Modafinil is a widely used smart drug and cognitive enhancer. It’s the top choice in study aids for students. It is also a favorite tool for many professionals working on impossible deadlines or trying to get ahead.
For both those demographics (and indeed in many more), it’s common to find modafinil and alcohol mixed together. Whether it’s grabbing a beer after a tough day at work, or partying all night after a final exam, it happens all the time.
You should, however, always think twice before combining alcohol with psychoactive substances, modafinil including. Or, if you insist on doing it anyway, at the very least understand what you’re getting into and plan ahead.
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The Science Behind Mixing Alcohol and Modafinil
Both modafinil and alcohol have a significant effect on two of your brain’s neurotransmitters: GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) (1)(2) and glutamate (3)(2).
GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter of the brain. It helps regulate anxiety (4), energy levels (5), and sleep (6). Too much GABA in the system makes you sleepy and generally less active.
Glutamate is a powerful neurotransmitter responsible for sending signals between the brain’s nerve cells. It is vital to and improves learning and memory (7). It’s also essential to human brain development and helps trigger nerve impulses.
GABA and glutamate are related in form and function (8).
The two neurotransmitters have a homeostatic relationship that maintains internal stability and balances brain activity. Both play a vital role in different sides of brain activity.
Low levels of GABA lets other neurotransmitters fire, which may lead to stimulation and can cause anxiety by overwhelming the brain (4). Anxiety and sleep-related issues may also be caused by high levels of glutamate (9).
Modafinil restrains GABA production (1) while increasing glutamate levels (3) (which, coincidentally, accounts partially for its wakefulness and cognitive enhancement effects).
Alcohol, on the other hand, increases GABA activity (2) while decreasing glutamate production (2).
Simply put, the modafinil alcohol interaction is pulling your brain in opposite directions.
Negatives of Mixing Modafinil and Alcohol
You can now probably see how modafinil and alcohol can worsen each other’s side effects. This is why using both at the same time is not recommended.
Given modafinil’s long half-life (10) of, on average, 12 hours, you should technically wait a whole day for it to wear off to drink safely. If you don’t, below are some of the potential problems you may experience.
Could Get You Sick
Many people report nausea and very strong hangovers the day after mixing modafinil with alcohol (11). Both substances dehydrate you, so you’re doubling up on the effect there.
You would have to drink copious amounts of water to stay adequately hydrated when mixing the two. And, let’s face it, no one ever does.
Modafinil also leads to a lack of appetite (12), which translates to an emptier stomach. That doesn’t exactly set you up for responsible drinking and potentially increases the effects of alcohol.
May Get You Drunk Quicker
It’s a common belief that modafinil makes it near impossible for you to get inebriated (13). This leads some to drink substantial amounts over a short amount of time.
In reality, however, your body still gets drunk. Your mind just doesn’t feel the effects.
You don’t slur words. But, your reaction times and impulse controls are just as negatively affected as when not drinking on modafinil.
As you can imagine, this false feeling of sobriety combined with fast alcohol intake can lead to some grave consequences.
Can Lead to Overdrinking
Going hand in hand with the previous point, feeling sober when you’re not can easily lead to alcohol overconsumption.
You don’t feel the effects in your head, assume everything’s fine, and continue to drink. This can easily lead to alcohol poisoning and, at the very least, a horrific hangover the following day.
Results in Poor Sleep
Sleeping on modafinil under the best of circumstances can be difficult. It is, after all, a wakefulness-promoting agent.
Alcohol also decreases the quality of sleep (14).
The combination of those two effects does not translate to a good night’s rest.
As previously mentioned, both substances also cause dehydration, an effect which is amplified when taking the two together. And dehydration is yet another detrimental factor to sleep quality (15).
Positives of Mixing Alcohol and Modafinil
For all the negatives combining modafinil with alcohol may bring, there are a few potential benefits to it too. The caveat is you need to have a good grasp of what you’re getting yourself into (which, hopefully, you now do).
For many people, knowing that a day has gone to waste can be a depressing feeling. And so often, after a night of heavier drinking, that is the case the following day.
Although it should still be approached with caution, using modafinil the day after consuming alcohol can help you win your fight against procrastination.
It will let you be productive within a few hours of waking up instead of spending most of the day in bed.
Increases Alcohol Tolerance
Not feeling like you’re getting drunk while on modafinil was described as a negative. But, it can also be a good thing.
Even though drinking will still affect you physically, keeping a clear head through the process can be an advantage.
Being able to keep count of how many drinks you’ve had. Being able to make sure your friends aren’t overdoing it and get home safely. Not blacking out. Not misplacing your wallet.
Having a clear mind can ensure all those things.
Again, though, it’s critical you’re aware that the rest of your body is still getting drunk. Otherwise, things can go very wrong very quickly.
Ways of Mixing Modafinil and Alcohol
Despite the few potential advantages of doing so, combining alcohol with modafinil should really just be avoided.
However, if you insist on doing it anyway, proper dosage and timing are key. And both will vary depending on when you drink in relation to using modafinil.
Drinking Immediately After Modafinil
If you drink right after taking modafinil, there is no other reason for taking the latter besides to drink more without getting drunk. As already discussed, that’s generally a bad idea.
If you still choose to use modafinil for recreational purposes in this way, at least stick to the lowest possible dose. About 50 mg is all you need to feel alert and build up resistance to alcohol while minimizing side effects like headaches and severe dehydration.
Even with such a low dose, however, you’ll still have a hard time falling asleep when it’s time to do so.
Be very mindful of not ending up in a situation where you’re so drunk your body wants to pass out but your mind can’t. It’s a dangerous place to be.
Drinking in the Evening After Modafinil in the Morning
Taking modafinil in the morning for productivity and going drinking that night is much safer than the previous case. But, caution is still in order.
Though the modafinil will be mostly out of your system by the time you crack your first beer, you may still feel an afterglow (for the lack of a better term). Even if 12 hours have passed, time your drinking carefully.
The effects of modafinil will eventually completely disappear, but exactly when is not predictable. If you’ve had too much booze by that point, it may overpower you very quickly. A pleasant experience it will not be.
Drinking the Day After Taking Modafinil
This is hands down the best and safest way of using modafinil when it comes to drinking (if you must do it at all).
As your liver works on getting the alcohol out of your system, modafinil kicking in will further help that process. It will encourage physical actions, being productive, and deter you from lying in bed all day.
Stay properly hydrated by consuming as much water as you can. Last night’s drinking will most certainly have dehydrated you. Taking modafinil just amplifies that.
Stacking alcohol with modafinil is far from beneficial for your productivity or ability to study. While taking modafinil the day after drinking can have some advantages, it needs to be done very responsibly. And even then, it’s not recommended.
The bottom line is this.
Modafinil and alcohol are two contradictory substances. They don’t play nicely. There’s a time and a place for each of them, just not together.
- Ferraro L, et al. The vigilance promoting drug modafinil decreases GABA release in the medial preoptic area and in the posterior hypothalamus of the awake rat: possible involvement of the serotonergic 5-HT3 receptor. Neurosci Lett. 1996 Dec 6;220(1):5-8.
- Niladri Banerjee. Neurotransmitters in alcoholism: A review of neurobiological and genetic studies. Indian J Hum Genet. 2014 Jan-Mar; 20(1): 20–31.
- Ferraro L, et al. The antinarcoleptic drug modafinil increases glutamate release in thalamic areas and hippocampus. Neuroreport. 1997 Sep 8;8(13):2883-7.
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- Anant B. Patel, et al. The contribution of GABA to glutamate/glutamine cycling and energy metabolism in the rat cortex in vivo. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Apr 12; 102(15): 5588–5593.
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- C. Ballas, D.F. Dinges. Stimulant and Wake-Promoting Substances. Encyclopedia of Neuroscience. 2009.
- u/HydraSmores. Headache – Modafinil or hangover? Retrieved January 24, 2019, from https://www.reddit.com/r/afinil/comments/2kp09y/headache_modafinil_or_hangover/
- Perez GA, et al. Modafinil decreases food intake in humans subjected to simulated shift work. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2008 Oct;90(4):717-22. doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2008.05.018.
- u/TheMatrixKid. Modafinil and Alcohol experience. Retrieved January 24, 2019, from https://www.reddit.com/r/afinil/comments/5u9peh/modafinil_and_alcohol_experience/
- Soon-Yeob Park, et al. The Effects of Alcohol on Quality of Sleep. Korean J Fam Med. 2015 Nov; 36(6): 294–299.
- Aristotelous P, et al. Effects of controlled dehydration on sleep quality and quantity: A polysomnographic study in healthy young adults. J Sleep Res. 2018 Feb 7. doi: 10.1111/jsr.12662.
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