Mixing Alcohol and Opioids: A Dangerous Combination

Mixing Alcohol and Opioids, opioid and alcohol misuse and dependence

Perhaps you have a prescription medication for pain, and after you take a pill you decide to have a drink or two of your favorite alcoholic beverage. Or maybe you are out with friends having a few drinks and one of them gives you a painkiller to take to increase the euphoric feeling you are experiencing. No big deal, right? Wrong. Both of these situations put you in danger of a possibly life-threatening situation. 

According to an article in Science Daily, the results of a study published in Anesthesiology, the American Society of Anesthesiologists’ medical journal, showed that drinking a modest amount of alcohol and taking just one prescription painkiller tablet, such as oxycodone, increases the risk of experiencing respiratory depression. This potentially fatal complication causes extremely shallow breathing and sometimes causes breathing to stop altogether.

What are Opioids?

Opioids are synthetic or partly synthetic, meaning that at least part of their active ingredient is chemically created. They act on the human brain just like opiates, their all-natural counterparts found in the poppy plant. Both opioids and opiates are highly addictive narcotic substances and should never be mixed with alcohol. Opioids can be legal prescription medications commonly used to treat pain, or they can be illegal drugs such as heroin. In addition to blocking the pain messages sent to the brain, opioids make most people feel relaxed and happy. The resulting high makes these drugs highly addictive.

Common Opioids

 Semi-synthetic opioids include:

  • Oxycodone (OxyContin, Oxaydo)
  • Oxycodone and naloxone
  • Oxycodone and acetaminophen (Percocet, Roxicet)
  • Hydrocodone/acetaminophen (Lorcet, Lortab, Norco, Vicodin)
  • Hydrocodone (Hysingla, Zohydro ER)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid, Exalgo)

Opioids made entirely in a lab are synthetic and include:

  • Fentanyl (Actiq, Fentora)
  • Carfentanil
  • Heroin
  • Methadone (Dolophine)
  • Tramadol
  • Dextropropoxyphene
  • Meperidine (Demerol)

There are six natural opioids:

  • Codeine
  • Morphine
  • Narceine
  • Thebaine
  • Papaverine
  • Narcotine

What Happens When You Mix Opioids and Alcohol?

Both opioids and alcohol are depressants that affect the body’s central nervous system, causing the neurons to slow down. When depressants are used in excess, they damage the body and the brain. When opioids and alcohol are used together, they have a synergistic effect, which means that each drug’s effect on the body is enhanced. For example, the combination of alcohol and opioids could intensify the respiratory and sedative effects of both drugs, greatly increasing the risk of unconsciousness, overdose, coma, respiratory arrest, or death.

Additional serious side effects of mixing opioids and alcohol could include an increased risk of developing:

  • Long-term health issues, such as a weakened immune system, liver damage, gastrointestinal issues, kidney problems, cardiovascular issues, neurological problems, and cancer
  • Severe oxygen deprivation. resulting in long-term brain damage
  • Psychological or emotional disorders
  • Alcohol poisoning

There are also many less severe possible side effects of mixing alcohol and opioids. The person may experience an increase in negative feelings and emotions such as sadness, depression, and anxiety. Cognitive changes take place, and the individual may have difficulty paying attention, solving problems, or concentrating. Their ability to think clearly will be impaired, and their overall thinking will be slowed. They will have difficulty developing new memories.

Other possible side effects include:

  • Having trouble controlling spontaneous feelings
  • The loss of emotional inhibitions
  • Increased risk-taking
  • Delusions and hallucinations 

Signs and Symptoms of Opioid with Alcohol Misuse

Here are some of the most common signs and symptoms of opioid and alcohol misuse and dependence:

  • Every time you take an opioid, you also begin drinking and refuse to do one without the other.
  • You associate pleasurable euphoric feelings with using opioids and alcohol.
  • You take the medication in a different way then it was prescribed, such as snorting, chewing, or injecting it. You drink alcohol right after taking the drug.
  • You have your doctor increase the dose of your prescription opioid medication because you have developed a higher tolerance to the drug.
  • You never had a prescription for pain medication, or your prescription for it has run out, but you get the drugs another way, such as buying them from a friend or dealer. When you get them, you take them with alcohol.
  • You are aware of the risks and dangers of alcohol and opioid abuse, but you continue to take them anyway.

If You Need Help

If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to alcohol or drugs, help is available. Getting the right help is essential to your recovery. You are not alone. Call and speak to a trained professional at English Mountain Recovery Center, located in the beautiful Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. We will answer your questions and guide you along the road to recovery.