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What Are the Dangers of Mixing Alcohol With Opioids?

Alcohol is the most commonly abused drug behind tobacco, and opioids are the most widely prescribed medications in the world. It should come as no surprise that mixing these two potentially deadly substances is common for drug users. The act of combining two depressant drugs, however, can make the effects of each drug individually much more potent. If you are prescribed opioid medications for pain, you must speak with a physician before consuming alcoholic beverages.

Opioid medications like oxycodone and alcohol are central nervous system (CNS) depressant drugs. While the mechanism of action of opiates and alcohol involves different neurotransmitters, both substances work together by activating some of the same neurotransmitters, such as dopamine. A majority of people who consume alcohol will use opiates to enhance the effects of alcohol. It can be a dangerous and deadly combination that should be avoided at all costs.

Central nervous system depressant drugs slow down the functioning of neurons in the central nervous system. It produces a relaxing euphoria and sedation in higher doses. Individuals who chronically use opioids and alcohol together will develop a physical dependence on both substances, which can create severe physical dependence. Those who consume opioids recreationally set themselves up for a life of addiction.

Types of Opioids

There are several types of opiate drugs that vary in strength. Many opioids are available by prescription, while others are illicit drugs that do not possess therapeutic effects. The most common opiate drugs include:

  • Morphine
  • Fentanyl
  • Percocet
  • Dilaudid
  • Hydromorphone
  • Hydrocodone
  • Vicodin
  • Oxycodone
  • Codeine
  • Demerol
  • OxyContin
  • Suboxone
  • Heroin

The Dangers of Mixing Alcohol With Opioids

There can be severe effects resulting in mixing opioids with alcohol. If you consume opioids and alcohol in conjunction with one another, you put yourself at an increased risk of overdose, or in some cases, death. Below we will highlight some of the most significant problems you may face with this potentially deadly cocktail.

  • Enhanced central nervous system depressant effects: As we explained above, these drugs have the power to produce many bodily reactions when taken alone, but mixing them will only intensify these effects. The most concerning is suppressed breathing rates, decreased heart rate, reduced blood pressure, and suppressed neuronal firing.
  • Possible organ damage: Since both drugs have the potential to enhance each other’s effects, they will need less of either drug to produce manifestations of the impact we’ve listed above. The most concerning, however, is the central nervous system slowing down functions in the brain stem. The brain stem maintains functions like heart rate and breathing. When significant doses are consumed, it can cause a reduction of oxygen to tissues and organs. When oxygen levels drop, neurons will die, which can lead to significant brain damage that is not reversible. 
  • Increased odds of overdose: Due to both drugs having similar effects on the function in our central nervous system, someone will need less of either drug to experience an overdose. An overdose on either drug alone can be fatal, but you increase the odds of significant bran and organ damage if you overdose with both drugs in your system. It can cause permanent long-term damage that requires a lifetime of care, but in many cases, it will kill you.
  • Increased absorption rate: Studies have shown that certain combinations of opioids and alcohol may lead to increased absorption of an opiate in your system. It means that the effects of these drugs are increased even more when drinking alcohol.
  • Increased likelihood of alcohol poisoning: Other studies have shown that because of the enhanced effects of opioid drugs, there is a possibility that someone may suffer the consequences of alcohol poisoning with small amounts of alcohol.
  • Unpredictable side effects: When you mix different drugs, it increases the chances that someone will experience unusual side effects. It can occur when physicians prescribe non-lethal medications because a drug user may consume significant amounts of drugs or alcohol. When you combine drugs, it can have side effects that are not typical and considered rare.
  • Potential for long-term health problems: Chronic users of opioids and alcohol should not be surprised that using these drugs together can increase their odds of long-term effects. Several health effects can occur, which includes many types of cancer, cardiovascular issues, issues with blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and potential for liver damage. It can also affect their immune system, which leads to serious infections or diseases. 
  • Lack of self-care: Individuals who chronically abuse drugs will start to deteriorate physically, as well as internally. Abusing both drugs can lead to the rapid development of long-term physical and emotional issues. It’s common for them to engage in risky behavior, such as unprotected sex or operating a motor vehicle. Many will neglect their appearance by not showering and, in essence, give up on themselves. 


National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Alcohol. Retrieved from

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Opioids. Retrieved from

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, March 6). Prescription CNS Depressants. Retrieved from

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Is there a difference between physical dependence and addiction? Retrieved from

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Drug Misuse and Addiction. Retrieved from

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