Birth control, also known as contraception, is a term used to describe a method or device used to prevent pregnancy.1 The different methods of birth control are used by over 922 million people worldwide between the ages of 15 to 49.2 Female sterilisation and male condoms are the most common birth control methods used.2
What is it?
Birth control is used to prevent pregnancy. There are a variety of birth control methods, and they can be used by people assigned male or female at birth (AMAB/ AFAB). Different methods of birth control include condoms, intrauterine pills, implants, oral contraceptive pills and injectables, some of which are discussed below.
The types/methods of birth control are generally split into 5 main categories.1, 3
This includes oral contraceptive pills, implants, patches, and injectables. These birth control methods release hormones, such as oestrogen and progesterone, into the bloodstream.
Long-Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC)
This includes intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants, which are implanted into the bodies of those AFAB. They function to prevent pregnancy and can be removed at any time at a healthcare facility.
This consists of male and female condoms, cervical caps, spermicides, and other methods to prevent the entry of semen into the vagina or prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections
This form of contraception is often called ‘the morning after pill’ or ‘plan B’ and can be taken to prevent pregnancy after sexual intercourse.
This includes both female sterilisation (such as hysterectomies) and vasectomies, which is the name for male sterilisation.
There are other methods individuals use to prevent pregnancy, such as the withdrawal method or the rhythm method. The rhythm method uses your menstrual cycle to determine when you are most likely to get pregnant (i.e. during ovulation).1, 3
With every birth control method listed above, there is no 100% guarantee it will prevent pregnancy. This comes down to a number of factors which can be determined both by the user and potential faults with the device (e.g. condoms).
The least effective method of birth control is the withdrawal method, despite being used by approximately 47 million people as of 2019.1, 2
Hormonal birth controls are also often accompanied by a variety of side effects which can affect the user’s physical, emotional and mental health. The most common side effects associated with progesterone birth controls are irregular bleeding, headaches, and nausea.
How does alcohol affect birth control?
Consuming alcohol will not reduce the effectiveness of birth control in any of the 5 main categories, as long as they are used correctly. Although alcohol consumption with birth control is generally considered safe, there are a few risks to be considered.
Alcohol consumption can also cause ineffective use of contraception, such as forgetting to put on a condom or forgetting to change rings or take the pill.4
If you are sick from alcohol and have taken your oral birth control for a short duration before (e.g. less than 2 hours), there may be a risk for your birth control to no longer be effective. In this case, contact your pharmacist for advice. They may advise you to use condoms during sex or to take an additional pill. However, you should not take another contraceptive pill from the pill pack without being advised to do so by a healthcare practitioner.
Ways to prevent a lapse in birth control when drinking
If you are having sex and you are not on hormonal birth control, keeping a supply of condoms to use routinely during sex is advisable to prevent pregnancy.
If you are unsure of whether you remembered to take your oral birth control pill or it has been longer than the recommended interval period between taking your pill, you may no longer be protected against pregnancy. In this case, using condoms will allow you to continue having sex with protection.3
Even if you are on hormonal birth control, it is advisable to use condoms if you are having sex with multiple or new partners to practice safe sex and prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted infections.
Setting reminders to take birth control pills
If you feel that you are likely to forget your birth control pill, setting reminders and keeping spare pill packs in your handbag will prevent you from forgetting to take it at the right time so that you remain protected.
Does birth control affect alcohol tolerance?
Birth control does not affect alcohol tolerance. However, consuming alcohol while on birth control can cause alcohol to be released from the body slower. This is because the liver has to break down the alcohol as well as the hormones within the oral contraceptive pill.4
Using the correct birth control method for you
Birth control pills
Oral birth control pills are split into two categories, progesterone-only and the combined contraceptive pills. These types of birth control are between 95-99% effective when used correctly. However, because of errors in remembering to take the pill daily, annually 9 in 100 women get pregnant while using the pill.9
Birth control pills can also slightly increase your risk of developing blood clots, or some types of cancers as they contain estrogen.1 Despite this small risk, the birth control pill is much more effective than condoms or cervical caps.
Condoms can be used by people assigned female or male at birth as they act as a barrier to prevent semen from entering the vagina or are used to decrease the transmission of sexually transmitted infections.1
However, it should be kept in mind that condoms can break and have an expiry date. These risks must be considered when using condoms. Additionally, people aged 13 to 24 have access to free condoms using a C-card.5
The vaginal ring, called NuvaRing, is a form of contraception placed in the vagina. They release oestrogen and progesterone into the bloodstream to reduce the chances of pregnancy.6
The vaginal ring is more than 99% effective when used correctly and only needs to be replaced once every 3 weeks, with 7 days ring-free per month while still protected.6 If you would like a birth control method that doesn't need to be thought about every day but is still not permanent - this may be the best method for you.
Intrauterine device (IUD)
This is a form of long-acting reversible contraception and is often called ‘the coil’. It is made of either copper, or plastic loaded with hormones. Copper IUDs release the hormones slowly into the bloodstream over a period of time, reducing the chances of the individual becoming pregnant.3
IUDs are inserted into the uterus by a healthcare practitioner and have a small chance of side effects, such as pain and heavier periods. There is a small risk that they may move, which can affect their effectiveness.7 However, this is still a good alternative option for those who cannot take hormone-based contraceptives.
In conclusion, it is generally considered safe to consume alcohol whilst using birth control as it will not affect the function or cause pregnancy. For any other queries, or if you need support for alcohol abuse, contraception, or pregnancy, please contact your GP or use one of the services below.
- Pregnancy helpline UK 0300 123 5473
- NHS Alcohol Support
- NHS Contraception Guide
- Planned Parenthood Federation (For America)
- Cleveland Clinic. Birth Control [Internet]; 2019. Available from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11427-birth-control-options [Accessed 25th April 2022]
- United Nations. Contraceptive Use By Method [Internet]; 2019. Available from: https://www.un.org/development/desa/pd/sites/www.un.org.development.desa.pd/files/files/documents/2020/Jan/un_2019_contraceptiveusebymethod_databooklet.pdf [Accessed 25th April 2022]
- National Institute of Children's Health and Human Development [Internet]; 2017. Available from: https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/contraception/conditioninfo/types [Accessed 26th April 2022]
- American Addiction Centers. Birth Control & Alcohol: Risks, Effects & Safety [Internet]; 2022. Available from: https://americanaddictioncenters.org/alcoholism-treatment/birth-control [Accessed 26th April 2022]
- Young and Free. Sexual Health for Young People [Internet]; 2022. Available from: https://youngandfree.org.uk/ [Accessed 26th April 2022]
- NHS. Vaginal Ring [Internet]; 2021. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/contraception/vaginal-ring/ [Accessed 26th April 2022]
- NHS. Intrauterine device (IUD) [Internet]; 2021. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/contraception/iud-coil/ [Accessed 26th April 2022]
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) [Internet]; 2022. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/fasd/facts.html [Accessed 26th April 2022]
- NHS. How effective is contraception at preventing pregnancy? [Internet]; 2017. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/contraception/how-effective-contraception/ [Accessed 22nd June 2022]
‘Useful Link’ Resources:
- NHS. Alcohol Support [Internet]; 2019. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/alcohol-advice/alcohol-support/ [Accessed 26th April 2022]
- NHS. Your Contraception Guide [Internet]; 2021. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/contraception/ [Accessed 26th April 2022]
- Planned Parenthood. Birth Control [Internet]; 2022. Available from: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control [Accessed 26th April 2022]