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Motion Sickness Drugs and Alcohol Interactions

Medically reviewed by Leigh Ann Anderson, PharmD. Last updated on Nov 8, 2019.

If you've ever had motion sickness, sometimes called travel sickness, you probably remember it as a very unpleasant event.

  • Motion sickness occurs commonly in boats (“sea sickness”), cars, planes, trains, and on amusement park rides.
  • Reading in a car can often lead to motion sickness for many people.
  • Gaming and virtual reality experiences can also lead to this condition.

Fortunately, motion sickness is usually a temporary event and there are several medications to prevent a future episode.

Why do you get motion sickness? Motion sickness occurs when the motion you see is different from the motion you feel. Input from your eyes, your body, and your inner ears send motion signals to your brain. When these signals are mixed, motion sickness occurs.

Symptoms of motion sickness include nausea, vomiting, sweating, lightheadedness and a fast heart rate. Children and pregnant women are especially vulnerable to motion sickness.

Motion sickness medications (antiemetics) can be helpful for people who suffer from this disorder. However, these drugs tend to work in the central nervous system (the brain). When you combine alcohol with drugs for motion sickness this drug interaction can cause extreme drowsiness or dizziness. It can make driving more dangerous and you may at greater risk of a fall or other injury. You should not drink alcohol with motion sickness medications.

Pregnant women, or women who think they may be pregnant, should consult with a doctor before taking any drug, including anti-nausea medication for treatment or prevention of nausea. Parents or caregivers should follow directions for children on the package labeling for over-the-counter (OTC) products.

Several common medications are classified as anticholinergic antiemetics, for example:

Meclizine tends to cause less drowsiness than dimenhydrinate or diphenhydramine, and all three agents are available OTC without a prescription. These medications should be taken 30 minutes to one hour before travel. Scopolamine is a prescription patch than can be worn behind the ear and replaced after 3 days.

Promethazine is a phenothiazine antiemetic and H1 receptor blocking antihistamine that provides clinically useful antiemetic effects, as well, but can also cause marked drowsiness. It is available as an oral tablet, oral solution, or rectal suppository. There is also an injectable form, but its use is not recommended due to the risk of severe tissue damage. You more commonly encounter promethazine in a hospital setting. Scopolamine and promethazine both require a prescription.

Learn more: Anticholinergic Drugs to Avoid in the Elderly

Common Motion Sickness Medications

*Note: This is not a complete list; always check with your pharmacist for possible drug-alcohol interactions.

Other Ways to Prevent Motion Sickness

  • Not facing backwards when in motion can often help prevent motion sickness.
  • Being the driver, being in the front seat of a car, staying in the middle section of a plane or boat, and sitting by a window on a plane can help.
  • If you are on a boat, or in a car or train, try to look at the horizon.
  • Avoid alcoholic drinks and caffeine (for example, coffee or energy drinks).
  • Do not play video games or read (especially from a mobile device) while in motion.
  • Stay hydrated with water, or sip on some ginger ale.
  • Aromatherapy (mint or lavender), ginger candy, or chamomile tea may also be effective natural remedies for nausea, but research does not always back up these options.

Types of Drug Interactions With Alcohol

Sources

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  • Hansten PD, Horn JR. Top 100 Drug Interactions 2017; p. 8. A Guide to Patient Management. H&H Publications, Freeland, WA.
  • Travel Sickness (meclizine) Drug Interactions. Drugs.com. Accessed Nov. 10, 2019 at https://www.drugs.com/drug-interactions/meclizine,travel-sickness.html
  • Ekor M. The growing use of herbal medicines: issues relating to adverse reactions and challenges in monitoring safety. Front Pharmacol. 2013; 4: 177. Accessed Nov. 10, 2019 at doi: 10.3389/fphar.2013.00177.
  • Alcohol Facts & Statistics. National Institute on Alcohol and Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). National Institutes of Health (NIH). Accessed Nov. 10, 2019 at https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
  • Davies M. The role of GABA-A receptors in mediating the effects of alcohol in the central nervous system. J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2003 Jul; 28(4): 263–274. Accessed Nov. 10, 2019 at PMID: 12921221.
  • Ginger. Drugs.com. Accessed Nov. 10, 2019 at https://www.drugs.com/mtm/ginger.html

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.