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Drinking a beer while sitting outside near a canal.

Can I Take Valtrex with Alcohol

There’s nothing wrong with a drink, but it needs to be a considered one.

Herpes, shingles, and cold sores can be embarrassing, painful, and sometimes a risk to your health or the health of your partner. Fortunately, there’s medication that can help you manage these diseases, but you’ll need to adjust your lifestyle to some degree. Here’s what you need to know about herpes, Valtrex, and alcohol.

What Causes Genital Herpes, Shingles, and Cold Sores?

Genital herpes, cold sores, and shingles are all the results of catching a herpesvirus: Herpes Simplex Virus 2 (HSV-2), Herpes Simplex Virus 1 (HSV-1) and Varicella zoster virus (VZV), respectively. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll refer to them as “herpes virus” throughout this article, because all three are part of the herpes family of viruses.

– Herpes virus are DNA viruses. DNA viruses come with all the instructions and machinery to make more viruses, and just need a host cell to use for resources. This is why a herpes virus will linger for so long; it can sit in the cell, replicating but not going out of control, indefinitely, as long as it has live cells to use.

– HSV-1 and HSV-2 can cause sores on both the lips and the genitals. Cold sores can appear on the inside of the mouth as well, although it’s rare, and can be transferred through oral sex.

– Canker sores, also known as aphthous stomatitis, are not caused by a herpes virus. They appear to be related to other factors such as stress level and allergies, although research is ongoing.

– It’s estimated that more than 90% of adults have been infected with at least one of these viruses; 47% of the US population is believed to have HSV-1 alone. They are usually dormant, and generally cannot be communicated while dormant.

– Herpes outbreaks can be recurring, and the virus can be latent for years or even decades. Shingles, in fact, is technically a recurrence of a chickenpox infection, causing a painful rash years after an infection.

– Herpes viruses generally lay dormant in nerve tissue, and only recur when you experience certain stresses, including illness or injury, stress, fatigue, wind or sun exposure, or changes in your immune system.

– Controlling outbreaks can contribute substantially to your quality of life, and you may have been prescribed Valtrex, the brand name for valaciclovir. So what does Valtrex do?

How Valtrex Works

Group sitting on couches drinking champaign.

Enjoy life, just responsibly.

Valtrex was patented in 1987 and first came to the market in 1995. Since it’s been on the market for twenty-five years, it’s generally well understood by doctors and pharmacists, and its drug interactions are generally well documented. So far, herpes viruses do not seem to have developed any resistance to Valtrex.

Valtrex is used to limit outbreaks, reduce the chance of spreading herpes infection, and to prevent herpes virus infection for immunocompromised individuals. Valtrex is not a replacement for safer sex behaviors.

Valtrex is what’s called a “prodrug.” Valtrex itself is not a medication. When you consume it, your body turns it into aciclovir, which acts on herpes viruses in two ways. First, it keeps DNA viruses, like herpes, from replicating, shutting down the machinery the virus uses to make copies of itself. Second, it goes into the DNA of the virus itself, wrecking the instructions it uses to make those copies.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t last forever. The body is fairly good as processing aciclovir and once it’s out of your system, the virus can replicate again. This makes infection management particularly important.

Valtrex and Alcohol

Three people out at a cafe drinking beer and wine.

Be smart while being social.

Alcohol is not specifically listed as something to be avoided when taking Valtrex, and so far, there has been no documented interaction between Valtrex and alcohol, although the FDA mentions alcohol may help break down aciclovir faster. However, this doesn’t mean combining them is a good idea.

To see why, consider this list of possible side effects of taking Valtrex, and these side effects become more likely as you age:

Headache

Dizziness

Tired feeling

Depression

Nausea

Vomiting

Stomach pain

Joint pain

Skin rash

Stuffy nose

Sore throat

Alcohol is a depressant; it slows the body down, generally. It can also dehydrate you, which is part of the reason a hangover can be such an unpleasant experience. Imagine even slightly overdoing it, and then having both the effects of that, and these possible side effects, to deal with.

Furthermore, alcohol, especially heavy alcohol use, can be a strain on your system. While we may enjoy the feeling, your body has to work overtime to metabolize and get rid of alcohol, through a four-step process that turns alcohol into chemicals that can be more easily broken down. If it has to do this while also processing Valtrex, it simply won’t be as efficient.

Alcohol And Medication

Woman drinking a beer at home.

Whether relaxing at home or out on the town, drink responsibly.

None of this means you can’t enjoy a drink or two, provided it’s not contraindicated by your medication and you’ve talked about it with your doctor. However, you do need to practice some common-sense rules to make sure you’re not putting too much strain on your system.

– Always discuss your alcohol consumption, and plans for reducing it, with your doctor. Go over your concerns in detail and ask for advice and any relevant information.

– Be familiar with the drugs that are contraindicated for alcohol, which usually have to do with the cardiovascular system or liver in some way.

– Remember that bodies change over time, including your ability to process alcohol. What may not be overdoing it today can become too much quickly.

– Keep in mind that some drugs may have an impact on the ability of the body to process alcohol.

– Limit your overall alcohol consumption to one drink or less a day, on average, especially if you’re in the middle of managing an outbreak.

– Learn strategies for avoiding alcohol politely in social situations, such as budgeting your drink for the day for that after-work party, or volunteering to be the designated driver on social occasions.

– Bring non-alcoholic alternatives to parties, so you’ll have something available to drink if you’d prefer not to drink alcohol.

– Finally, don’t forget that alcohol consumption can have other impacts on your system, such as weight gain, that may, over time, affect how drugs are metabolized, especially if they’re low-dosage drugs.

Managing an outbreak doesn’t mean you have to stay home with the TV. It simply means you need to factor in your medication as you live your life. To learn more about Valtrex, visit the eDrugstore page.

Dan is a long-time freelance writer focusing on technology, science, health, and medicine, with a lifelong interest in physics, biology, and medicine. His work has taken a particular focus on scientific studies "beyond the headlines," reading the study to more closely examine the results.