Vicodin and alcohol are two substances that are often abused in the United States. Alcohol may be the most popular recreational drug in the world. In the United States, most people will try alcohol at least once during their lifetime. Opioid prescriptions are also extremely common in the United States. In 2020, there were around 43 opioid prescriptions for every 100 people in the United States.
Vicodin is prescribed more frequently than any other opioid in the U.S. In 2019, it had become clear that overprescription was a factor in the opioid overdose and addiction crisis. But the number of prescriptions was still high at more than 30 million, making Vicodin the 15th most popular drug in the country.
In 2015, 15 million people over age 18 were estimated to have an alcohol use disorder (AUD). Between 2006 and 2010, alcohol abuse led to the deaths of about 88,000 people in the U.S. However, polydrug use is common, and many people mix opioids and alcohol for various reasons. But the effects can be extremely dangerous.
Because both of these drugs cause sedative effects, combining Vicodin with alcohol can cause dangerous—and even fatal—side effects. Learn more below about the effects of combining Vicodin with alcohol.
What is Vicodin?
As the most-prescribed opioid in the United States, Vicodin is a powerful pain-relieving drug known as a narcotic analgesic that combines hydrocodone and acetaminophen. It’s usually prescribed for moderate-to-severe pain. If Vicodin is taken for long periods, it can become habit-forming and lead to physical and psychological dependence or addiction.
Hydrocodone is a strong narcotic, and acetaminophen is a pain reliever and fever reducer. Acetaminophen is the active ingredient in over-the-counter pain medications such as Tylenol. Because it is sold without a doctor’s prescription, many people think it’s harmless. But taking too much acetaminophen can damage your liver and even lead to death.
Plus, if someone abuses Vicodin, not only are they damaging their liver due to the acetaminophen, but they also are exposing themselves to the dangerous effects of opioid abuse.
This combination of substances makes Vicodin a strong, yet potentially toxic, medication. Due to its relaxing and sedative effects, Vicodin can be habit-forming. Once addicted, Vicodin withdrawal can be a difficult and painful process that requires professional help.
Effects of Combining Vicodin With Alcohol
In general, combining any medications with alcohol can be risky. Although this can be dangerous for anyone, aging can also impact the effects of alcohol and medications. Older people tend to take more medications than younger people. Plus, as the body ages, it takes longer to break down alcohol. This causes alcohol to stay in the bloodstream longer. Because the alcohol is not metabolized as quickly, the potential for interactions to occur between alcohol and medications is greater in older adults.
What about combining Vicodin with alcohol? Combining Vicodin with alcohol can lead to unpleasant, and even serious, side effects. Both Vicodin and alcohol can cause similar side effects, such as nausea, drowsiness, and liver damage. By combining these two substances, the side effects are intensified and the risk of serious health damage increases.
In fact, in some cases, combining Vicodin and alcohol can be fatal because both depress the nervous system, leading to lowered blood pressure, slowed breathing, and a weak pulse.
This combination of Vicodin and alcohol can also impair thinking and motor skills, potentially leading to dangerous situations such as motor vehicle accidents. Because these substances impair thinking and judgment, it can be easy to take too much Vicodin or to drink more than you realized. When this happens, overdoses can also easily occur, which are sometimes fatal.
Both hydrocodone and alcohol stay in the body’s system for several hours. Because of this, it’s best to wait about 24 hours after last taking the medication before consuming alcohol to avoid these dangerous side effects.
In addition to the health risks associated with combining Vicodin and alcohol, both of these substances cause very difficult, uncomfortable, and even potentially deadly, withdrawal symptoms if you become addicted. As a result, addiction to opioids like Vicodin and alcohol requires a professional medical detox program to ensure a safe withdrawal process and the most potential for a successful recovery.
Going through a professional treatment program includes 24/7 clinical care by trained health care professionals in addition to individual and group therapy and medical assistance to manage difficult withdrawal symptoms.
Is There a ‘Safe’ Amount of Alcohol and Vicodin?
Mixing Vicodin and alcohol in high amounts is risky. While drinking a small amount of alcohol while taking a low dose of Vicodin may not seem like a big deal, to be safe, it’s best just to avoid alcohol altogether while taking this medication.
If you have an alcohol use disorder (AUD), it’s especially important not to take Vicodin when drinking. If you typically drink more than three alcoholic beverages a day, combining acetaminophen with alcohol can lead to harmful side effects such as liver damage, rapid heartbeat, and bleeding ulcers. In fact, in the U.S. the most common cause of acute liver failure is acetaminophen-induced hepatotoxicity, which means liver failure due to taking too much acetaminophen. Each year in the U.S., about 30,000 people are hospitalized to undergo treatment for this potentially fatal condition.
It can be difficult for the liver to break down large quantities of acetaminophen, which is converted to a toxin by the body’s digestive process. When you consume too much acetaminophen, the liver can’t break down the increased amount of toxins, essentially causing the body to become poisoned.
Similarly, alcohol contains toxins that are difficult for the liver to break down. That said, over time, excessive drinking will result in damage to not just the liver but to most organs in the body, including the cardiovascular system, digestive system, and the brain.
When you drink large amounts of alcohol either in one sitting or for a long time, it’s taxing on your liver to break it down. If you consistently drink heavy amounts of alcohol over an extended period, your liver eventually becomes overwhelmed and can no longer function properly.
So, as you can see, both acetaminophen, which is found in Vicodin, and alcohol, can negatively impact the health of your liver. Given this, it’s no surprise that combining Vicodin with alcohol can essentially double that impact and increase your chances of liver damage.
Why Do People Mix Vicodin and Alcohol?
Mixing prescription drugs with other substances is common, especially alcohol. Since mixing these substances is dangerous, why do people want to do it in the first place? There are several reasons why a person might mix alcohol and Vicodin. Many people may mix drugs with alcohol accidentally. They may be prescribed Vicodin after an injury or procedure and go about their life, forgetting that they should avoid alcohol. For many, alcohol is part of everyday life, and they may not be aware of the risks.
You may also mix the substances because you don’t believe the consequences are very high. You may not see much harm in mixing Vicodin and beer or Vicodin and wine. But because of the way the substances interact, even relatively moderate amounts could cause uncomfortable or dangerous side effects.
Some may mix opioids with alcohol intentionally to achieve a unique high. Because the two drugs can potentiate one another, mixing them can cause a more intense experience, though it may also lead to drowsiness or loss of consciousness.
How Long After Taking Vicodin Can I Drink?
If you’ve been taking Vicodin, how long do you have to wait before you can drink alcohol again? If you take your last dose in the morning, can you drink at night? Vicodin’s opioid effects last for around four hours before they wear off. You may still have the drug in your system, but it may not feel like you do. If you take a drug test, you may still test positive for a few days, depending on the type of test. But when can you drink again?
Oral Vicodin is prescribed in doses taken every four to six hours and may be safe to have a drink after the six-hour mark. However, it’s important to make sure your medication is not extended-release. The Vicodin brand doesn’t come in extended-release tablets, but other similar brands do. Extended-release tablets are designed to last longer and may require you to wait.
There are other factors to consider as well. The acetaminophen in Vicodin can be hard on your liver. High doses or long-term use can put extra stress on the organ. Starting to drink right after completing treatment with Vicodin could put more strain on your liver. Your doctor can check the health of your liver to be safe.
Alcohol and Vicodin can both depress the nervous system and cause sedative effects. As a result, combining Vicodin with alcohol can result in serious or even fatal side effects. If you are taking Vicodin, it’s best to avoid alcohol, or at the very least wait until 24 hours after last taking the medication before drinking alcohol.
If you have developed a dependency on or addiction to Vicodin or alcohol, or both substances, finding a reputable addiction treatment center that offers a medical detox program is the safest and most effective way to eliminate withdrawal symptoms and embark on the road to addiction recovery.