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What is Zyrtec?

Zyrtec, also known as cetirizine, is an over-the-counter antihistamine. Zyrtec reduces allergy symptoms, hay fever, runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, and itching.

zyrtec bottle product

Other over-the-counter antihistamines that are similar to Zyrtec include: 

  • Benadryl (Diphenhydramine)
  • Chlor-trimeton (Chlorpheniramine) 
  • Claritin (Loratadine) 
  • Allegra (Fexofenadine)

Regardless of brand name, all antihistamine allergy medications work by blocking histamine receptors in the brain. 

You should not drink alcohol while taking Zyrtec. The combination can induce extreme drowsiness and other adverse effects.

Side Effects of Zyrtec

Zyrtec has several potential side effects even when taken in moderation. These side effects include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Constipation
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Sore throat

Zyrtec side effects are more common when the medicine is taken for the first few times. As the body adjusts, they usually decrease.

More severe side effects arise if an individual is allergic to Zyrtec. These severe side effects include:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Changes in urine color and frequency 
  • Increased risk of high blood pressure

Antihistamine side effects can vary by brand and generation. For example, first-generation antihistamines like Benadryl cause heavy sedation, mental impairment, and harmful interactions with other drugs. 

First-generation antihistamines are also medically less effective than their second-generation counterparts. Most doctors will prescribe or recommend second-generation antihistamines. This is because they are more effective and have fewer side effects. Zyrtec is a second-generation antihistamine.

Is Zyrtec the Same as Zyrtec-D?

Zyrtec and Zyrtec D are different drugs with several similarities. The primary difference is Zyrtec-D contains pseudoephedrine. Pseudoephedrine, also known as Sudafed, can induce strong feelings of anxiety and hyperalertness. 

Both drugs are available OTC, but the amount of Zyrtec-D an individual can purchase is restricted. Healthcare providers may recommend one over the other based on individual factors. Both drugs can induce sleepiness. 

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Is Zyrtec Addictive?

Zyrtec is not addictive in the traditional sense. This means it doesn't produce any cravings or dependencies. However, Zyrtec withdrawal has been linked to temporary but severe pruritus.2 Pruritus is a condition that causes extreme itchiness. Typically, this condition resolves on its own within a few days to a week. 

Can You Mix Zyrtec and Alcohol?

In general, you should never mix Zyrtec and alcohol. 

Zyrtec and alcohol have compounding effects on the brain. Both substances work as central nervous system (CNS) depressants in moderate to high doses. This causes several severe side effects on the central nervous system and liver. Extreme drowsiness is a common effect of mixing these substances. However, other adverse side effects can occur.

Side Effects of Mixing Zyrtec with Alcohol

The side effects of drinking alcohol with Zyrtec can be life-threatening. Here are the most common:

  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Impaired motor functions
  • Slurred or incomprehensible speech
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pains
  • Confusion or mania 
  • Dizziness
  • Impaired judgment 
  • Accident-prone
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Blackouts (inability to remember prior events)
  • Tachycardia (Extreme rapid heartbeat) 
  • Seizures 
  • Internal bleeding

As a second-generation antihistamine, Zyrtec is considered safer overall than its first-generation counterparts. However, this distinction is primarily based on the massive sedating effects of first-generation antihistamines. 

Other side effects of Zyrtec, specifically in terms of mental health, are still being studied. Alcohol, however, is known to destabilize mood, cause depression, and increase negative thought. 

Additionally, a first-generation antihistamine combined with alcoholic beverages can cause hypoxia due to the extreme depression of the central nervous system (CNS). Hypoxia is the inability to get enough oxygen to your blood, tissues, and/or cells. In severe cases, it can result in organ damage.

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Risks & Dangers of Mixing Zyrtec and Alcohol

Mixing Zyrtec with alcohol can cause several long-term health complications. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism or NIAAA, alcohol interactions are broken into two categories. 

The first category, pharmacokinetic, implies that alcohol impairs the metabolizing of a substance. Essentially, pharmacokinetic reduces the effect of the interacting drug. The second category, pharmacodynamic, suggests that alcohol intensifies the effect. Zyrtec and alcohol share a pharmacodynamic effect. Here are the most common associated dangers. 

Liver damage — Zyrtec can cause acute liver damage, albeit in rare occurrences. However, alcohol abuse is known to impair liver function severely. Zyrtec only adds to the strain on an individual's liver. 

Substance dependency — Habitually mixing Zyrtec and alcohol can cause alcohol dependency. Furthermore, the association of mixing Zyrtec with alcohol might cause a psychological dependence on Zyrtec. 

Bodily harm — The combination of Zyrtec with an alcoholic beverage causes dizziness and poor coordination. Because of this, the chance for a severe accident significantly increases. 

High blood pressure — Both alcohol and Zyrtec can increase blood pressure. The risk of high blood pressure is increased when the two are mixed. Additionally, the drug interactions between Zyrtec and blood pressure medications can increase the heart rate as well. 

Overdose — An individual may overdose when mixing Zyrtec and alcohol for several reasons. The most prominent reasons are severely depressed breathing, acute liver failure, and extremely rapid heartbeat (cardiac arrhythmia). 

Heart disease — Zyrtec has been linked to coronary heart failure. This is a condition characterized by unhealthy cholesterol builds up. Alcohol can cause cardiomyopathy, an issue with heart muscles. These conditions require extensive surgery and treatment to correct. Drinking alcohol can lead to heart disease as well.

How Long Should I Wait to Drink Alcohol After Taking Zyrtec?

Zyrtec stays in the blood for approximately 24 hours. Drinking, especially in excess, during the 24 hours can cause any of the aforementioned side effects. It's a bad idea to drink alcohol even if it feels as though Zyrtec isn't working. The effects of the drug may be delayed because of several individualized factors. 

Continually consuming Zyrtec and alcohol, even in small doses, can also lead to the aforementioned long-term effects. Other allergy medications may produce varied short-term side effects, but the long-term damages remain the same. 

As a rule, mixing Zyrtec or other prescription drugs with alcohol can lead to health complications. Complications and side effects may be worse in older adults.

Cetirizine Statistics

13.8

Million

Estimated number of prescriptions of cetirizine in the U.S.

15.98

Dollars

Average total drug cost for cetirizine.

4.36

Dollars

Average out-of-pocket costs for cetirizine.

Do I Have a Drinking Problem?

If you are struggling with giving up alcohol while taking allergy medications, it could potentially be the sign of an alcohol addiction. While this isn't always the case, you may want to consider your drinking habits. For more information, read What is Considered an Alcoholic?

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Resources

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(1) Ekhart, Corine, et al. “Unbearable Pruritus After Withdrawal of (Levo)Cetirizine.PubMed Central, 2016

(2) Chung, Amy H, et al. “Pruritus after Discontinuation of Cetirizine.” Therapeutic Advances in Drug Safety, SAGE Publications, 5 July 2019.

(3) Bethesda (MD): National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; “Cetirizine.LiverTox: Clinical and Research Information on Drug-Induced Liver Injury [Internet]., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 16 Jan. 2017.

(4) Kane, Sean P. “Cetirizine.” Cetirizine - Drug Usage Statistics, ClinCalc DrugStats Database, 2018.

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