to any medication, device, or method used to prevent pregnancy, including intrauterine devices (IUDs), contraceptive injections, pills, patches, condoms, and other short-term and long-term methods.3,4
Overall, alcohol has not been found to reduce or change the efficacy of birth control; however, it’s important to remember that alcohol can impair a person’s judgement and may alter behavior as a result. This may interfere with any form of birth control that requires consistent compliance and consumption. For example, being under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol may make a person forget to take a pill or change a ring. Alcohol use may also lead to the ineffective or inconsistent use of condoms, which increases the risk of not only unplanned pregnancy but also sexually transmitted infections.5
Another way intoxication may affect birth control is if you vomit after drinking too much within two hours of taking your pill. It often takes at least two hours for the pill to be absorbed by your body, so vomiting during this two-hour window may reduce the pill’s effectiveness.6
In addition, heavy alcohol intake, including binge drinking is associated with a greater risk of developing medical complications affecting the blood, such as blood clots in the lungs or legs.7 Some women may also be at higher risk for developing a blood clot while using hormonal birth control, so heavy or binge drinking might increase that risk.8
Is It Safe to Drink Alcohol on Birth Control?
In general, it is safe to drink alcohol while on birth control. However, there are some important considerations to be aware of. Alcohol has been found to leave the body slower in women on birth control.9 For instance, alcohol may interfere with a person’s ability to think clearly and move with coordination, and this may cause a person to misuse or even neglect to use contraceptives such as condoms.10,11 This may increase not only their risk of pregnancy but also their chance of acquiring sexually transmitted diseases and infections (STDs/STIs).
If you take birth control pills, drinking too much may cause you to forget or miss taking one of your pills. Though missing one dose may not cause too much of an issue, as long as you take the missed pill as soon as possible, missing multiple doses can cause your birth control to be ineffective and lead to pregnancy.12 If you become pregnant and continue to drink, you could be placing your unborn child at risk for developing serious medical complications.13
Types of Birth Control and Alcohol’s Influence on Their Effectiveness
Many forms of birth control are available to help prevent pregnancy, and several are at least 99% effective. However, abstinence from sex is the only 100% effective way to ensure that you do not become pregnant.3,14 Some common types of birth control and their respective rates of effectiveness include:5,14
- Intrauterine Devices (IUDs): IUDs are more than 99% effective and can stay in place for 3 to 10 years. Alcohol use typically does not reduce effectiveness.
- Implants: When used correctly, implants are more than 99% effective and work for up to 3 years. Alcohol use typically does not reduce effectiveness.
- Injection: Injections are typically 94% effective when used correctly, andthey can last up to 3 months. Alcohol use typically does not reduce effectiveness.
- Patch: When used perfectly, the patch is 99% effective, but with typicaly use, it’s 91% effective. Three patches can last up to 3 weeks. Alcohol use typically does not reduce effectiveness but may interfere with weekly compliance.
- Vaginal Ring: Vaginal rings are more than than 99% effective when used perfectly and 91% effective for typical use. Alcohol use typically does not reduce effectiveness, but it may interfere with compliance as the ring must be removed after 3 weeks and a new one must be inserted the following week.
- Combined/Progestin-Only Pill: More than 99% effective when used perfectly (91% typical use), the pill typically isn’t affected by alcohol use. However, alcohol consumption may interfere with daily compliance.
- Male Condom: Condoms are 98% effective when used correctly and 82% effective with typical use). Alcohol use may reduce effectiveness as there is an increased likelihood of incorrect use or neglected use.
What to Consider When Drinking on Birth Control
Whether you are already using contraception or trying to find one that works for you, it is important to talk to your doctor or pharmacist to ensure proper use. Your provider will be able to answer questions about potential risks of drinking alcohol while on birth control, e.g., underlying health issues such as liver disease or blood clots.4 It is also important when choosing to drink alcohol that you consider the safety, availability, and accessibility of your birth control since alcohol use may lead to noncompliance with contraception requiring daily or weekly attention or ineffective contraception device use.11 Although alcohol does not typically reduce the effectiveness of contraception, drinking too much, whether in one sitting or over time, can have a serious impact on someone’s health.