Can You Drink Alcohol While Taking Lipitor and Other Statins?

Liver Disease Due to Statins and Effect of Statins on Liver Disease

Can you drink alcohol with Lipitor (atorvastatin) or other statin medications? If a package insert refers to "moderate" alcohol intake, what does that mean? What is the effect of statins on the liver? From the opposite angle, what do we know about the effect of statins on liver disease?

Two women sitting at a table enjoying a glass of wine - stock photo
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Statins have made a big difference with regard to heart disease. They stabilize and reduce the size of the coronary artery plaques that can lead to heart attacks, the leading cause of death in the U.S. before cancer. So a question about whether you should combine these drugs with alcohol deserves a careful answer.

Alcohol Warning With Lipitor (Statins)

According to the official package insert approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Lipitor “should be used with caution in patients who consume substantial quantities of alcohol and/or have a history of liver disease.” Unfortunately, there is not an official definition of what a substantial quantity of alcohol means.

To understand why any amount of alcohol could be a problem with Lipitor or any statins, let's take a look at how these medications may affect the liver, and how alcohol might increase that effect.

The Effect of Statins on the Liver

It's not uncommon to have abnormal liver tests when taking statins, but it is important to understand what lies behind this.

There are several different ways to explain how statins affect the liver, so let's look at changes in liver tests alone (no symptoms,) clinical liver disease (symptoms) related to statin use, severe liver disease, as well as how statins may actually reduce mortality in some people who already have liver disease.

Liver Enzymes and Statins

Current recommendations are that liver function tests be completed before beginning statin therapy and only repeated if there is a clinical reason to do so. Studies have found that some people who use Lipitor have an elevation of the liver enzymes aspartate aminotransferase (AST) and alanine aminotransferase (ALT).

An increase (up to three times normal) in these values occurs in roughly 3% of people. What we have learned over time, however, is that most of the time these elevations are only temporary and not usually dangerous.

Since moderate to high alcohol intake can also increase liver function tests, the combination of heavy drinking and statins will increase the chances of an abnormality.

Liver Injury and Statins

Clinically apparent liver injury—injury enough to causes symptoms rather than simply abnormal liver function tests alone—is very uncommon with statins, unlike the elevations in liver enzymes alone we just noted.

Certainly, severe liver injury is possible. There are at least 50 case reports of liver injury in people taking statins which have led to death or the need for liver transplantation.

Looking at these numbers, however, it's important to note that during this time Lipitor has been the number one most prescribed drug worldwide. (In comparison, it's thought that at least 15,000 people die each year from gastrointestinal bleeding from Advil.) Serious liver injury is possible on statins, but this is quite rare.

When talking about the effect of alcohol on liver disease related to statins, it's important to note that severe liver injury is not usually due to the cumulative effect of the injury.

Rather, drug-induced liver disease is usually an autoimmune condition, in which the drug prompts some people's bodies to make antibodies which attack their own liver tissue. This is considered an "idiosyncratic" reaction, something that isn't well understood and can't be predicted.

Statins May Be Helpful in Liver Disease

It may be somewhat reassuring to hear that, despite the recommendation to monitor liver tests, and the uncommon risk of severe liver injury, statins may be helpful for some people with liver disease.

In one study looking at people with severe alcoholic liver disease, the use of statins halved the risk of death from alcoholic cirrhosis.

The conclusion of a 2017 study was that statins used for people with cirrhosis might actually reduce liver failure and complications of liver failure such as portal hypertension. Statins are currently being evaluated for their ability to reduce the worsening of liver disease in people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

In addition, those who have liver disease due to chronic hepatitis C infections may respond better to medications (interferon) when they are given statins. (Of note is that alcohol worsens hepatitis C.)

Alcohol Drinking With Lipitor

All of that said, excess alcohol could pose a problem for people when combined with Lipitor. Increased liver function tests are not the only possible side effect.

Muscle problems with statins are not uncommon, and alcohol can lead to damage as well. Alcohol may also interfere with the metabolism of many drugs, such as those that may be used along with Lipitor for heart disease.

The primary concern with alcohol in people using Lipitor, however, is likely the host of other problems that are found with alcohol alone.

Lipitor and other statins may reduce your risk of heart disease, but alcohol, through causes such as alcoholic cardiomyopathy and much more, may worsen your risk. Of course, alcohol has plenty of calories, something that also increases the risk of heart disease.

What most people really want to know is, "Can I have a beer or two or a glass of wine while I'm taking statins? It's likely that adding alcohol to statins has little effect overall when consumed in moderation.

The real question comes down to, "Do you have a problem with alcohol?" For those who consume large amounts of alcohol (more than two drinks per day for a man or more than one drink per day for women), there is likely much more to be concerned about than the effect on your liver of combining statins and alcohol.

Definition of Moderate Drinking

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines drinking in moderation as one alcoholic drink each day for women and two drinks for men. Regarding wine, one drink is 5 ounces.

However, researchers who are studying the beneficial effects of alcohol on preventing heart disease define moderate drinking as up to two drinks each day for women and up to four drinks each day for men.

Concerns Related to Alcohol

If you have any family members or friends who have expressed concern over your drinking, it's important to take an honest look at your consumption. If you drink at all, take a moment and try a quiz to see if you may have an alcohol use problem.

Talk to Your Healthcare Provider

If you drink alcohol you should let your healthcare provider know. Many people underestimate their intake, but being honest with your healthcare provider will ultimately help them take care of you as well as possible. Your healthcare provider knows your medical history and current health status and should be able to advise you about your alcohol use.

Take time to learn about the treatment options for alcoholism whether you are concerned about yourself or a friend or family member. Thankfully, you won't have to go very far to hear wonderful success stories from people who have been given a new lease on life after quitting.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why do you need to monitor liver functioning when taking statins?

    Liver functioning tests are recommended before and during statin therapy because statins can raise liver enzymes. In roughly 3% of people taking statins, liver enzymes can increase to three times the normal levels. In very rare cases, statin use can result in liver damage.

  • What happens to your liver if your drink alcohol while taking statins?

    Statins can cause elevated liver enzymes, an indication of liver problems. Alcohol is metabolized in the liver, and drinking while taking statins can further damage your liver. People who are heavy drinkers—more than two drinks a day for a man or more than one drink a day for women—are at an even greater risk of liver damage when taking statins. 

  • Is it ok to have an occasional drink while taking statins?

    As long as you don't have liver problems, you should be able to have an occasional drink or two while taking statins. If you are unable to drink moderately, you would be better off not drinking while taking statins.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Michael Bihari, MD
Michael Bihari, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician, health educator, and medical writer, and president emeritus of the Community Health Center of Cape Cod.