The Dangerous Effects of Mixing Opioids with Alcohol

Opioids and Alcohol: A Dangerous Combination

Combining opioid drugs, whether prescribed or not, with alcohol can have unexpected and dangerous consequences. The best way to protect ourselves, as well as those we care for, is by understanding the risks and taking the proper steps to prevent harm.

Unfortunately, we are currently seeing more overdoses and fatalities due to the influx of fentanyl into our communities. However, fentanyl is not the only culprit. Increasingly, more and more people are mixing drugs, such as oxycodone or morphine, with alcohol, leading to possible respiratory depression and potentially fatal consequences.

Alcohol alone poses significant and serious side effects and, when combined with other drugs, whether illicit or prescription medications, it enhances the effects in unpredictable and dangerous ways. The same is true for opioid medications, such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, and morphine.

Mixing Alcohol and Opioids

Combining alcohol and opioids raises the risk of a potentially life-threatening event known as respiratory depression.

When mixing alcohol and opioid drugs, such as fentanyl, oxycodone, or morphine, the consequences can be severe, if not fatal. Opioids and alcohol are both depressants; combining them raises the risk of a potentially life-threatening event known as respiratory depression. This pulmonary depression creates a dangerous complication in which breathing becomes exceedingly shallow or ceases altogether, leading to a fatal overdose.

Opioid Use Effects on the Body

Pharmaceutical Opioids

Most pharmaceutical opioids, sometimes called narcotics, such as oxycodone, morphine, and hydrocodone, are medications prescribed for pain relief. Opioid drugs work by attaching to specific proteins called receptors, which are located on nerve cells in the brain, spinal cord, gut, and other parts of the body. Once attached, the opioids intercept pain messages, producing an analgesic or pain-relieving effect. While this type of drug effectively relieves pain, it also carries significant risks, particularly dependence and addiction. The risk of addiction is exceptionally high when used to manage chronic pain for an extended period of time.

Illicit Opioids (Fentanyl)

The risks of fentanyl-laced drugs are also a growing concern, with overdose deaths on the sharp increase. This alarming increase in fatalities is primarily due to people being unaware that their drugs include this deadly additive. Illicitly manufactured fentanyl (IMF) is coming in from China and Mexico at unimaginable rates, and this illegal, non-pharmaceutical fentanyl is likely contributing to deaths involving opioids and other street-bought substances.

Source: United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). DEA warns that pills purchased outside of a licensed pharmacy are illegal, dangerous, and potentially deadly.

How Alcohol Affects Your Body

When a person drinks an alcoholic beverage, their bloodstream rapidly distributes the alcohol to the primary organs. It takes, on average, 1 hour for the body to break down one unit of alcohol, depending on an individual’s age, weight, metabolism, and other factors.

The primary ways in which alcohol impacts various parts of the body include:

Brain:

Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways, affecting all aspects of brain function and compromising the individual’s mood, ability to think clearly, their behavior, and coordination.

Heart:

Alcohol consumption, regardless of quantity, over a prolonged period of time can lead to the following cardiac complications:

  • Cardiomyopathy (stretching and drooping of the heart muscle)
  • Arrhythmias
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure

Liver:

One of the organs most severely compromised due to heavy drinking is the liver, with the following conditions occurring most frequently:

  • Cirrhosis
  • Alcoholic hepatitis
  • Fibrosis
  • Fatty liver

Pancreas:

Alcohol drives the pancreas to produce toxic substances, which can eventually lead to pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that, if left untreated, can lead to death.

Immune System:

Continued alcohol intake can also significantly weaken the immune system, making it more likely to contract disease and develop chronic health conditions.

Now, when you consider the destructive potential of opioids and the various adverse consequences of alcohol together, you will see the tremendous risk of harm and, possibly, even death.

Opioids and Alcohol: A Dangerous Combination

Combining opioid drugs with alcohol can have dire consequences. A 2017 study found that taking even one tablet of the opioid oxycodone with a fair amount of alcohol can raise the risk of respiratory depression, particularly in older adults.

When a person uses opioid drugs and alcohol, their breathing rate can become dangerously low, resulting in a lack of brain oxygenation and impaired function. If sufficient oxygen is not received, organs might begin to shut down, leading to serious health complications, including coma or death.

Outlined below are the harmful effects of combining opioids and alcohol:

  • Respiratory depression and arrest
  • Loss of consciousness/fainting
  • Confusion/disorientation
  • Poor motor control
  • Cold/clammy to touch
  • Fingernails and lips have purple/blue color
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slowed breathing and heart rate

If the person has consumed alcohol, opioids, or both, and has had a seizure, collapsed, does not wake up immediately, or has trouble breathing, please call emergency services immediately.

Where to Get Help?

It’s essential to find a treatment program that offers individualized care, tailored to your unique health needs.

Seeking help for opioid or alcohol addiction may seem daunting and possibly overwhelming but, several treatment providers offer information and support. Unfortunately, with the rise of fentanyl overdoses, we are presently experiencing an influx in deceptive marketing and unethical practices by treatment providers whose primary concern appears to be monetary gain, which rightfully leaves those struggling with addiction weary, confused, and distrustful.

Today, more than ever, you need to be informed and knowledgeable when seeking a reputable, responsible, and effective treatment center. Some essential factors to check:

Inpatient Medical Detoxification

Medical detoxification services are always safer in a hospital setting, where the medical staff has the necessary tools and expertise to ease the discomfort of alcohol or drug withdrawal and reduce drug cravings. In addition, ongoing physical health monitoring is an integral part of your recovery process.

**Inquire and research the facility accreditation. Reputable medical facilities are accredited by the Joint Commission (JCHAO), which is an independent, nonprofit organization that bases accreditation on performance standards, along with results, quality, and value.

Specialized Programs

Quality drug and alcohol treatment providers do not take a cookie-cutter approach to care. It’s essential to find a treatment program that offers individualized care, tailored to your unique health needs.

Inpatient Treatment Length

The length of time spent in treatment should be determined by your history, health needs, and progress, rather than a specified number of days. Look for programs that provide multiple levels of care to ensure your stay won’t be longer than necessary, nor your discharge be prior to readiness.

Post-detox Recovery Care

Detoxification treatment typically involves a high level of clinical care, but you should not feel alone when detox ends. It’s essential to have professional inpatient support for at least a few days following medical detoxification to prevent the risk of complications and immediate relapse.

It’s not always obvious which treatment centers are ethical or unethical, so be cautious when researching. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

About WAISMANN METHOD®

Waismann Method is considered the premier treatment center for opioid use disorder. Since 1998, the center has provided proven medical assistance to thousands of patients from all over the world.

Reviewed by Clare Waismann
Clare is a Registered Addiction Specialist (RAS), Substance Use Disorder Certified Counselor (SUDCC), founder of WAISMANN METHOD® Opioid Treatment Specialists & Rapid Detox Center and Domus Retreat®. Mrs. Waismann is an authority and expert on opioid dependence, opioid use disorder, substance dependence, detoxification treatments and detox recovery.

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Alcohol and Opioid Treatment Specialists Since 1998. The center utilizes the most advanced & safest medical techniques available for detoxification.

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WAISMANN METHOD® Opioid Treatment & Rapid Detox

WAISMANN METHOD® Opioid Treatment & Rapid Detox

Alcohol and Opioid Treatment Specialists Since 1998. The center utilizes the most advanced & safest medical techniques available for detoxification.

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