Aspirin, a longtime antidote for the side effects of drinking, may actually enhance alcohol's effect, researchers at the Bronx Veterans Affairs Medical Center say.

In a report on a study being published in today's issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, the researchers said they found that aspirin significantly lowered the body's ability to break down alcohol in the stomach.As a result, volunteers who took two extra-strength aspirin tablets an hour before drinking had blood alcohol levels 30 percent higher than when they drank alcohol alone. Each volunteer consumed the equivalent of a glass and a half of wine.

That 30 percent could make the difference between sobriety and impairment, said Dr. Charles S. Lieber, medical director of the Alcohol Research and Treatment Center at the Bronx center, who was co-author of the report with Dr. Risto Roine.

Lieber said the newly discovered interaction had many implications for the millions of people who take these two commonly used substances in tandem.

``This is a significant interaction, and people should be aware of it,' Lieber said. ``If they know from past experience that a small amount of alcohol doesn't interfere with their ability to drive or operate machinery, they may be in danger if they have taken aspirin as well.'

The results also suggest that the common strategy of taking aspirin before parties to ward drunk-induced headaches and hangovers is bound to backfire.

``It could get people into trouble and shouldn't be condoned,' N Lieber said. But taking aspirin the next morning may still help relieve a hangover.

The latest study, conducted on five volunteers, comes after years of test-tube and animal research on alcohol breakdown in the stomach, all of which pointed to the aspirin effect.

Lieber's group is now studying the interaction between alcohol and other drugs to combat pain, including acetaminophen and ibuprofen, which are in such over-the-counter medications as Tylenol and Advil.

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