June 9, 2023 Alcohol

Understanding the Deadly Mix: Alcohol and Opioids

Mixing alcohol and opioids can have serious consequences. Depressants, like opioids or alcohol, slow the body’s functions and can cause drowsiness, confusion, and difficulty breathing. Consuming both together increases your chance of a deadly overdose.

If you’re prescribed opioids for severe pain management, you must consult with your healthcare provider about the potential risks and alternatives to alcohol. Stay aware and make responsible choices to uphold the safety of your health and well-being.
Young woman reaching for illicit pills. The number of opioid overdose deaths involving alcohol rose by 41 percent from 2019 to 2020

Key Takeaways

Mixing alcohol and opioids can have life-threatening side effects due to their combined impact on your body and brain functions. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Regular use of alcohol and opioids can result in various physical health issues, like liver damage, respiratory issues, and cardiovascular complications.
  • Alcohol and opioid abuse can worsen mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, impair cognitive function, and increase the risk of addiction.
  • Various treatment options are available for alcohol and opioid use, including medical detox, behavioral therapies, MAT, and support groups.
  • Prevention strategies include education and awareness campaigns, early screening and intervention, and addressing the root causes of drug abuse.

Seek help from Indiana Center for Recovery if you suspect you have a drug or alcohol addiction. Need more information? Contact us at (844) 650-0064!

Connection Between Alcohol and Opioid Use

Alcohol and opioid use share a strong, harmful connection. When used individually, both alcohol and opioids have serious effects on the body. Both substances slow down the central nervous system (CNS). Consuming both together amplifies these effects, making them far more dangerous.

The problem worsens when you consider the addictive nature of these substances. Regular, excessive alcohol use can lead to opioid use and vice versa. This cycle can trap a person in ongoing substance misuse. Once caught in this cycle, breaking free becomes increasingly difficult, often requiring professional help.

Moreover, the damage isn’t only physical. Frequent use of alcohol and opioids can lead to mental health problems, including conditions like depression and anxiety, impacting a person’s quality of life significantly.

Some might not notice the harm initially, but it accumulates over time. Every person’s body is unique and may react differently. Therefore, being aware of these dangers and staying informed is vital.

Unveiling the Risks: Alcohol and Opioids

When it comes to the risks of combining alcohol and opioids, understanding the dangers is crucial. Both substances can harm the body on their own, but mixing them can lead to even more severe problems.

From a harmful synergistic effect to an increased chance of opioid overdose, this combination is a major health risk. Let’s explore these risks in more detail.

Dangerous Interactions and Synergistic Effects

Mixing alcohol and opioids leads to a phenomenon called synergism. Synergism happens when two substances combine to create an effect much greater than either could alone.

Both alcohol and opioids are depressants, meaning they slow down the functions of your body, including heart rate and breathing. The danger is that when you mix them, they can drastically reduce these vital functions. This can result in a life-threatening situation, even coma or death.

Increased Likelihood of an Overdose

Overdose chances increase when combining alcohol and opioids. This happens because both substances can suppress breathing, lower consciousness, and impair your ability to move or react.

Symptoms of an overdose can include:

  • Very slow or shallow breathing.
  • Unconsciousness.
  • An inability to respond or wake up.

This is an emergency situation, and immediate medical attention is necessary.

Impairment in Cognitive and Motor Skills

Even used separately, alcohol and opioids can impair your thinking and movement. Alcohol might cause blurred vision, slurred speech, and clumsy movements. Opioids can lead to confusion, drowsiness, and dizziness.

When mixed together, these effects can become even more severe, which can lead to accidents and injuries. This is especially dangerous if you’re driving or using heavy machinery.

Long-term Health Risks

The long-term health risks of mixing alcohol and opioids are another important concern. Regular use can damage nearly every organ in the body, especially the liver, heart, and brain. It can also lead to mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.

Liver Damage and Hepatitis

One major effect of both alcohol and opioids is the harm they can cause to the liver. The liver’s job is to filter harmful substances out of your blood. When you consume alcohol or opioids, your liver has to work overtime. Over time, this can cause serious issues like alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver failure.

Moreover, those who misuse opioids may share needles, increasing their risk of contracting viral hepatitis. This disease can cause inflammation and damage to the liver, adding to the problems caused by substance abuse.

Respiratory Depression and Hypoxia

Respiratory depression is another high risk linked with opioid and alcohol abuse. Both substances slow down your body’s functions, including your breathing. This can lead to respiratory depression, a condition where your breathing becomes dangerously slow or shallow, limiting the amount of oxygen that reaches your brain.

Low oxygen levels, known as hypoxia, can cause serious harm. Hypoxia can lead to short-term issues like confusion and dizziness and long-term problems like brain damage or even death.

Cardiovascular Complications

Alcohol and opioids can also harm your heart. Alcohol can raise your blood pressure, leading to a higher risk of heart disease. Opioids, on the other hand, can lead to a slower heart rate and a drop in blood pressure.

These changes to your cardiovascular system can lead to complications like heart attacks, strokes, and other heart-related issues.

Gastrointestinal Problems

Gastrointestinal problems are another common issue related to alcohol and opioid use. Alcohol can lead to stomach ulcers and pancreas inflammation, while opioids can cause severe constipation. These problems, if left untreated, can significantly impact your quality of life.

Worsening Anxiety and Depression

Alcohol and opioids may provide temporary relief from depression and anxiety, but in the long run, they can make these conditions worse. Both substances can alter your brain’s chemical balance, affecting mood and emotions.

Regular use can lead to feelings of sadness, emptiness, and despair. It can also increase anxiety levels, causing a vicious cycle of using substances to relieve these feelings and then experiencing worse symptoms once the effects wear off.

Diminished Cognitive Function

Alcohol and opioids can harm your cognitive function, too. They affect the brain’s ability to process information, make decisions, and form memories. This can lead to difficulties in school or work and can cause problems in daily life. Prolonged use can cause lasting brain damage and cognitive decline.

Increased Risk of Addiction

One of the biggest mental health risks associated with alcohol and opioids is the potential for addiction. These substances can create feelings of pleasure and chronic pain relief, leading to a desire to keep using them.

Over time, your body can develop a dependence, needing these substances to feel normal. This can lead to addiction, a chronic disease that can cause significant impairment in your life.

Treatment Options: Alcohol and Opioid Addiction

Breaking free from alcohol and opioid use can be a challenging journey, but there are many addiction treatment options available that can help. From medical detox and therapies to medications and support groups, these methods can offer you the medical and emotional support and tools needed to overcome addiction.

Let’s take a more detailed look at these treatment options for opioid and alcohol use disorder:

Medically-Assisted Detoxification

The first step towards recovery often involves detoxification. This process aims to safely remove all traces of alcohol and opioids from your body.

Medically-assisted detox is performed under the supervision of healthcare professionals. They can monitor your condition and manage withdrawal symptoms, making the process as safe and comfortable as possible.

Behavioral Therapies

Therapies can play a crucial role in the addiction recovery process. They aim to change your behaviors and attitudes towards alcohol and opioids, teaching you skills to cope with cravings and avoid relapse. There are several types of behavioral therapies used in treatment.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT helps you identify and change harmful thought patterns that lead to substance use. It teaches you how to cope with situations that might cause you to use alcohol or opioids. This method can empower you to take control of your behaviors and make positive changes.

Contingency Management (CM): CM rewards you for making positive changes, such as staying substance-free or attending therapy sessions regularly. These rewards motivate you to maintain your progress, reinforcing the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.

Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET): MET helps build your motivation to change. It encourages you to set recovery goals and develop a plan. This therapy can be particularly helpful for those who feel uncertain or resistant to treatment.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Certain medications can help manage withdrawal symptoms, reduce cravings, and restore balance in your brain. This is known as medication-assisted treatment (MAT). It’s often used alongside therapy for a comprehensive approach.

Naltrexone: A medicine that blocks the effects of opioids and reduces the desire to drink. It can help you stay sober by taking away the pleasure associated with substance use.

Methadone: A long-acting opioid that helps manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings without causing a high. It helps people gradually transition away from more harmful opioids.

Buprenorphine: A prescription medication that can help manage opioid addiction. It provides a similar effect to opioids but at a safer level, reducing withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

Support Groups

Support groups offer a community of individuals who are also working towards recovery. These groups can provide encouragement, understanding, and practical advice based on personal experiences.

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA): AA is a global fellowship of people recovering from alcohol misuse. They follow a 12-step program focusing on personal growth, accountability, and peer support.

Narcotics Anonymous (NA): Similar to AA, NA supports those recovering from drug addiction, including opioids. They also use a 12-step program.

SMART Recovery: A program that uses scientific research to help individuals overcome addiction. It focuses on self-management, mental balance, and a proactive approach to recovery.

Prevention Strategies for Opioid and Alcohol Use

Prevention plays a crucial role in dealing with alcohol and opioid use. It’s easier to stop these issues before they start rather than try to recover later. Strategies such as education, screening, and addressing root causes can help prevent substance misuse.

Let’s talk about these strategies and how they can make a difference.

Education and Awareness Campaigns

Providing education about the dangers of mixing alcohol and opioids is a crucial step in prevention. Awareness campaigns can help spread knowledge about the harmful effects of these substances and the potential for substance use disorder (SUD).

These campaigns can reach people through schools, community events, and media outlets, delivering information encouraging healthy choices.

Screening and Early Intervention

Another key strategy is early detection. Healthcare providers can screen for signs of substance misuse during regular checkups. By spotting early signs of misuse, professionals can provide advice and support before the issue becomes more serious. Early intervention can involve counseling, therapy, or even medication.

Addressing the Root Causes of Substance Abuse

Substance abuse often stems from deeper issues such as stress, trauma, or mental health conditions. By addressing these root causes, we can help prevent alcohol and opioid misuse. This approach might involve counseling or therapy, community support, or strategies to manage stress.

Healthy Alternatives and Coping Strategies

Providing healthy alternatives can also help prevent substance misuse. This could involve promoting hobbies, physical activities, or other various ways to handle stress and negative emotions. Teaching coping strategies can give people sober tools to deal with life’s challenges without turning to harmful substances.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How does alcohol affect the opioid system?

Alcohol can boost the effects of the opioid system in the brain. It does this by releasing more endorphins, which are chemicals that make us feel good. But it can also slow down our breathing and thinking.
Over time, it can make the opioid system less responsive. This means we might need more alcohol or opioids to feel the same effects, which can lead to addiction. It’s important to remember that too much alcohol or opioids can be very harmful.

Can you take painkillers and drink alcohol?

It’s not safe to mix painkillers and alcohol. Both substances, like your breathing and heart rate, slow down your body’s systems. When you take them together, these effects can be even stronger, which can be very dangerous. It might even cause an overdose. Painkillers and alcohol can also harm your liver.
Therefore, it is crucial to always follow the instructions on your medicine and ask your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions.

How many hours after alcohol can you take painkillers?

It’s best to avoid taking painkillers for several hours after drinking alcohol. But the exact time frame depends on how much you drank and the type of painkiller. For many painkillers, waiting until the next day is safer. If you’ve had a lot of alcoholic drinks, it may stay in your body longer.
Always ask a doctor or a pharmacist when you’re not sure. It’s important not to mix these substances as they can negatively affect your health.

What happens if you drink alcohol and take drugs?

Drinking alcohol while taking drugs can be dangerous. Both can slow down your body and brain, making you think, move, and react more slowly.
When mixed, these effects can increase, leading to serious risks. These include poor judgment, accidents, or health issues like slowed breathing and heart rate. In severe cases, it can cause drug overdose or even death. It’s best to avoid mixing alcohol with drugs to stay safe.