Valtrex is one of the most common antiviral drugs used to treat symptoms of the herpes virus. As with any medication, Valtrex may have negative reactions with other substances including other medications and, yes, alcohol.
✔️ Medically reviewed by Gerard Sison, PharmD on May 22, 2019
The FDA doesn’t specifically warn against combining alcohol and Valtrex (1), but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. To better understand if it’s okay to drink while taking Valtrex, let’s take a closer look at the drug and how it interacts with the body.
This is not a substitute for medical advice. Consult a doctor to decide what is right for your health.
What is Valtrex?
Valtrex is the brand name for valacyclovir, a powerful antiviral drug used to treat viral infections, such as those caused by herpes. Labial herpes (cold sores), herpes zoster (shingles), and herpes simplex (genital herpes) can all be treated using valacyclovir.
There are two ways to use Valtrex to treat herpes:
- As needed – People who experience rare outbreaks may use the drug as needed to treat infections. Results are noticeable in as little as three days, depending on the strain of herpes being treated and whether it is the first outbreak.
- Suppressive therapy – As recommended by doctors for individuals who experience frequent outbreaks, suppressive therapy involves taking between 500 mg and 1 g of valacyclovir each day. Suppressive therapy has been shown to decrease the frequency of outbreaks by 70%-80%, with some individuals experiencing no outbreaks at all (3).
Can you drink while taking Valtrex?
There is a good chance that you will be faced with a choice to drink alcohol while taking Valtrex, especially if you are undergoing suppressive therapy or experiencing frequent outbreaks. But should you do it?
In short, no.
While there may be no official contraindication concerning Valtrex and alcohol, many doctors warn against it for two main reasons. The first reason has to do with how these two substances affect the immune system, and the second reason has to do with the potential side effects of valacyclovir.
In general, the immune system, which plays a primary role in fending off herpes infections, is weakened when you drink (4). Because Valtrex and the immune system work as a team, drinking alcohol may decrease the effectiveness of the treatment.
Alcohol may also worsen certain side effects of valacyclovir. Of the side effects associated with Valtrex, the most common are headaches, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness. If you consume alcohol, you know that these are also side effects of drinking. Naturally, you can see how combining the two might make things worse.
While alcohol and Valtrex do not directly interact, taking them together may impact your health. Ask your doctor before drinking and taking Valtrex.
Which side effects get worse when you drink?
- Nausea and vomiting – These are two of the most common side effects of both alcohol and valacyclovir. People who mix the two substances increase their chances of becoming immediately ill.
- Dizziness and fatigue – These shared common side effect may be more concerning. Drinking alcohol while taking Valtrex may lead to uncomfortable and dangerous levels of dizziness and even vertigo. Increased feelings of fatigue may be experienced with long-term drinking while on Valtrex.
- Emotional effects – Valtrex is also liable to cause certain emotional side effects, like depression and irritability (5). These feelings may become more pronounced when drinking alcohol, particularly in excessive quantities. Because alcohol is a depressant that can cause depression and anxiety over time, regular drinkers should be cautious.
- Liver and Kidneys – Another thing that alcohol and Valtrex have in common is that they are both processed in the liver and, to a lesser extent, the kidneys. In rare instances, valacyclovir may cause damage to these organs (6). Drinking while taking Valtrex puts your liver and kidneys into overdrive, leading to potentially detrimental outcomes.
When is it okay to drink after taking Valtrex?
The good news is that valacyclovir moves through your system rather quickly. So, unless you take Valtrex as part of suppressive therapy, you won’t have to wait long before you can enjoy the alcoholic beverage of your choice.
Valacyclovir itself is only active in the body for a short time before it is converted into acyclovir, which does the heavy work to fight off infections. The half-life of acyclovir is 2 to 3.5 hours, meaning your body will have finished processing it within about seven hours depending on the dose taken (1).
In general, you should be able to safely consume alcohol after Valtrex has been completely eliminated from the body. But, as always, you should ask your doctor to be sure.
Your body’s natural reaction to drinking while taking valacyclovir is unique. Not everyone is going to become dangerously dizzy or suffer liver damage as a result.
Still, you should steer clear of combining alcohol and Valtrex. Though your chances of experiencing side effects depend on a number of factors, the risks greatly outweigh the purely social benefit.
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- Valtrex FDA Label. (Link)
- Peter Leone (2005). Reducing the risk of transmitting genital herpes: advances in understanding and therapy, Current Medical Research and Opinion, 21:10, 1577-1582, DOI: 10.1185/030079905X61901. (Link)
- Genital HSV Infections – 2015 STD Treatment Guidelines. (n.d.). CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/std/tg2015/herpes.htm. Accessed May 16, 2019. (Link)
- Barr, T., Helms, C., Grant, K., & Messaoudi, I. (2016). Opposing effects of alcohol on the immune system. Progress in neuro-psychopharmacology & biological psychiatry, 65, 242–251. doi:10.1016/j.pnpbp.2015.09.001 (Link)
- Valacyclovir (Oral Route) Side Effects. (2019, February 01). MayoClinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/valacyclovir-oral-route/side-effects/drg-20066635. Accessed May 16, 2019. (Link)
- Valacyclovir. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://livertox.nih.gov/Valacyclovir.htm (Link)