Statins are the most widely used drugs to help lower cholesterol. But, drinking alcohol may worsen their potential side effects for people with certain medical conditions.

Statins are a class of drugs used to help lower cholesterol. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 93% of adults in the United States taking a cholesterol medication in 2012 were taking a statin. Statins interfere with the body’s production of cholesterol and help to lower low-density lipoproteins (LDLs), or bad cholesterol, when diet and exercise haven’t proven effective.

Prescription drugs all come with side effects, or the risk of side effects. With statins, the lengthy list of side effects may cause some people to question whether it’s worth the trade-off.

Liver Inflammation

Occasionally, statin use can affect liver health. Although rare, statins may increase liver enzyme production. Several years ago, the FDA recommended regular enzyme testing for statin patients. But because the risk of liver damage is so rare, this is no longer the case. The role of the liver in alcohol metabolism means those who drink heavily could be at greater risk, however.

Muscle pain

The most common side effect of statin use is muscle pain and inflammation. Generally, this feels like soreness or weakness of the muscles. In extreme cases, it can lead to rhabdomyolysis, a life-threatening condition that may cause liver damage, kidney failure, or death.

Up to 30% of people experience muscle pain with statin use. But nearly all find that when they switch to a different statin, their symptoms resolve.

Other side effects

Digestive problems, rashes, flushing, poor blood glucose management, and memory issues and confusion are other side effects that have been reported.

Overall, there are no specific health risks associated with drinking while using statins. In other words, alcohol won’t immediately interfere with or react with the statins in your body. However, heavy drinkers or those who already have liver damage due to heavy drinking could be at greater risk for more serious side effects.

Because both heavy drinking and (rarely) statin use can interfere with liver function, the two together could put people at a greater risk of liver-related health problems.

The general consensus is that drinking more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women could put you at a greater risk of alcoholic liver disease and possible statin side effects.

If you have a history of heavy drinking or liver damage, failing to broach the topic when your doctor first suggests statins could be risky. Letting your doctor know you have been or are currently a heavy drinker will alert them to look for alternatives or monitor your liver function for signs of damage.