According to a study published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, an estimated 10 million Americans admitted to misusing or abusing opioids in 2019. And in the same year, nearly 15 million Americans admitted to having an alcohol use disorder, notes a separate study published by the National Institutes of Health. Abusing opioids and alcohol by themselves can have devastating consequences, but together, things can quickly go from bad to worse. And this is something that many Americans know all too well.
Combining Opiates and Alcohol: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
When individuals combine opioids and alcohol, they mask each other’s effects, which increases the risk of overdosing on one or both drugs. Since we are on the topic, it is worth noting that this form of polydrug use is not uncommon in the U.S. Some might even argue that it is growing in popularity, especially among college students. In a recent study, researchers found that a little over 12 percent of undergraduate students admitted to frequently combining opioids, such as Oxycontin, Vicodin, and Percocet, for example, with alcohol.
Along with an increased risk of overdosing, this dangerous drug combination can affect breathing function and increase the risk of coma. Fortunately, these worst-case scenarios don’t usually happen without a few ominous warning signs. Typically, individuals will exhibit symptoms of intoxication first. Some of the symptoms typical of combined opioid and alcohol intoxication include the following:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Changes in blood pressure
- Irregular heart rate and rhythm
- Cardiovascular instability
- Loss of coordination
- Abnormal or uncharacteristic behavior
- Loss of consciousness
- Respiratory arrest
Is It Ever Safe to Consume Opioids and Alcohol at the Same Time?
While some people take opioid drugs recreationally, some do so for legitimate, therapeutic reasons. It just so happens that they also like to have an alcoholic beverage from time to time. And doing so is perfectly okay as long as individuals get the timing right, meaning they need to allow enough time for one drug to get out of their system before adding another one. But here’s the rub, depending upon whether they are long-acting, short-acting, or rapid-onset, opioids can remain in an individual’s system for 6 to 24 hours. Bearing this in mind, individuals should allow for an equal amount of time to pass before consuming any alcoholic beverage. In addition to whether an opioid is characterized as long-acting, short-acting, or rapid-onset, other factors can dictate how long the drug remains in someone’s blood, including
- The number of pills or the overall dose of an opioid drug an individual consumes at once
- How long an individual has been taking opioids
- How much an individual weighs and the overall speed of their metabolism
- The presence of other drugs already in the body
- Age, ethnicity, and gender
The Truth About How Polydrug Use Increases the Risk of Addiction
Even if someone is lucky enough to avoid experiencing the side effects commonly associated with combining alcohol and opioids, the chances of developing an opioid addiction are remarkably high. And this, again, is because these drugs, when taken together, can mask the effects of the other. As a result, to achieve a euphoric high, many people have to take more opioids while consuming alcohol than they would if they were taking opioids alone. The longer this continues, the more likely it is for opioid addiction to be the resulting outcome.
Some studies have also suggested that frequently combining opioids and alcohol can put individuals at risk of developing an alcohol use disorder (AUD). That aside, when the time comes to quit opioids, alcohol, or both, doing so will not be easy. Most individuals will need help from a licensed rehab facility since ending one’s relationship with opioids or alcohol often triggers a wave of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that most can’t handle alone. Many individuals may also find that they need to partake in addiction counseling at these facilities, which can help them cope with the psychological aspects of ending their relationship with opioids, alcohol, or both.
In summary, it is never a good idea to combine opioids and alcohol. But if you must, it is best to wait until the opioids are out of your system entirely before consuming an alcoholic beverage of any kind. To learn more about the dangers of combining opioids and alcohol or for help finding a quality rehab facility in your area, consider speaking with one of our friendly associates today. Call us at 833-610-1174.