For more than 5000 years, humans have harnessed the medicinal properties of the opium poppy order to provide pain relief for myriad conditions. Centuries later, opioids have evolved to become more ubiquitous and versatile than ever before, commonly prescribed by doctors in the form of pills such as hydrocodone.
Unfortunately, the mainstream use of opioids, often by prescription, has essentially become an epidemic. Opiates are highly addictive, and misuse of the narcotic can be fatal.
Nationwide, more than 33,000 people fatally overdosed on opioids in 2015, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM). Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S.
And when opiates are used in tandem with alcohol, the effects of the narcotic can be unpredictable, or even deadly. Here’s what you need to know about the dangers of mixing alcohol and opiates.
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Widespread Availability of Opiates
While some forms of opiates, including heroin, are illegal across the U.S., others, such as morphine and oxycodone, are available by prescription. In fact, doctors wrote more than 259 million prescriptions for opioids in 2012, and today’s numbers are even higher.
Opiates affect the nervous system and brain, typically causing euphoric sensations. These sensations may be one of the reasons for the addictive nature of opiates.
Prescription painkillers are the biggest culprit when it comes to opioid abuse. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reports that, as of 2014, more than four million Americans illegally use prescription painkillers every month. The demand for opiate-based painkillers has created a vast black market that encompasses illegally obtained pain pills, along with heroin and fentanyl, a deadly synthetic opioid.
The Silent Epidemic
Alcohol has also been used for pain relief worldwide for millennia. Like opiates, alcohol dulls the senses so that pain, both physical and mental, is more tolerable. Unlike opiate-based narcotics, however, alcohol is legal to all adults over the age of 21.
But that doesn’t make it safer – The sobering truth is that alcohol is the primary cause of more than 88,000 annual deaths. These include fatal long-term health conditions, such as liver cirrhosis, as well as alcohol poisoning and deaths caused by drunk drivers.
Alcohol Plus Opiates: A Dangerous Partnership
While much has been made of the opioid crisis in recent years, few news sources have tackled the tricky subject of mixing medications, which can be even more hazardous than opiate use alone.
Both opiates and alcohol act as sedatives, making the drugs a potentially lethal combination when mixed. Those who use either substance may find it difficult to focus or perform simple tasks. And when the two are combined, the negative effects can compound drastically.
Effects of opiates plus alcohol include:
- Confusion and sleepiness
- Respiratory problems
- Breathing that is shallow
- Short-term memory loss
- Reduced motor skills
Those who use alcohol and/or opiates may also notice an increased tolerance to pain medication; doses that were once enough to relieve pain are no longer sufficient. As users change their prescription to a larger dose or rely on self-medication, the potential for overdose increases exponentially.
It’s important to note that those addicted to opiates and/or alcohol shouldn’t try to quit on their own. Withdrawal from these substances can be harmful or even fatal if not done properly, so medical supervision during detox is recommended.
Those going through the withdrawal process may experience unpleasant symptoms as their body expels the poisons. The initial effects of withdrawal typically occur within 12 hours and can include the following:
- Muscle aches and stomach cramps
- Irritability and anxiousness
- Nausea and vomiting
The Unpredictable Nature of Alcohol and Opiates
There is no test to determine how one’s body will react to different medications. Factors include heredity, overall tolerance to drugs, weight, metabolism, and more.
Even individuals with a long history of opioid misuse can succumb to the unpredictability of the narcotic, especially when obtained on the black market. The purity of an opiate can vary widely when the drug is obtained via illegal channels, making it even more deadly whether mixed with alcohol or used on its own.
If you or a loved one wants to escape from the clutches of alcohol or opioid addiction, there is hope. Call Ocean Hills Recovery today to discuss your options and start on the path toward a life of freedom from drugs and alcohol.
About the author:
Greg opened his home and heart to alcoholics and addicts in 2003. He is a Certified Addictions Treatment Counselor (CATCI). Starting in 2009 Greg has fostered the growth of Ocean Hills Recovery into one of the most respected and effective treatment centers in the area and has been working with people with addictions since March of 2001. Greg believes in a holistic approach to recovery. His focus is on drug alcohol addiction treatment with a combination of 12 Step work, therapy and counseling, and the rejuvenation of the body through healthful eating and exercise. He has designed his program to foster a family-like atmosphere and believes that people in recovery are just beginning their lives. He encourages the people he works with to learn to enjoy life in sobriety. Greg is married to Nicole; they have two adorable sons together and an energetic yellow Labrador Retriever.