Drinking with a Bleeding Disorder 

Even small amounts of alcohol can be risky for people with inheritable blood and bleeding disorders. Here’s how to safeguard your health.
Author: James Langford

’Tis the season for toasts, whether to friends and family, holidays past, or the year to come. It’s also the season of quieter nights sharing a glass of wine or cocktails with the people in your life whom you don’t see often enough.

The evidence isn’t just anecdotal or generated by holiday movies: Statistics show that more than twice as many people as usual drink alcohol on Christmas and New Year’s Day, along with a smaller spike on Thanksgiving.

For people with inheritable blood and bleeding disorders, though, holiday drinks come with risks their fellow partygoers don’t have to worry abouteven when they’re drinking only small amounts.

At minimum, “drinking alcohol is similar to taking aspirin,” according to the Steps for Living website maintained by the National Bleeding Disorders Foundation. “It acts like a blood thinner. If you have a bleeding disorder, drinking alcohol worsens your clotting issues.”

That heightens the potential for dangerous bleeding from even small cuts and bruises caused by simple mishaps such as tripping on a dark walkway or bumping into a table.

Additionally, mixing alcohol with inheritable blood and bleeding disorders medications can lead to unknown, and potentially serious, health effects. For people with long-term diseases such as hepatitis C and HIV, alcohol can exacerbate liver damage, Steps for Living says.

The risks grow even higher with binge drinking — more than about five drinks at a time for men and four drinks at a time for women — which also surges during the winter holiday season.

Bingeing is the most common, and costly, form of excessive alcohol use in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With about 1 in 6 Americans binge drinking, and 25% doing so at least once a week, the activity has been linked to hazards including automobile crashes, alcohol poisoning, physical fights, and sexually transmitted diseases.

“Drugs and alcohol may impair judgment, coordination, and reaction time, leading to an increased risk of accidents and an inability to appropriately respond to an injury,” Steps for Living warns. Drinking alcohol may also cause dehydration, making self-infusion with clotting factor more difficult.

If you have an inheritable blood and bleeding disorder and intend to drink during the holidays, you can safeguard your health by planning ahead. Clinicians at SickKids, a pediatric teaching hospital affiliated with the University of Toronto, and other experts offer the following suggestions:

  • Decide how much you’re going to drink in advance. If you know the amount of alcohol that tends to make you feel sick or behave irresponsibly, plan to drink less and keep track.
  • Remember that some drinks are much stronger than others: 12 ounces of beer contains about the same amount of alcohol as 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of liquor.
  • Keep in mind that you don’t have to drink any alcohol; consider soft drinks or mocktails.
  • Drink slowly and have a glass of water after each alcoholic beverage.
  • Make sure to eat, since food slows your body’s alcohol absorption.
  • Plan for how you’ll get home before you start drinking. Travel with a designated driver or plan to take public transportation, a taxi, or a car service.
  • Remember that mixing alcohol with medications, whether they’re prescribed by a doctor or over the counter, can be dangerous. Talk with your health care provider or a pharmacist to find out more beforehand.
  • Keep in mind that alcohol inhibits coordination, making self-infusion more difficult. It’s also a diuretic, causing your body to lose water and making veins more difficult to find in an emergency.
  • Tell the people you’re with that you have a bleeding disorder so they’ll know you may need treatment if you have an accident. Wear a medical ID such as a MedicAlert bracelet.