Alcohol and Prescription Opioids

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Alcohol and Prescription Opioids_

Have you ever done something you weren’t supposed to, even though you were warned that it could get you into trouble? Mixing prescription opioids and alcohol is not only cautioned against, but the trouble it causes can be both psychological and neurological, damaging to internal organs, or even fatal. These two substances can even cause other effects like intensified drunk and further inability to rationalize.

Some people may find it hard to follow the warning labels when they’re trapped in the haze of an addiction. And it can be easy to try anything once; especially when you see someone else do it. After the first time couple times mixing alcohol and prescription opioids, it becomes less out of fun and more out of necessity or habit.

How Do People Abuse Alcohol?

Alcohol abuse is drinking too much, binge drinking, or coping with emotional or physical problems with booze. Binge drinking for men is drinking five or more standard drinks in two hours, whereas for women it’s four or more drinks in two hours. Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can lead to serious health issues for the brain, heart, liver, pancreas, immune system, and can even lead to cancer (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism – NIAAA).

Alcohol and Prescription Opioids_Binge Drinking

Some people will find that because of the nature of the drug, they can’t stop drinking once they’ve started, or can’t hold up to resolutions to stop drinking. Maybe this is you. How many times have you proclaimed, “I’m never drinking again!”? Sometimes just stopping can prove to be ridiculously hard, and if you’re suffering from an alcohol use disorder or alcoholism your body and mind are working against you with physical dependence and cravings.

Signs Of An Alcohol Use Disorder

It can be scary to find out that you have a drug or alcohol problem, but the truth is that it’s better to know about the problem as soon as possible so you can take care of it. Some of the frequently asked questions from the NIAAA can help you determine whether or not you have an alcohol use disorder.

  • Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer than you intended?
  • More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
  • Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the aftereffects?
  • Experienced craving — a strong need, or urge, to drink?
  • Found that drinking — or being sick from drinking — often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
  • Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
  • Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
  • More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?
  • Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
  • Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
  • Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating? Or sensed things that were not there?

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What Are The Different Prescription Opioids And How Are They Abused?

In the world of medicine, prescription opioids are intended (and effective) to treat severe pain, but in the world of drug abuse, the high they create is just as sought after. One of the biggest problems is that people can become dependent on opioids even if they have a prescription. Our minds just work that way, and if a substance makes us feel good, we’re more likely to abuse it. Like with alcohol, people abuse opioids by using them any way other than what they’re meant for—whether that means taking more than you’re supposed to take, using a prescription that isn’t yours, or snorting, injecting, or mixing them with alcohol.

Alcohol and Prescription Opioids_1.9 Million People

More people abuse opioids than you might think, “in 2014, an estimated 1.9 million people had an opioid use disorder related to prescription pain relievers” (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). So what are the most commonly abused opioids? They can include: Morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone, fentanyl, meperidine, or codeine. These drugs can have adverse effects on your health, and mixing them with alcohol only intensifies it.

Alcohol And Opioids—A Deadly Combination

Mixing illicit drugs like marijuana or cocaine with alcohol is pretty common among teens and adults—some people may even take a prescription opioid before drinking beer to catch a better beer buzz, or to strengthen the potency of a painkiller. One scenario might be a construction contractor who works hard all day, goes home with a back so sore that he can’t stand up straight without being in pain; so he washes some Vicodin down with a beer to ease the pain.

Though the builder’s intentions are good, and his pain is no doubt excruciating—he is doing more harm than good. Studies show that “drinking alcohol while taking powerful opioid painkillers can trigger a potentially deadly respiratory problem” (U.S. National Library of Medicine). In addition to respiratory problems, mixing opioids with alcohol can lead to overdose and death.

What Do Doctors Say About Opioids And Alcohol?

Dr. Albert Dahan, who is head of the Anesthesia and Pain Research Unit at Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, gives a medical perspective on the frequency of this problem. “Unfortunately, we’re seeing more fatalities and people in emergency rooms after having misused or abused legally prescribed opioids, like oxycodone, while having consumed alcohol.”

He goes on to say that, “respiratory depression (where breathing becomes very shallow or stops temporarily) is a potentially fatal complication of opioid use. We found alcohol exacerbated the already harmful respiratory effects of opioids” (U.S. Library of Medicine).

How Many People Overdose On Alcohol And Opioids?

Alcohol and opioids can be dangerous by themselves—so mixing them can’t be good either. “Opioid addiction killed more than 33,000 people in 2015, more than any year on record. Nearly half of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid” (Center for Disease Control and Prevention).

Alcohol and Prescription Opioids_Deaths

These are pretty horrifying statistics, especially when you think that alcohol intensifies that. Even by itself, alcohol can cause a lot problems in a person’s life, the worst of these is death. “An estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States” (NIAAA). Even though alcohol poisoning isn’t the only alcohol-related death, it’s common, so here are a few signs of it:

  • Mental confusion, stupor, coma, or inability to wake up
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slow breathing (fewer than 8 breaths per minute)
  • Irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths)
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature), bluish skin color, paleness

Treatment For Alcohol Use Disorders And Addiction

Treatment for a substance use disorder or alcoholism starts with detoxification, which will give the body a chance to remove all of the unwanted chemicals before starting therapy. It generally includes a healthy diet, a lot of water, rest, vitamins and sometimes a medication like naltrexone to help during withdrawals.

Treatment for a substance use disorder can include dialectical behavior therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, adventure and art therapy, support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, individual and group therapy, and motivational interviewing. The road to recovery will be rocky, and sometimes you’ll want to throw in the towel—we can assure you that it gets better as you go.

How To Find An Alcohol Treatment Center

If you’re suffering from an addiction and don’t know where else to go, we can help you. There are millions of people like you who are scared, feeling hopeless, and tired of feeling sick. If you would like to learn more about alcohol and prescription opioids and how to find treatment, contact us today to speak to one of our addiction specialists.

Contact us today to learn more about alcohol abuse.

For More Information Be Sure To Check Out These Additional Resources From



National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism – Alcohol Facts and Statistics
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism – Alcohol Overdose: The Dangers of Drinking Too Much

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