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Kava and Alcohol - Important Information

Kava vs alcohol - which is the better solution - pros and cons?
Kava or alcohol - which is the best solution?

Touted as a non-alcoholic recreational drink, kava has been commonly compared to alcohol. Kava and alcohol can both give people that blissful jolt, that's why they are both used in social settings. As a natural substitute to alcohol, kava has a major advantage of having none of the negative side effects related to excessive drinking of alcohol.

Drinking beer or having a glass of wine, whether for unwinding after a day's work or to have fun with friends, has become a popular routine. Islanders in the South Pacific however, have a better alternative to alcohol. They drink Kava, which according to some, make them the cheeriest and most welcoming people in the world because they are free from anxiety.

Both alcohol and kava helps in purging your inhibitions that make people more loquacious and social. However, unlike alcohol, which causes people to say and do stupid things that can cause trouble and harm, kava keeps your head clear and sharp. It maintains clarity of thinking and sensitivity to others.

After a night of binge drinking wine, beer or cocktails, expect an unpleasant physiological and psychological feeling called a hangover characterized by headaches, vomiting, nausea and general discomfort to the extent that some people swear that they will not drink alcohol anymore. All these maladies however, are inexistent when drinking kava. Many people claim that you get the same great feeling that alcohol gives, without the sore aftermath. In fact, many have claimed that they used to have issues with alcohol and kava seemed to have been the way they used to avoid the bottle. But of course, this is not the case for every one and kava should be avoided if you already have liver disease.

For stress herbalists will often suggest the use of Kava and alcohol never
Kava is one of the few herbals used for relaxation and releasing daily stress

People get drunk to forget their problems. Alcohol makes you drunk and sleepy to momentarily forget problems. In some cases, drunken people might even become hostile, and it is no coincidence that alcohol is often the source of bad behavior. There are millions of cases every year, where alcohol is at the source of a violent event. The government of Vanuatu, one of the major kava producing countries, has encouraged the population to drink more kava because they believe that it can lower family violence. Kava works differently by calming your mind to forget your worries.

The alkaloids found in kava, mainly known as kavalactones have a mild numbing property that seems to permeate the whole body and relax the nerves. Anxiety comes in different forms, from mild to chronic, speak to your natural practitioner to see if kava root is a good option for you.

Kava has been known to reduce muscle tension?
Kava can help reduce muscle tension

Whereas alcohol makes you feel numb through sedation, including your brain thus promoting sleep, kava eases muscle tension to promote relaxation and sleep. This makes it ideal to take or drink when you want to unwind, loosen up, rest, take a break and take it easy on life. This makes Kava for anxiety ideal to use for most people.

A Closer Look at Kava and Reverse Tolerance
A Closer Look at Kava and Reverse Tolerance

Kava has an interesting effect on the body known as reverse tolerance. If drinking alcohol regularly, it will cause your body to become tolerant, and one will have to drink more to get the same effect. The first time someone drinks alcohol, they will feel its effects if enough is drank, but this may not be the case for kava. Many people report that the first time they had a traditional kava shell or session(2-4 shells), they did not notice anything special, or minimal effect. Kava drinkers seem to have an acquired taste. They also have acquired receptors to assimilate the different kavalactones responsible for its effects. So, if you are new to kava and do not feel its effects, it is suggested to try again and give time for the brain to create a pathway to accept and process the kavalactones. It is known as reverse tolerance and is very normal. So if it at first you don't succeed, try again. People that drink kava daily say that they do not need to increase their quantities of kava intake to get the same effect.

Dangers of Drinking Alcohol and Kava

Combining alcohol and kava is not a responsible choice. Some herbalists in the USA and other countries are used to making tinctures, and will often include kava in their formulations. The buyer should avoid tinctures that have a high percentage of alcohol. If alcohol is used as a solvent to extract the root, the alcohol should be evaporated completely before use. Research studies confirmed that combining kava with alcohol increases the risk of liver damage. Hence, kava drinkers are advised not to mix kava with alcohol or to wash-down with alcohol after drinking kava. You may be surprised to find that there is usually no alcohol at a kava bar, but this is a responsible decision. In Vanuatu, kava bars are a common traditional place for relaxation and social gathering, and there are over 300 kava bars in the capital Port Vila, and none serve alcohol. Vanuatu is known to produce and export some of the best quality noble kava in the world.

What are the Effects of Kava and Alcohol on the Liver?

When mixing kava and alcohol, the liver is stressed because it uses similar enzymes (CYP 2E1) to metabolize the same substances. The metabolic alleyways inside the liver are strained, and toxic liver damage may occur. Moreover, the kavalactone compounds also temporarily affect the performance and operation of other liver enzymes named gamma-glutamyl transferase and alkaline phosphatase for processing alcohol. Thus, adding strain on the liver, which can also result in hepatotoxicity if alcohol and kava are combined.


It must be noted, however, that the alcohol primarily causes liver damage. Studies that link kava with liver damage used commercial kava extracts that also included alcohol (or ethanol) in their solvent bases. Meanwhile, studies that involve pure kava showed no link with liver damage. Thus, drinking kava alone in a water suspension does not cause liver damage. However, drinking kava and alcohol together intensifies the ability of alcohol to damage the liver.


Aside from increasing the potential for liver damage, combining alcohol and kava increases the sedative effect and cognitive impairment caused by alcohol. It means drinking alcohol and kava could cause a person to become inebriated quickly. And, instead of improving mental clarity with the use of kava alone, a person would have difficulty remembering, concentrating, or making rational decisions when under the influence. Thus, it is strong advice not to mix kava with alcohol.

Liver Damage from Alcohol Usage

There are a lot of effects of alcohol usage on the human liver. We are going to be having a look at some of these conditions. This is proof that alcohol has negative effects on the human body. Take a look:

    Swelling of the liver:

This condition is called Alcoholic Hepatitis. It happens from extended alcohol consumption. It can lead to a bloated liver and can also cause liver failure which could be fatal if not managed on time.

    Fat around the liver:

The overuse of alcohol leads to an unhealthy build-up of fat around the liver. This build-up limits the ability of the liver to perform its functions.

    Damaged liver:

This is also caused by an overuse of alcoholic substances. It leads to permanent damage to the liver. In this case, the liver needs to be replaced. If there is no transplant available, then the condition is fatal.

With this evidence outlining the negative effects of alcohol, one should maybe consider researching more about kava sooner rather than later.

Other Adverse Interactions of Kava

 kava can interact with any medication and should never be mixed together
Kava could interact with any medication and should never be mixed together

Aside from alcohol, kava showed unfavorable interactions with certain types of drugs. Hence, a person should take notes if they are taking any of these drugs and are planning to drink kava. It is good advice to speak to your doctor or natural practitioner before taking any herbal products, including kava.

    1. Anxiolytics, Sedative medications

CNS depressants and similar drugs that cause sleepiness and drowsiness such as benzodiazepines and barbiturates can be intensified by kava. Thus, it is not advised to drink kava when you are taking these drugs because it may result to extreme sleepiness.

    2. Levodopa and kava

This drug raises dopamine levels in the brain which is used to treat patients with Parkinson disease. Taking kava with Levodopa decreases the latter's effectiveness by wearing off the therapeutic effect of the drug quickly.

    3. Drugs metabolized by CYP450 in the liver

Drugs like amitriptyline, cyclophosphamide lansoprazole, and phenobarbital, among others, will be difficult to be cleansed by the liver when combined with kava thereby potentially increasing the side effects of these medications.

    4. Mixing other drugs with kava

Drugs for mental and nervous disorders such as anticonvulsants and antipsychotics can increase its side effects as kava disrupts the enzymes in the liver that cleanse these types of drugs. Also, diuretics or drugs for increasing waste expelled from the body may become ineffective when combined with kava because kava can disrupt the enzymes in the liver as well.

Warnings about possible negative effects of Kava

    Too much of a good thing can result in consequences. Too much sun could burn, too much coffee could make you jitter, even drinking too much water too fast could have consequences, and its the same with kava. It's important to do everything in moderation so that this way, the body has time to assimilate what it comes in contact with.

    Kava dermopathy

Long term and excessive consumption of kava can result to a skin condition known as kava dermopathy. Kava dermopathy is identified by dry, peeling, cracking, and yellowing of the skin in the palm of the hands and soles of the feet. Extremely heavy kava drinkers can develop tiger stripe-like looking skin rash. This negative reaction to kava is due to its disruption with cholesterol metabolism. However, this skin condition is not deadly and is easily treatable by simply refraining from drinking kava.

    Other health effects

Heavy consumption of kava can also result in weight loss, nausea, heart problems, and loss of appetite, loss of sex drive, eye irritation and indigestion. These ill health effects are revocable simply by the termination of kava consumption.

    When you should avoid kava and alcohol

You should never mix kava and alcohol. It is a good rule of thumb to not drink alcohol 24 hours before and after ingesting kava root. Consult a physician prior to use in the following cases:

  1. You suffer from liver disease
  2. You have epilepsy
  3. You have Parkinson's Disease
  4. You use Levodopa
  5. You use MAO Inhibitors
  6. You use conventional sedatives or hypnotics
  7. You use natural health products that act as sedatives or hypnotics
  8. You use antiplatelet agents
  9. You are pregnant
  10. You are breast feeding

This list is not complete and you should always consult a physician before taking any natural dietary supplement. It is not because something is natural that it is necessarily safe for everyone.


In conclusion, consumption should be done in moderation when it comes to kava if you are a healthy individual and are not on any medication. Upon moderate consumption, its long history of use has proved kava to be beneficial for stress management. Modern research has also indicated its health risk when combined with certain substances. Always consult a health practitioner before taking any new dietary supplements.