Hydrocodone is an opioid medication that’s used to treat pain symptoms from various sources. Opioids are useful medications, but they can also be dangerous, especially when they are combined with other drugs. But what happens when hydrocodone is combined with another common substance like alcohol? Alcohol is often accidentally mixed with other things, both by accident and intentionally. Learn what happens when you mix hydrocodone with alcohol and why it can be potentially dangerous.
Drug Interactions with Hydrocodone
As an opioid, hydrocodone works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and body. These opioid receptors are designed to bind with endorphins, your body’s natural opioid. Endorphins are designed to mitigate pain signals. Prescription opioids like hydrocodone have a stronger effect on your opioid receptors, making the drug effective in stopping moderate-to-severe pain symptoms.
However, hydrocodone is a powerful drug that can alter brain chemistry affecting your wholes body. If you introduce other substances that also have powerful effects at the same time, it could have a potentially damaging effect on your brain and body. To avoid this, doctors and pharmacists pay attention to drug interactions, which are the effects two or more drugs can have on you when they’re combined.
Drugs can interact to combine their effects, counteract one another, or put your body through extra strain. When you take a new prescription, your doctor may alert you to some potentially dangerous drug interactions. For instance, if you’ve ever taken certain kinds of antibiotics, your doctor might tell you to avoid alcohol while you’re on them. That’s because antibiotics can be hard on your liver. Alcohol is also processed by the liver and produces toxic chemicals when it’s being broken down. Together, antibiotics and alcohol could lead to liver damage.
Hydrocodone relieves pain, but it also slows down the nervous system, and so does alcohol. When the two combine, more intense effects can result. Hydrocodone might also combine with other drugs in dangerous ways.
What Happens when You Mix Hydrocodone with Alcohol?
Hydrocodone works to block pain signals from causing moderate-to-severe pain in your body, but it can also slow down nervous system activity. This can cause you to feel sedated or sleepy. Your limbs may feel heavy, and you’ll be content to sit or lie still.
For someone with pain issues, this can be a helpful medication for facilitating rest, relaxation, and recovery. However, in high doses, it can start to cause some adverse side effects. You may feel heavily sedated and unable to do normal tasks. You may have a mental fog that makes concentration more difficult. High doses can also slow down your heart rate and lower your blood pressure. You may lose consciousness or find it difficult to maintain consciousness.
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. It’s in a different drug category than opioids, but the two categories have some overlapping effects. Alcohol works by interacting with your brain’s sleep and rest neurotransmitter called gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA).
GABA binds to its receptors and decreases nervous system activity to help you relax and sleep. Alcohol also binds to GABA receptors, increasing the potency of GABA. However, heavy drinking can also slow down your nervous system to the point of causing intoxication, sedation, impaired thinking and motor function, and a slower reaction time. Excessive drinking can also slow down your breathing, heart rate, and decrease your blood pressure.
Since alcohol and opioids have similar effects on the brain and body, they can potentiate when combined. Potentiation occurs when two or more drugs work together to create more powerful effects. If you drink alcohol on an opioid, you may feel more intense symptoms with relatively low symptoms of both drugs individually. This can make a dangerous overdose more likely.
What is Respiratory Depression?
Respiratory depression is one of the most dangerous consequences of mixing hydrocodone with alcohol and other depressants. Respiratory depression is characterized by slowed breathing. It can involve shallow breaths that are less frequent than normal breathing.
Substances that slow down your nervous system can cause respiratory depression. Depressants work to slow down nervous system activities. In moderate doses, this can slow down racing thoughts, physical movement, and relax your muscles. It can also slow your reaction time and cause you to become sleepy.
Higher doses can start to affect a vital part of your nervous system called the autonomic nervous system. This is the part of your brain and nervous system that controls unconscious things like breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature.
Respiratory depression is a common side effect of hydrocodone, especially in higher doses. Alcohol can also slow down your nervous system to cause your breathing and heart rate to slow down. The two substances are combined, and their effects on your breathing can intensify. Respiratory depression can slow or stop breathing with otherwise relatively moderate doses of each individual drug when they’re taken together.
Respiratory depression can be deadly. Slowed breathing can cause oxygen deprivation, brain damage, coma, and death. In many cases of opioid and alcohol overdose, you lose consciousness. You may not be aware that your breathing is slowing down or that you’re experiencing deadly symptoms. Respiratory depression that’s caused by an opioid can be reversed with a drug called Narcan, but only if it’s administered in time.
What Other Drugs are Dangerous to Mix with Hydrocodone?
Alcohol isn’t the only substance that can be dangerous to mix with hydrocodone. Another potentially dangerous mix is obvious: other opioids. Hydrocodone is just one of several common prescription opioids that are available to treat pain. Illicit drugs like heroin are also available on the illegal market. Mixing opioids together may be similar to taking a higher dose of a single opioid. They work on the same receptors in the brain and cause the same effects, leading to more intense effects.
It can be dangerous to mix the drugs with other central nervous system depressants as well. Drugs like benzodiazepines, barbiturates, and non-benzodiazepine sleep aids all work to slow down the central nervous system in similar ways to alcohol. If they’re combined with hydrocodone, they can quickly lead to a dangerous overdose.
Opioids like hydrocodone may be dangerous to mix with stimulants, which are in many ways the neurochemical opposite of central nervous system depressants. Stimulants include drugs like cocaine and amphetamines.
Powerful stimulants can have potent effects, including a rush of excitement, increased energy, wakefulness, and a feeling of empowerment. A mix of opioids and stimulants is referred to as a speedball. Though it usually involves heroin and cocaine, other opioids like hydrocodone and other stimulants like meth can have a similar effect.
Stimulants and opioids potentiate each other, but they can synergize. They counteract some of the effects of one another, leading you to feel less intoxicated than you actually are. This can give you a false sense that you can increase your dose. When one of the drugs starts to wear off, the other can cause powerful effects and side effects, leading to an overdose.
Why Do People Mix Drugs?
Polydrug use, or mixing drugs, is a prevalent problem in the United States, and it has contributed to many of the fatal overdose deaths over the past several years. But if drug mixing is so dangerous, why would anyone take the risk? There are several reasons someone might mix substances like alcohol and hydrocodone.
Alcohol is one of the most common recreational substances in the United States, and many people drink regularly. In some cases, mixing alcohol and hydrocodone can occur accidentally.
If you’re given a hydrocodone prescription for pain symptoms and go about your regular drinking habits, you may accidentally mix the substances to dangerous effects. Accidentally drug mixing can also happen when drugs are laced with other substances. Illicit opioids often contain other substances, especially the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl.
Fentanyl is added to drugs like heroin to increase its potency. But it can also be pressed into counterfeit hydrocodone pills. Illicit drug distributors can buy a pill press online that makes pills that are indistinguishable from the genuine versions. Hydrocodone and fentanyl mixtures can lead to a dangerous overdose. Then, adding alcohol to the mix only increases the potency.
However, many people mix drugs intentionally. Mixing may be done with the purpose of increasing the potency of the substances. But it may also be done with drugs that have opposing effects with the goal of counteracting negative side effects. Alcohol and hydrocodone have similar effects, so if these are mixed intentionally, it may be for a more intense relaxing high.
Hydrocodone might be mixed with stimulants like cocaine for opposing effects. Drug users may want to counteract hydrocodone’s sedating effects with the exciting effects of cocaine. Likewise, they may use an opioid like hydrocodone to mellow out the anxiety-inducing side effects of cocaine. In some cases, drugs are taken to help ease the comedown of another drug, but their effects can overlap.
Whatever the reason, mixing drugs is ill-advised. Seeking a more potent high can lead to an overdose. It’s important to know how what your taking will interact with other substances before you take them.