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Harry drives a red Porsche. That's probably why the policeman pulled him over -- and the fact he was driving 64 in a 55 mph zone.

When the officer asked Harry to take a breath test, he was highly indignant. Yes, Harry admitted he had a few glasses of wine at a holiday party. But he knew that was not enough to make him impaired, let alone drunk.

To Harry's amazement, his blood alcohol test came back positive and he was arrested for DWI (driving while intoxicated).

What did Harry in may have been the combination of aspirin for a headache, Tagamet for an ulcer and the alcohol in the wine. Both aspirin and Tagamet (cimetidine) affect alcohol metabolism to increase levels in the bloodstream.

What might have been, under normal conditions, a safe amount of alcohol can be turned into an intoxicating dose by other drugs.

New research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association demonstrates that two extra-strength aspirin tablets increased alcohol levels by over 25 percent.

Normally, alcohol is partially destroyed in the stomach by an enzyme. Aspirin interferes with the enzyme so that it does not break down alcohol as efficiently. Stomach medicine such as Tagamet and Zantac (ranitidine) also affect this enzyme and may make a moderate amount of alcohol more intoxicating.

Acetaminophen (Anacin-3, APAP, Panadol or Tylenol) is easier on the stomach, but regular use in combination with alcoholic beverages increases the risk of liver damage.

People who don't usually drink may get taken by surprise during holiday parties. A person who is using a nitroglycerin patch to control angina may not appreciate the fact that alcohol can make him feel dizzy if he stands up too quickly.

Equally, a person using a sedative or anti-anxiety agent such as Xanax (alprazolam) or Tranxene (clorazepate) can become unsteady and unsafe behind the wheel with just a small amount of alcohol.

There are many other medications that are incompatible with alcohol. If you would like a copy of "Graedons' Guide to Drugs That Interact With Alcohol," send a large (No. 10), self-addressed, stamped envelope and $1 to: Graedons' People's Pharmacy, Dept. A-9, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, N.C. 27717-2027.

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