What Are the Effects of Mixing Opioids and Alcohol?

Opioids (Vicodin, Percocet, OxyContin) are prescription pain medications that act on the central nervous system and reduce the perception of pain. Because they act on the brain’s reward system, they also produce feelings of well-being and euphoria, making them highly addictive for some people. Opioids are the most abused of all prescription drugs, with an estimated 26 to 36 million people abusing opioids worldwide.1

Prescription opioids have high potential for abuse, especially when taken in a way other than prescribed. People often mix opioids with alcohol to enhance the euphoric high of the opioid and lower inhibitions even further, but the consequences of doing so can be dangerous. Mixing alcohol and opioids can cause serious and permanent health problems and significantly increase the risk of overdose and death.1,2

Side Effects of Taking Opioids with Alcohol

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Opioid abuse can cause long-term brain damage, especially when combined with alcohol and other central nervous system depressants. When respiration is depressed, it affects the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain. This condition is referred to as hypoxia, and it can induce a coma and cause long-term brain damage.3

Both opioids and alcohol abuse can damage the brain and body, and the negative impacts are multiplied when these substances are used in combination. Combining alcohol with opioids intensifies the sedative effects of both, increasing the risk of unconsciousness, coma, overdose, and death.1

Short-Term Effects

The short-term effects of taking opioids with alcohol include:3

  • Drowsiness.
  • Dizziness.
  • Mental confusion.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Slowed or difficulty breathing.
  • Numbness.
  • Apathy.
  • Impaired motor control.
  • Memory problems.
  • Unusual behavior.
  • Slowed pulse rate.
  • Low body temperature.
  • Low blood pressure.

Long-Term Effects

Long-term effects of mixing opioids and alcohol include:3

  • Chronic constipation.
  • Irritability.
  • Mood swings.
  • Impaired vision.
  • Increased risk of overdose and death.
  • Liver disease.
  • Complicated withdrawal syndrome.

Treatment for Addiction to Opioids and Alcohol

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It’s important to seek professional help for the treatment of addiction to opioids and alcohol. Both substances can create physical dependence over time. When you stop using opioids or alcohol, you will likely experience many withdrawal symptoms, which can be severe and life threatening. Your doctor can prescribe medications to help lessen withdrawal symptoms.4,5

It’s possible that some medications used to treat alcohol withdrawal symptoms could negatively interact with the medications used to treat opioid addiction and vice versa.

If you’re seeking treatment for both opioid addiction and alcoholism, your doctor may prescribe Naltrexone, an antagonist medication that prevents opioids from activating their receptors and helps people reduce heavy drinking.4,5

If you're struggling with addiction to opioids and alcohol, you should seek treatment for both addictions simultaneously. In cases of co-occurring addiction, it’s important to make sure that treatment protocols help facilitate the proper treatment of both addictions.

Treatment is available on both an inpatient and outpatient basis. However, inpatient treatment is usually the most effective course of treatment for co-occurring opioid addiction and alcoholism.

Inpatient treatment provides around-the-clock care in a residential facility for approximately 30 to 90 days. During inpatient treatment, you'll have limited access to the outside world so that you can focus solely on healing and recovery.

Outpatient treatment is also available and is preferred by people who wish to continue their usual daily schedules and life activities, such as working, going to school, and caring for loved ones.4,5,6

Treatment for addiction to opioids and alcohol on an inpatient or outpatient basis will typically include some combination of:4,5,6

  • Medically assisted detox.
  • Medications to reduce cravings and prevent relapse.
  • Individual counseling and therapy.
  • Group/family counseling and therapy.
  • 12-step programs/support groups.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
  • Interventions.
  • Motivational incentives.
  • Community reinforcement.
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT).
  • Art/recreation therapy.
  • Relapse prevention.
  • Aftercare.

Hotline to Call

Please call our 24-hour hotline at 1-888-919-3845  or fill out our contact form if you need information about treatment for addiction to opioids or alcohol for yourself or for a loved one who’s experiencing the effects of mixing opioids and alcohol.

Sources

  1. Volkow, N. (2014). America’s addiction to opioids: Heroin and prescription drug abuse. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  2. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2014). Mixing Alcohol with Medicines.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). What are the possible consequences of opioid use and abuse?
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). Effective Treatments for Opioid Addiction.
  5. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2014). Treatment for alcohol problems: Finding and getting help.
  6. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). Principles of drug addiction treatment: A research-based guide (3rd ed.).
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