The combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen has proven to be effective at providing quick relief for moderate to severe pain. Marketed as Vicodin – as well as a number of other brand names – this powerful drug is available only by prescription since hydrocodone is an opioid that can lead to harmful side effects and possible addiction if it’s overused. But harmful – and even fatal – effects are possible if alcohol and Vicodin are used together. Here’s what you need to know about how Vicodin and alcohol affect the brain and why you should be careful not to drink if you’re using an opioid painkiller.
How Does Vicodin Work to Relieve Pain?
The opioids in hydrocodone work to block the perception of pain by impacting the neurotransmitters in the central nervous system. Opioids bind to receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and other locations to mimic naturally-produced pain-relieving chemicals called endorphins.  The other substance in Vicodin – acetaminophen – raises the pain threshold. Both of these drugs work together to build a solid defense against pain.
What Are the Side Effects of Vicodin?
The most common side effects of Vicodin are lightheadedness, dizziness, and nausea/vomiting.  But it can be habit-forming if you continue to take it for a longer period of time than recommended by your physician. You may find that the dose you took initially for pain relief will be less effective the more you use the drug, so you would need a higher dose to get the same level of pain relief. And since opioids are known to cause feelings of euphoria  and well-being, some may continue to take it simply for the overall good feeling or “high” it produces.
More serious problems can occur when you take too much Vicodin. Compounds in hydrocodone interact with the part of the brain that regulates breathing. An overdose could cause an individual to suffocate due to a combination of depressed breathing and sedation that makes it hard to wake up and remember to breathe.
How Does Alcohol Impact the Brain?
Alcohol affects several areas of the brain, changing both the way we feel and our ability to function:
Central Nervous System
The Central Nervous System (CNS) is made up of the brain, nerves, and spinal cord. Alcohol slows down the CNS, which affects the speed at which signals are transmitted throughout the body. The slower transmission speed can alter the way we think, move, and speak. 
The cerebral cortex is the area of the brain responsible for decision-making, emotions, and our five senses. Alcohol can impact our ability to think clearly or to have full function of our senses. It’s also responsible for lowering our inhibitions. 
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The cerebellum helps us coordinate our movements and reflexes. Alcohol can impair that function, which is why drinking may cause us to lose our balance and make our hands shake. 
The hippocampus is the control center for our memory. Drinking an excessive amount of alcohol can cause someone to forget a period of time or even experience a blackout. 
The hypothalamus makes sure that the endocrine system communicates properly with various organs in the body, and is vital for keeping a constant and sustained internal environment. Alcohol can disrupt these communications and can cause hormonal disturbances that can impact our immune system, behavior, and even heart rate. Our heart rate slows down when we drink alcohol. 
The medulla is responsible for involuntary processes like breathing and maintaining body temperature. Excessive drinking can cause the medulla to shut down, which may lead to a coma. 
What Are the Risks of Using Alcohol and Vicodin Together?
If you drink alcohol while taking Vicodin, you’re essentially compounding central nervous system depression since both the opioid in Vicodin and alcohol are active CNS depressants. Increased CNS depression can lead to impaired thinking and psychomotor skills. If the Vicodin dosage and/or the alcohol amount is excessive, the combination of these two drugs could lead to a dangerously low blood pressure level, slow and ineffective breathing, deep sedation, coma, or even death. 
If you’re taking a sustained-release form of hydrocodone, consuming alcohol may make the drug release more quickly than it should, and that could be lethal. sup>
Also, keep in mind that acetaminophen has been connected to liver damage if taken in higher than recommended dosages. As alcohol can also cause liver damage, taking Vicodin while consuming alcohol increases your risk of liver damage or failure. 
If You Regularly Mix Alcohol and Vicodin, You May Need Help
Whether you’re deliberately mixing alcohol and Vicodin or if it’s an honest mistake, it’s a dangerous practice that could turn deadly. If you’re finding it difficult to stop using this combination of drugs and think you may be developing an addiction, please seek help right away.
At Ocean Hills Recovery, our compassionate and professional staff will work to help you discover what’s fueling your addiction and will develop a custom program for your needs. Our goal is to teach you the skills you need to live a happy, joyous life without alcohol or drugs. Contact us today to learn more about our philosophy. We’re here to help you find your own path to sobriety.
About the author:
Nicole earned her doctoral degree in Psychology with an emphasis on marriage and family therapy at California School of Professional Psychology. Her doctoral thesis was a grounded theory study exploring the role of alienation and connectedness in the life course of addiction. She specializes in treating addiction and trauma. She is certified in DBT and EMDR, two of the most highly regarded evidence-based methods in psychotherapy. Dr. Doss is a strong LGBT advocate and provides open and affirming support to her LGBT clients.
Dr. Doss’s earlier education included graduating cum laude from the University of California, Irvine in June of 2007 with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. While there, she received honors recognition by Psi Chi and Golden Key honor societies.
Nicole has been working with alcoholics and addicts in our California drug and alcohol rehab center as an advisor and counselor for many years. She is passionate about providing quality counseling and care to her clients. Her main focus is on integrating the 12 Step and disease models of addiction with experiential therapeutic theory. She is married to Greg; they have two adorable sons together and an energetic yellow Labrador Retriever.