Alcohol can have serious side effects by itself, and it can enhance the side effects of other drugs, like prescription medications, in unpredictable and dangerous ways. The same is true for opioid medications, such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, and morphine. These strong prescription painkillers are synthesized from different opiate alkaloid precursor substances, which are derived from the opium poppy. These medications can help post-surgical or post-injury pain, or people suffering from chronic pain; however, when they are abused or taken in combination with other drugs, like alcohol, they can threaten the individual’s health.
Alcohol is a very common, legal substance that can cause intoxication when ingested in large quantities. In the US, only adults over the age of 21 can legally drink alcohol. A single drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor like rum or scotch, per hour. Drinking more than one serving of alcohol per hour exceeds the liver’s ability to process the substance and can lead to intoxication. Drinking more than 4-5 drinks in a two-hour time period is considered binge drinking, which can lead to alcohol poisoning and death.Symptoms of alcohol intoxication include:
If a person takes opioid prescription painkillers as their doctor has prescribed, they should not experience too many intoxicating symptoms. In general, opiates can make a person sleepy, chronically fatigued, or constipated, but there should not be too many side effects unless the drug is taken in a larger-than-prescribed quantity, or if the prescription is too high and needs adjustment.
Symptoms of opiate intoxication include:
If a person receives a prescription for opioid painkillers, it is important not to drink while also taking this strong painkilling medication. Side effects of this drug interaction can be very serious and life-threatening.
When alcohol and strong prescription medications like hydrocodone, oxycodone, or morphine are mixed, the combination can be dangerous. Combining alcohol with opioids can lead to side effects such as:
Alcohol and prescription painkillers like hydrocodone, oxycodone, and morphine are particularly deadly when individuals mix them. This type of overdose has been on the rise due to an increase in opioid drug addictions in the US in the past few decades. Many people have become addicted to prescription painkillers that are based on hydrocodone, oxycodone, and morphine, and sometimes, people who become addicted to these drugs also abuse alcohol. That being said, even if a person takes a painkiller as prescribed and drinks a small amount of alcohol, the drugs can enhance each other’s effects, making dangerous intoxication and overdose all the more likely.
If a person takes these two substances together, both alcohol and the opioid medications can slow down the person’s breathing rate. Without enough oxygen, the brain will begin to shut down organ systems, and the person can eventually suffer brain damage or death due to lack of oxygen.
An individual who mixes these drugs can also fall into a coma, stop breathing, and die.
Alcohol can enhance the sedating effects of opioid medications, leading to increased drowsiness and, eventually, loss of consciousness.Mixing alcohol and hydrocodone, oxycodone, or morphine can increase the risk of people losing their balance and suffering severe falls. This is particularly true in older adults, whether they just take an opioid painkiller, just drink alcohol, or combine the two substances. These drugs can also, either individually or together, lead to serious memory loss or increase dementia’s effects. Loss of coordination is also dangerous, and of course, individuals should not drive while under the influence from any substance.
The most life-threatening side effect of mixing alcohol and hydrocodone, oxycodone, or morphine involves depressed breathing.
While naloxone can make all the difference in saving someone’s life in the midst of an opioid overdose, it does nothing to reverse the effects of alcohol poisoning. Although it is important for a person suffering from alcohol poisoning to get emergency medical assistance as soon as possible, there are no medications that reverse the poisoning. There are other methods medical professionals use to treat alcohol poisoning, such as activated charcoal, pumping the person’s stomach, and supportive care. People who combine alcohol and opioid medications like hydrocodone, oxycodone, or morphine put themselves at very high risk of a quick, tough-to-treat overdose, which increases their risk of death.If a person has a history of alcohol dependence, addiction, or abuse, and their doctor prescribes opioid painkillers, it is important for the patient and the doctor to discuss the potential dangers of this prescription. It is also important for doctors to inform their patients about the dangers of mixing alcohol and opioid medications, because even a social drink could put the person at risk of serious side effects while they take their prescription as directed.