What Are the Effects of Mixing Fentanyl and Alcohol?

Mixing Fentanyl and Alcohol

Fentanyl is a synthetic or man-made opioid medication prescribed for short- and long-term pain management.1 It is available as an injection, a transdermal patch, a lozenge, an orally dissolving film or tablet and a nasally or orally administered spray.

Fentanyl produces effects similar to other opioids, including a sense of euphoria, and the possibility of building a tolerance and subsequent withdrawals. It is estimated to be 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine.2

Over the past decade, fentanyl has drawn concern as the number of overdoses has rapidly increased. A significant number of fentanyl overdoses have been linked to mixing the drug with other drugs, including heroin, cocaine and alcohol.

In an analysis of emergency room visits, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimated that alcohol was involved in almost one-fifth of opioid emergency room visits, suggesting that the combination of opioids, such as fentanyl, and alcohol poses dangerous risks.3

Side Effects of Taking Fentanyl with Alcoholic Drinks

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Fentanyl is considered to be stronger than other opioids, including morphine and heroin.1,2 Mixing opioids, such as fentanyl, with alcohol can increase the drug’s effects.

Alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant that can lead to a sense of pleasure and relaxation. While alcohol may be relatively safe when consumed in moderate amounts and in low-risk situations, it can be dangerous when taken in large amounts and when mixed with other drugs.

Side effects of combining fentanyl with other drugs like alcohol may include:1

  • Drowsiness and fatigue.
  • Slowed breathing.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Confusion.
  • Constipation.
  • Euphoria.
  • Increased tolerance.
  • Death.

Consuming fentanyl and alcohol together increases a person’s risk for a condition known as respiratory depression, where a person’s breathing rate slows to a point that inadequate oxygen exchange occurs.4 This condition can progress to a point of respiratory arrest, and may lead to death in some cases.

People who inject fentanyl, take it in high doses or have serious concurrent medical conditions may be at higher risk of respiratory depression and fatal overdose.

Fentanyl overdose is a serious concern for both prescription and recreational street users. Between 2000 and 2014, the number of deaths linked to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl increased nearly 80%.5 Toxicology reports of fentanyl overdose victims indicate that both prescription fentanyl (in various forms, sold under different trade names) and illegally made fentanyl produced in secret laboratories can lead to an overdose.

Treatment for Addiction to Fentanyl and Alcohol

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You may be addicted to fentanyl and alcohol if you experience 2 or more of the following:6

  • You use more than intended.
  • You have tried to cut down but were unsuccessful.
  • You spend a long time using the drug or recovering from it.
  • You experience strong urges.
  • You find it difficult to keep up with your other responsibilities.
  • You continue to use even when it negatively impacts your relationships.
  • You have given up on important activities and hobbies.
  • You use in dangerous situations.
  • You continue to use despite it affecting your health.
  • You use more in order to feel its effects.
  • You experience withdrawal symptoms when stopping.

Abruptly stopping alcohol and fentanyl can be dangerous due to some potentially severe withdrawal symptoms. Seeking the support of a treatment program or addiction professional can ensure a safer detox and more successful recovery.

Treatment Options

Many different treatment programs are available to assist with recovering from a fentanyl and alcohol addiction:

  • Inpatient programs allow clients to reside in a treatment facility and receive intensive therapy for a period of time. Most inpatient programs offer group, individual, and some family therapy.
  • Outpatient programs offer therapy for a few hours per week while clients live at home or a sober living facility.
  • Detox centers are staffed with medical professionals who help clients through the withdrawal process by monitoring symptoms. This allows for a safe and more comfortable detox. Most clients spend 5-10 days in a detox center before transitioning to an inpatient or outpatient program.

Finding a treatment center can feel daunting since there are many different approaches to treating addiction. Evidence-based approaches have been well studied and determined to be effective in research trials. Evidence-based approaches to treating addiction to opioids like fentanyl and alcohol include:7

  • Pharmacotherapy: Medications are often prescribed to manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings for people quitting alcohol and opioids. Buprenorphine and naltrexone are two common medications prescribed for opioid addiction. Naltrexone, acamprosate and disulfiram are FDA-approved for the treatment of alcohol addiction. Research has found that medications for opioid and alcohol addiction are most effective when combined with psychological treatment.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is an effective treatment for alcohol and opiate addiction. It involves helping people anticipate thoughts, feelings and situations that may trigger a relapse, and develop plans for coping with triggers and negative feelings.
  • 12-Step Therapy: This approach focuses on the principles of 12-step self-help groups such as Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous. The 3 key aims of 12-step therapy are:
    • Acceptance of having a chronic disease.
    • Surrendering to a higher power.
    • Maintaining active involvement in a 12-step program.
  • Community Reinforcement Approach (CRA): CRA is a treatment program that focuses on increasing life skills, improving family relationships and increasing activities and hobbies in order to decrease the appeal of drugs and alcohol. CRA uses education, therapy, and rewards for staying sober in order to help clients stop using.

If you’re concerned that the co-abuse of alcohol and fentanyl is impacting your health, or that of someone close to you, substance abuse treatment programs can help. Call us at 1-888-919-3845  to speak with a treatment support advisor about your recovery options.

Sources

  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). Fentanyl.
  2. Volkow, N. (2006). Fentanyl use in combination with street drugs leading to death in some cases.
  3. Jones, C.M., Paulozzi, L.J. & Mack, K.A. (2014). Alcohol involvement in opioid pain reliever and benzodiazepine drug abuse–related emergency department visits and drug-related deaths — United States, 2010. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 63(40), 881–885.
  4. World Health Organization. (2014). Management of substance abuse: Information sheet on opioid overdose.
  5. Rudd, R.A., Aleshire, N., Zibbell, J.E. & Gladden, R.M. (2016). Increases in drug and opioid overdose deaths – United States, 2000-2014. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 64(50), 1378–1382.
  6. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
  7. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide.
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