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What are the Risks of Mixing Hydrocodone and Alcohol?

Mixing alcohol with medications is usually advised against strongly by doctors, and every prescription pill bottle will relay a warning about the dangers of consuming alcohol while using the substance. In fact, mixing alcohol and prescription drugs can be deadly. 

Drinking too much alcohol on its own can harm your health, and according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that excessive alcohol consumption led to approximately 88,000 deaths and 2.5 million years of potential life lost (YPLL) each year in the United States. The same study also shows that those who died did so by an average of 30 years. The study also went on to say that excessive drinking was responsible for one in 10 deaths among working-age adults 20 to 64. As of 2010, the economic costs of alcohol were estimated at $249 billion.

With alcoholism decimating our society, it’s a possibility someone injures themselves as a result of drinking. When this occurs, the doctor could prescribe a drug such as hydrocodone to battle the acute stage of pain. Unfortunately, those who abuse other drugs are more likely to abuse a drug like hydrocodone.

Seventy-five percent of individuals interviewed said that prescription drugs were the first opioid they ever tried. Additionally, 80 percent of heroin users reported using prescription opioids before heroin. Opioid abuse has become a significant source of concern over the past few years and has spurred its own set of issues. We now refer to this as the opioid crisis, and it has not shown any sign of slowing down.

With such a significant portion of our population abusing either opioids or alcohol, it’s necessary to shine a light on another issue — polydrug use. Currently, alcohol is the leading cause of death worldwide, and opioid overdoses now kill 130 people in the United States each day. 

While the value of a human life should never be overlooked, it’s necessary to mention the financial burden that drug and alcohol abuse takes on our society. The opioid epidemic has cost the United States $78.5 billion annually, whereas alcohol has cost the country 223.5 billion dollars each year. These two substances can have deadly effects alone, and we must discuss what can occur is they are combined.

Someone that is addicted to hydrocodone and alcohol will increase their risk of experiencing a plethora of side effects. Mixing alcohol and medications of any kind can be dangerous, but due to alcohol’s ability to make you drowsy and lower inhibitions, hydrocodone can intensify these effects. 

Sometimes the combination of these substances is not because someone is addicted to hydrocodone or alcohol, but rather it can be accidental. In some cases, cold medicines contain up to 10 percent alcohol, and hydrocodone and alcohol can interact dangerously even if they are not ingested at the same time.

Risks Of Alcohol Abuse

At lower doses, alcohol can be pleasant and induce a feeling of sleepiness or relaxation. Some individuals report an increase in socializing and a decrease in stress, but when someone consumes too much alcohol, they can become drunk where they stumble, slur words, experience nausea or vomiting, and have problems with their thinking or memory. When someone drinks enough to raise their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 percent or higher, it can lead to these symptoms:

  • Poor vision or double vision
  • Sleepiness
  • Altered emotions or mood swings
  • Increased urine production
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Low core body temperature
  • Excessive blood flow to the skin’s surface that results in flushing

In large amounts, alcohol can cause severe symptoms that include:

  • Heart rate changes
  • Passing out and choking on vomit
  • Vomiting
  • Breathing problems, irregular breathing, ceased breathing
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Seizures
  • Coma

As time progresses and alcohol use is continued, the substance will start to damage the body. The most significant parts, however, will be the cardiovascular system, the digestive system, the liver, and the brain.

Risks of Hydrocodone Abuse

Several brand-name medications contain hydrocodone, but the chemical itself is an opioid pain reliever. The drug was initially thought to be a less addictive alternative to oxycodone, but hydrocodone was moved up to a Schedule II drug in the Controlled Substances List published by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). It’s an essential piece in treating pain but has an elevated risk of addiction.

When the drug is prescribed, hydrocodone can come in immediate-release or extended-release versions. Immediate-release is designed to treat acute pain and lasts four to six hours, whereas extended-release versions are intended to treat chronic pain – the effects can last up to 12 hours that provide a day’s worth of relief.

Even when the drug is used as prescribed, many can struggle with side effects. In most cases, however, adverse effects are more likely to occur in those who abuse hydrocodone because they take more than they need to manage pain.

The most common side effects from hydrocodone include:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dry mouth
  • Stomach pain
  • Headaches
  • Constipation
  • Backaches
  • Ringing in ears
  • Muscle tension or tightening
  • Painful or frequent urination
  • Disturbed sleep cycles
  • Leg swelling
  • Feet swelling
  • Uncontrollable shaking in parts of the body

Mixing Hydrocodone and Alcohol is Deadly

Alcohol and opioids are both considered central nervous system (CNS) depressants, which means they lead to relaxation, changes to breathing and heart rate, pleasure, trouble thinking clearly or remembering events. The most significant effect caused by these two substances separately is their decreased breathing and heart rates. When the two substances are used in conjunction, it increases the likelihood that a person will pass out, stop breathing, or have heart failure and die.

The CDC recently found that alcohol abuse is common among those who abuse prescription drugs as their primary substance of choice. Alcohol was involved in 18.5 percent of opioid-caused emergency room admissions, and 22.1 percent of opioid overdose deaths.

Polydrug abuse, especially involving two depressants such as alcohol and hydrocodone is extremely dangerous. The risk of a fatal overdose increases significantly when the two drugs are combined to attain intoxication. If someone struggles with alcohol abuse, opioid addiction, or both, there are steps they can take to save themselves from falling victim to an overdose.

How To Combat Hydrocodone and Alcohol Addiction?

The only way to combat addiction to any substance is to look into drug and/or alcohol treatment. Addiction can have fatal consequences if left untreated, and those who check into a medical detoxification facility and begin the continuum of care have a better chance at living a long sober life. 

Depending on the severity of your addiction, it could mean that you commit long-term to residential treatment where you can learn to cope with your addiction and triggers you will experience once outside. If the team determines your addiction is less severe, you could be placed into an outpatient treatment facility that allows you to attend therapies and immediately implement them to the real world. 

Either way, the most significant life choice you can make is to enter treatment if you think you have developed a substance use disorder to alcohol, hydrocodone, or both. Fortunately, Ocean Breeze Recovery can offer that assistance.

Sources

Alcohol Involvement in Opioid Pain Reliever and Benzodiazepine Drug Abuse–Related Emergency Department Visits and Drug-Related Deaths – the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010. (2014, October 10). from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6340a1.htm

Designed by Black Crow Studio – http://www.blackcrowstudio.com; built by Lake WebWorks from http://www2.courtinfo.ca.gov/stopteendui/teens/resources/substances/alcohol/short-and-long-term-effects.cfm

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, January 22). Opioid Overdose Crisis. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis

May, A. (2018, August 24). Alcohol is a leading cause of death, disease worldwide, study says. from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/08/24/alcohol-death-disease-study-beer-wine/1082443002/

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Prescription opioid use is a risk factor for heroin use. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/relationship-between-prescription-drug-heroin-abuse/prescription-opioid-use-risk-factor-heroin-use

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Fact Sheets-Alcohol Use And Health – Alcohol. (n.d.). from https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm

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