Alcohol and Birth Control: Interactions, Research, and More

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Last Updated - 05/04/2024

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Updated 05/04/2024

Key Takeaways

  • Birth control methods include hormonal options like pills and nonhormonal options such as condoms and sterilization.
  • Alcohol does not directly affect the efficacy of most birth control methods but can lead to behaviors that compromise their effectiveness.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption can impair judgment and increase the likelihood of forgetting to take birth control pills.
  • Long-term alcohol use can lead to health complications that may increase the risks associated with hormonal birth control.
  • It’s crucial to plan ahead and set reminders for taking birth control pills when drinking alcohol.
  • Alternative birth control methods like IUDs or implants may be more suitable for those who have difficulty managing pill intake with alcohol consumption.
  • Healthcare providers can offer guidance on the most suitable birth control method considering lifestyle choices, including alcohol consumption.

The 2017–2019 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) reported that 65.3% of women surveyed in the US ages 15 to 49 were using some form of contraception. In 2022, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported that 65.3% of adult women (85.6 million) surveyed in the US claimed that they had consumed alcohol within the past year. With these overlaps, many women may be wondering if alcohol use could affect their birth control. 

How Does Alcohol Affect Birth Control?

While alcohol does not directly reduce the effectiveness of most birth control methods, it can indirectly affect how well they work. For instance, drinking alcohol to the point of intoxication may impair an individual’s ability to remember to take their birth control pill at the same time each day. Alcohol may also result in improper or inconsistent condom use, which could lead to an unplanned pregnancy or sexually transmitted infection.

Additionally, alcohol consumption can lead to vomiting, which poses a risk if it occurs within two hours of taking an oral contraceptive pill. Vomiting can expel the pill from the system before it’s been fully absorbed, potentially lowering the pill’s effectiveness. 

Another important consideration is blood clot risk. Hormonal birth control has been shown to increase the risk of blood clots, and heavy alcohol use can compound these risks.

The key takeaway is that while alcohol doesn’t chemically interact with birth control, its consumption can influence behaviors and physical reactions that may undermine the effectiveness of contraceptive methods. Individuals should be aware of these risks and manage their alcohol consumption accordingly to maintain the reliability of their chosen birth control method.

Birth Control Types and Effectiveness

Birth control encompasses various methods, devices, and medications designed to prevent pregnancy. Understanding the different types available and their mechanisms of action is crucial for informed family planning. Birth control methods can be broadly categorized into hormonal and nonhormonal options, each with specific usage and effectiveness levels.

  • Implants: Implants such as Nexplanon are tiny rods inserted under the skin of the upper arm, releasing hormones to prevent ovulation. They are 99% effective and last for up to 5 years before they need to be changed. Alcohol typically does not reduce its effectiveness.
  • Intrauterine Devices (IUDs): IUDs such as Mirena, Paragard, Skyla, LILETTA, and Kyleena are placed inside the uterus and work by altering the uterine environment or releasing hormones. They are 99% effective and last between 3 and 12 years. Drinking alcohol does not typically reduce effectiveness.
  • Injection: The Depo Provera shot is administered every 3 months in a clinical setting and is 96% effective. Drinking alcohol does not typically reduce its effectiveness.
  • Patch: This transdermal patch is applied to the skin and releases hormones to prevent ovulation. The patch is changed on a weekly basis. When used correctly, it is 93% effective. Alcohol use does not typically reduce effectiveness, but it may prevent compliance.
  • Vaginal Ring: A flexible ring is placed inside the vagina, where it releases hormones into the body. It is 93% effective, and it is replaced once a month. Drinking does not affect the hormones within the ring, but alcohol may prevent proper use.  
  • Oral Contraceptives: The pill is available as a combined hormone or progestin-only pill. They are over 99% effective with perfect use and 93% effective with typical use. Alcohol consumption does not affect the hormones preventing ovulation, but it can impact adherence. 
  • Barrier Methods: These include condoms, diaphragms, cervical caps, and sponges that physically prevent sperm from reaching the egg. Effectiveness ranges between 71 and 87% with typical use. Alcohol can reduce effectiveness, as it increases the risk of improper or lack of use.
  • Sterilization: Permanent procedures such as vasectomy or tubal ligation provide a non-reversible birth control method with a 99% effectiveness rate. Alcohol does not typically reduce effectiveness.
  • Spermicide and Contraceptive Gel: These chemical contraceptives immobilize sperm to prevent it from joining with an egg. They are 79% or 86% effective when used every time. Alcohol can prevent proper or consistent usage.

Choosing the right birth control method involves considering various factors, including lifestyle, health status, and personal preferences. It is essential for individuals to consult with healthcare providers to understand the benefits and risks associated with each method.

Guidelines for Drinking While Using Birth Control

For individuals using birth control, understanding the relationship between alcohol consumption and contraceptive effectiveness is critical. While alcohol does not typically decrease the efficacy of birth control methods, it can lead to behaviors that jeopardize contraceptive reliability. Therefore, it’s essential to adhere to safe drinking guidelines to ensure ongoing protection against unintended pregnancy.

  • Discuss with healthcare providers about any potential risks associated with drinking while on birth control, especially if there are underlying health issues such as liver disease or a history of blood clots.
  • Ensure that alcohol consumption does not interfere with the consistent and correct use of birth control, particularly methods that require daily or regular attention.
  • Be aware that heavy alcohol intake and binge drinking can lead to health complications that may increase the risk of blood clots, which can be compounded by the use of hormonal birth control.
  • Abstinence from sex is the only 100% effective way to prevent pregnancy; however, if you choose to drink, it’s recommended to use a reliable form of birth control and consider a backup method if necessary.
  • If a dose of birth control is missed due to alcohol-related memory lapses, take the missed dose as soon as possible. Persistently missing doses can render birth control ineffective and increase the risk of unintended pregnancy.
  • Setting a daily reminder or switching to a long-acting contraceptive method, such as an IUD or vaginal ring, might be more convenient for those who find it challenging to remember daily pills.
  • Finally, ensure open and honest communication with a healthcare provider to find the most suitable birth control method while considering lifestyle choices, including alcohol consumption.

Maintaining a responsible approach to drinking while on birth control can safeguard against unwanted pregnancies and support overall health and well-being.


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