Can You Mix Hydrocodone and Alcohol?
Prescription drugs, such as hydrocodone, and alcohol are two of the most common substances in the country. It’s legal for adults over 21 to consume alcohol within limits in the U.S. With a prescription from a doctor and some supervision, it’s legal to take opioid painkillers like hydrocodone. But, medical professionals give directions and warning labels emphasize the danger of mixing drugs like hydrocodone and depressant drugs like alcohol.
Why is that? It’s because both hydrocodone and alcohol cause similar effects on the brain. This means they can compound the intoxication, making you feel very high or very drunk. When combined, the risk of overdose and death is very high. At First City, we provide individualized prescription drug abuse treatment in Kokomo, Indiana for those needing assistance in stopping their drug use.
What is Hydrocodone?
Hydrocodone is a medication used to relieve severe pain and it is also an effective antitussive, meaning it works as a cough suppressant. The brand name, Vicodin, is a combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen and is the most frequently prescribed form. This drug is in a class of medications called opiate (narcotic) analgesics. Hydrocodone works by changing the way the nervous system and brain respond to pain.
Hydrocodone is the most frequently prescribed opioid in the U.S. and is linked to more drug abuse and diversion than any other illicit or licit opioid. Its pain-relieving potency is similar to morphine. There are a lot of brand-name medications that contain hydrocodone. It was thought to be less addictive than oxycodone but has since been moved up to Schedule II on the Controlled Substances List by the DEA. Although still important in treating extreme pain, it now has an elevated risk of addiction.
Common Side Effects of Hydrocodone Use
Even people who use hydrocodone-based pain relievers as prescribed by their doctor may still have side effects. However, these are more likely to happen to people who misuse or abuse the drug because they tend to take more than necessary to manage their pain. Common side effects include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Dry mouth
- Stomach pain
- Muscle tightness or tension
- Frequent or painful urination
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Sleep problems
- Consistent fatigue or oversleeping
- Swelling in legs, ankles, or feet
- Uncontrollable shaking in certain body parts
Serious Side Effects
Some side effects of hydrocodone use can be very serious. If you experience any of these symptoms, call for emergency medical treatment:
- Chest pains
- Loss of appetite
- Decreased sexual desire
- Dizziness or weakness
- Irregular menstrual periods
- Swelling of face, eyes, lips, tongue, or throat
- Arrhythmia (changes in heartbeat)
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
Using hydrocodone may cause other side effects. Contact a medical professional if you have any unusual problems.
Why is Hydrocodone Addictive?
Hydrocodone and other narcotic analgesics connect to the proteins in the spinal cord and brain called opioid receptors. Opioids block pain signals heading to the brain to alter your sensation of pain and your emotional reaction to it. It’s safe and effective when used as prescribed for a short period of time.
Unfortunately, opioid painkillers have been shown to be very addictive. When opioid prescribing practices changed in 1999, more doctors in the U.S. dispensed these medications to more patients. Half a million people have died of overdoses linked to oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and morphine.
People who start out taking hydrocodone as a pain medication begin to take it to get a euphoric feeling instead of just pain relief. This results in them taking it for longer than prescribed, or using a larger amount than what was prescribed. The CDC and other science organizations believe that the sharp rise in prescription narcotics led to the epidemic of addiction and overdose.
While people now abuse street opioids like illicit fentanyl and heroin, most report that they began their substance abuse with a prescription for hydrocodone or oxycodone from their doctor.
Symptoms of Hydrocodone Addiction
- Bradycardia (slowed heartbeat)
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fear and confusion
- Ears ringing
- Blurry vision
- Slowed breathing
- Weakness in muscles
Street names for hydrocodone include:
Too much hydrocodone may cause an overdose but there is no specific limit as to how much that may be. It depends on how large the dose is per pill or how the drug is taken.
If an individual overdoses on hydrocodone, it’s extremely important to call 911. Emergency medical attention is necessary to survive and lessen long-term damage.
Signs of an overdose from hydrocodone or other opioids include:
- Cold, clammy, or very pale skin
- Severely constricted (small) pupils
- Memory problems or extreme confusion
- Falling asleep and not being able to wake up
- A blue tint to fingernails or lips (cyanosis)
- gurgling sounds in the throat
- Slow or stopped heartbeat
- Slow or shallow breathing that can lead to unconsciousness
- Breathing becomes irregular or stops which can cause death
Large doses of hydrocodone combined with acetaminophen may lead to severe liver damage.
Reversing an Opioid Overdose
At this time, naloxone is being used widely by emergency responders, pharmacies, and even caregivers, to prevent a deadly opioid overdose. It is a short-acting drug but it will temporarily reverse an opioid overdose. This gives responders the time needed to treat the person.
However, when there are other substances like alcohol involved in the overdose, naloxone may be less effective because it works to stop opioid overdoses–not overdoses on other drugs. The use of naloxone may stop the opioid symptoms but the person may still go through the effects of excessive consumption of alcohol.
Risks of Alcohol Abuse Alone
In small doses, alcohol can bring about a pleasant, relaxing, or sleepy feeling. Many people report feeling less stressed out and more social. Still, if you consume enough alcohol you will become drunk–stumbling, slurring your words, experiencing nausea or vomiting, and having problems with memory or thinking.
A Deadly Mixture
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has reported that there were more than 16 million people struggling with alcohol use disorder. And even more are struggling with binge or heavy drinking, which can also cause harmful effects on their bodies. Considering there are so many people struggling with alcohol and opioid abuse, it was likely that these two disorders would overlap in some cases.
When a person consumes two drugs that both cause these side effects, mixing them increases the chance that the person will pass out, stop breathing, or suffer heart failure and die.
In addition, the CDC found that alcohol abuse is common among people who abuse prescription drugs as their primary drug of addiction. One study found that alcohol was implicated in 18.5% of opioid-caused emergency department admissions and 22.1% of opioid overdose deaths.
Treating Polydrug Abuse
Polydrug abuse, particularly involving two depressants like alcohol and hydrocodone, is extremely dangerous. Obviously, the risk of a fatal overdose is much greater when drugs are combined to get high. If someone is struggling with alcohol abuse, opioid addiction, or both, they need a medically supervised detox and evidence-based treatment in rehab to triumph over these dangerous conditions.
Drug detoxification is the process of clearing drugs from the body. Stopping the use of a substance can lead to withdrawal symptoms that range from uncomfortable to life-threatening. Stopping the use of hydrocodone can lead to these withdrawal symptoms:
- Sleep problems
- Heavy sweating
- Achey muscles
If you have also become addicted to alcohol, the withdrawal symptoms include:
- Shaky hands
- Nausea and vomiting
However, alcohol withdrawal may become seriously life-threatening as withdrawal continues including a condition known as the DTs (Delerium tremens).
During a medical detox, the patient is medically monitored full-time by a professional medical staff and provided medication to ease the symptoms and handle any emergencies. Quitting one drug on your own is difficult and risky. Quitting two has a low chance of a positive outcome.
The best treatment for any substance use disorder (SUD) is evidence-based treatment. This means that research-based treatments are tailored to an individual’s preferences, needs, and cultural beliefs. These treatments have been thoroughly tested in random, controlled trials or a series of case studies and have been proven to be effective. Some of the most common evidence-based treatments are behavioral therapies such as:
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – CBT is a goal-oriented talk therapy that helps the individual “unlearn” problematic patterns of thinking because psychological issues are partly based on learned patterns and inaccurate core beliefs. In CBT, people learn how their thoughts affect their emotions.
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) -DBT is based on CBT but it is adjusted for people who feel emotions intensely. The goal is to help the person understand and accept their problems while trying to overcome them.
- Motivational Interviewing (MI) -Effective treatment of SUD requires an understanding of what the person needs to do to change their substance use behaviors. An important part is helping the individual become aware of their values and hopes for a healthy life. MI helps them resolve their uncertainty about changing and brings out their reasons for and commitment to changing their unhealthy behaviors.
Group therapy is a type of treatment where individuals learn and practice recovery strategies, build their interpersonal skills, and develop and reinforce support networks.
Typically, it includes a group of 6 to 12 people who meet on a regular basis with one or two therapists. The National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services reported in 2019 that 93% of SUD treatment facilities provide group counseling.
Individual counseling, sometimes called psychotherapy, is a process where the individual works one-on-one with a trained mental health counselor in a safe, confidential environment. As the person talks through their issues, they may discover a reason for their drug or alcohol abuse in the first place.
How Can First City Recovery Center Help?
First City Recovery Center can help you in every way if you’re struggling with an addiction to hydrocodone, alcohol, or both. Our treatment center in Kokomo Indiana has the facilities to help you get your life back on track, no matter what your level of addiction is and what your personal needs are. Perhaps you have a loved one who has fallen into the trap of opioid addiction and you don’t know what to do.
We have many addiction treatment programs in Kokomo, Indiana, so a comprehensive treatment plan can be created to fit individual needs. First City Recovery can provide:
- Medical Detox
- Inpatient Residential Program
- Outpatient Program
- Partial Hospitalization Program
- Intensive Outpatient Program
- Sober Living Program
In addition to these SUD rehab programs, we have a dual diagnosis treatment program which is a necessity if you or your loved one is also suffering from a co-occurring mental health issue.
Many times, substance abuse is used as a way of self-medicating a mental health problem. Our trained, licensed, therapists are experienced in the evidence-based treatments and psychotherapy so important in recovery.
SUD is a serious problem. Contact us today. Our admissions specialists are prepared to check your insurance coverage and answer any questions you might have.
Dr. Vahid Osman, MD is a psychiatry specialist in Indianapolis, IN.
Dr. Osman completed a residency at Austin State Hospital. He has over 32 years of experience in Psychiatry & Behavioral Health. He is board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.