Alcohol and opioids are two unique types of substances. But despite their differences, the two substances function in similar ways. Both opioids and alcohol are central nervous system depressants, which both causes the effects the user is chasing and puts them at risk. When the central nervous system is depressed, key bodily functions are impacted, including respiration and general brain function. Combining multiple depressants increases these effects, which is why mixing opioids and alcohol comes with a high risk of grave injury and death.
Alcohol And Opioid Combination Health Effects
Combining drinking and opioids is quite common. For users, it is easy to think of the act as harmless. Many people who are addicted to opioids use prescription drugs rather than street drugs.
Still, a substance being legal does not mean that it is without risk. It is widely acknowledged within the medical community that alcohol alone is quite dangerous. There are numerous medications that can have dangerous interactions with alcohol. However, few carry as high of a risk as opioids. It is important that anyone considering combining opioid and alcohol use know the potential effects of doing so.
Short-Term Effects of Mixing Alcohol and Opioids
- Mental confusion
- Lowered blood pressure
- Irregular heartbeat
- Cardiovascular instability
- Suppressed neural firing
- Low body temperature
- Loss of coordination
- Loss of consciousness
- Shallow breathing
- Respiratory arrest
Long-Term Effects of Mixing Alcohol and Opioids
- Brain damage
- General organ damage
- Increased risk of cancer
- Increased risk of stroke
- Increased risk of heart attack
- Increased risk of liver damage
- Decreased immune system function
- Chronic cognitive impairment
- Chronic constipation
- Impaired vision
- Unstable moods
- Overdose and death
No Safe Opioid Exists
It is common for users to tell themselves that the opioid they are using can be combined with alcohol without a high level of risk. For example, tramadol is often thought of by addicts as being a safer opioid to take, but tramadol and alcohol combined can kill. It is no less hazardous than mixing “harder” opioids, such as combining hydrocodone and alcohol. Any alcohol and an opioid combination is incredibly dangerous.
Risks With Other Drug Classes
It is important that users understand that the risks of mixing liquor with other substances do not go away when the substances used is not an opioid. For example, Vyvanse and alcohol is a deadly combination, but the drug is a stimulant. Other stimulants are also risky. In combination with alcohol, barbiturates can lead to overdose. Benzodiazepines also have a high risk of overdose when used while drinking. As such, Soma and alcohol should be avoided.
Even drugs often thought of as low-risk can combine with liquor in a dangerous manner. Mushrooms and alcohol can cause mental reactions like psychosis. Antibiotics are another class of drugs that can have unexpected interactions. This is why amoxicillin and alcohol should never be combined. Ultimately, while opioids produce perhaps the greatest risk, mixing drinking and drugs is never a good idea.
Statistics on Opioids and Drinking
While it is clear that abusing alcohol and opioids separately is dangerous, and the risk is even greater when they are combined, the concept can seem abstract on its own. However, statistics help bring the dangers into focus. Here are some of the most important data to consider regarding mixing drinking and opioids.
- Every year in the U.S., there are roughly 63,000 overdose deaths. Of those, about 66 percent involve opioids.
- The majority of these opioid fatalities involve other substances, including alcohol.
- In 19 percent of prescription-opioid-related emergency room visits, alcohol is also present.
- Veterans and the homeless have the highest risk of overdose from mixing opioids.
- Amongst the most common prescription opioid and alcohol mixtures are Vicodin and alcohol.
- The most dangerous street opioid and alcohol combination is heroin and alcohol.
- Because street drugs are often mixed with it, fentanyl and alcohol overdose is also a great risk.
- It is estimated that 7 out of 10 teens who abuse opioids mix them with alcohol.
Together, these statistics paint a dire picture for those mixing opiates and drinking. Anyone who is doing so should seek treatment immediately to prevent overdose and death.
Signs of Mixing Opioids and Alcohol
In many cases, users do not seek help on their own. This makes it imperative that loved ones can spot the signs that someone is combining these two substances. Some things to look for include:
- Having an active prescription for an opioid and also openly drinking
- Bringing up alcohol and opioids in conversation
- Being on opioids long term, as it is hard to abstain for too long
- Acknowledging a desire to quit one or both substances but not doing so
- Seeking excuses to use one or both substances
- Sudden behavior changes (related to alcohol opioid receptors altering in the brain)
- Reduced performance at school or work
- Hiding drugs and alcohol in the workplace or at school
- Reduced desire to socialize or a change of social group
- A sudden uptick in accidents, such as bumps, falls, or even car accidents
- Experiencing memory blackouts
- Seeming very drunk even when not drinking very much
- Having strong hangovers despite a lack of heavy drinking
If these signs are noticed, the user should be guided to seek treatment for addiction immediately. Without intervention the risk of overdose is high.
Emergency Care for Opioid and Alcohol OverdoseTreatment for an overdose will include several things. First, the user will be given a medication to counteract the opioid, such as naloxone. Then, they may have their stomach pumped to get rid of any substances that have yet to be digested. At this point or possibly before, they will be given an IV that will get fluids into their system, helping the body flush out the dangerous chemicals. Once the person is stabilized, they will be released, either to go home or to enter a rehabilitation program.
Treating Opioid and Alcohol Addiction
When someone is addicted to multiple substances, the recovery process is a bit more complicated. However, there are many rehabilitation centers that specialize in this. It is vital that the user seeks a center that understands this more complicated addiction as rehabs that do not can make mistakes. For example, alcohol intensifies suboxone, which is why it is imperative to inform the rehabilitation specialist about all the substances consumed to give a full understanding of how treating the opioid addiction might be impacted by the alcohol addiction.
Of course, to get accurate treatment, the patient must be open and honest about how they are using opioids and liquor. With honesty and commitment, the right treatment facility can help users get and stay clean.
For those mixing codeine and alcohol or using any other opiate while drinking, the risks are high. However, treatment can help end the addiction and eliminate the dangers it brings. The right treatment facility is out there. With a little help, all addicts can find the care they need.