Mixing alcohol and opiates, whether legal or illicit, is very dangerous.
In fact, the combination could even be deadly.
Opiates: A Brief Overview
Originally derived from the poppy plant, opiates have been used for medicinal and recreational purposes for thousands of years. Today, there are still opiates that come from the natural, raw opium, but there are others that are manufactured. The chemical structure of manufactured opiates is the same as natural opium.
Opiates include both illegal drugs such as heroin and legal drugs such as morphine and codeine. They fall into three group classifications.
- Opiates that are derived naturally from the poppy plant including morphine
- Opioid drugs which contain partially synthetic derivatives of morphine and include oxycodone, hydrocodone, and oxymorphone
- Opiates that contain synthetic compounds including alfentanil, methadone, Fentanyl, codeine, and Propoxyphene
All of these drugs have one thing in common, they depress the central nervous system to cause a person’s heart rate and breathing to slow down.
Symptoms of opiate intoxication include:
- An altered mental state, such as delirium or confusion
- Slowed breathing
- Inability to stay awake
- Small pupils
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Decreased awareness or responsiveness
Alcohol and Intoxication
Even though alcohol is a legal and common substance, if it is taken in large quantities it can cause intoxication. What many people do not realize is that the body’s liver can only process one serving, or a single drink, of alcohol in an hour. When the amount of alcohol exceeds that, the person can become intoxicated.
A serving of alcohol includes:
- 5 ounces of wine
- 12 ounces of beer
- 1.5 ounces of hard liquor such as vodka, rum, or tequila
During a two-hour time period, if a person drinks more than four to five drinks, it is considered binge drinking. Binge drinking can lead to severe intoxication, alcohol poisoning, or death.
Symptoms of alcohol intoxication include:
- Slurred speech
- Irregular heartbeat
- Depressed breathing
- Blurry or double vision
- Loss of coordination
- Impaired judgment
- Mood swings
Taking Opiates and Alcohol Together
In 2016, The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released a study that found that with the exception of tobacco products, alcohol is the most commonly abused drug and opiate medications are the most commonly abused prescription medications.
Alcohol and opiates are central nervous system depressants and cause the neurons of the central nervous system to slow down. When taken together, the effects of these substances are enhanced.
Examples of things that will be intensified include:
- All of the side effects of both alcohol and opiate intoxication
- Problems with motor coordination
- Difficulty with rational judgment
- Pain reducing effects of the opiates
The Dangers of Mixing Alcohol and Opiate Drugs
Just as the examples mentioned above, mixing alcohol and opiates enhances the depressant effects on the central nervous system. This leads to a decrease of heart rate and blood pressure and a suppression of neuronal firing and respiration rates. Because alcohol enhances the sedating effects of opiates, a person can overdose, lose consciousness, and die in as little as five minutes.
Additional serious and often life-threatening dangers of mixing these two substances include:
- Brain damage
- Increased risk of long term health issues including cardiovascular issues, a weakened immune system, liver damage, gastrointestinal issues, kidney problems, neurological problems, and cancer
- Increased risk of alcohol poisoning
- Increased risk of developing psychological or emotional disorders
Side Effects of Combining Opiates and Alcohol
In addition to the previously mentioned side effects of the dangerous mixture of opiates and alcohol, there are also cognitive and emotional changes that take place. The individual will experience difficulty with problem solving, concentration, and paying attention. Their ability to think will be impaired and slowed. They will have problems developing new memories.
Additional side effects may include:
- An increase in negative emotions including depression, sadness, and anxiety
- A loss of emotional inhibitions
- Increased risk taking
- Difficulty controlling their spontaneous feelings
- Hallucinations and delusions
There Is Help Available
If you or a loved one has an addiction to drugs or alcohol, getting the right help is essential for living a healthy and sober life. The professional counselors at Canyon Vista Recovery Center in Mesa, Arizona, are there to answer your questions and help guide you on your road to recovery. Canyon Vista offers a full continuum of care including traditional and holistic therapies, life skills, nutritional guidance, and an extended care treatment program.