Oxycodone and Alcohol: A Dangerous, if not Lethal Cocktail

Oxycodone and Alcohol: A Dangerous, if not Lethal Cocktail

Alcohol addiction is dangerous enough as it is, with the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism attributing 88,000 deaths annually to the said substance. For some people, however, getting drunk does not seem to be enough. Most of them end up abusing alcohol together with drugs. Whether it’s illegal or prescription – as is the case with oxycodone – the end-result is oftentimes harmful, if not fatal.

What is Oxycodone?

What is Oxycodone?

Oxycodone is a drug that belongs to the opioid group. This type of medication interacts with the opioid receptors in the brain, thereby bringing pain relief, pleasure, relaxation, even contentment.

Oxycodone, which is commonly known as Oxycontin, Oxynorm, Endone, Targin, and Proladone, is prescribed for moderate to severe pain. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 20% of patients who have pain problems receive prescriptions for opioid medication.

Common side effects of the drug include:

  • Headache
  • Mood changes
  • Flushing
  • Drowsiness
  • lightheadedness
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Decreased sexual desire

Oxycodone also comes with serious side effects, such as:

  • Swelling of the face, lips, tongue, and other parts of the body
  • Hallucinations
  • Loss of coordination
  • Changes in heartbeat
  • Severe muscle twitching
  • Seizures

While it is highly effective, Oxycodone is habit-forming or addictive. The US National Library of Medicine warns against taking more than prescribed, or that taking it through a route that is not recommended by the physician.

Despite such warnings, Americans find it hard to keep off from oxycodone. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, more than 20,000 deaths are due to prescription pain reliever addiction. The risk for abuse is further magnified in certain populations, such as those:

  • Aged 20 and below
  • Tobacco users
  • Unemployed or living below the poverty line
  • With a history of substance abuse
  • With a history of depression or anxiety
  • Exposed to high-risk people or environments

Alcohol and Oxycodone: a Dangerous Mix

Addiction, whether to alcohol or oxycodone, can be seen as a disease of the brain. These substances are powerful enough to change brain structure and function.

According to the Harvard Mental Health Letter, the use of alcohol (or oxycodone) can usher a surge of dopamine, which brings intense feelings of pleasure. Because of this mechanism, addicts find it hard to say no to a certain substance. The effects of addiction on the brain may be the reason why alcoholics have a higher tendency of developing oxycodone addiction – and vice versa.

This is why binge drinkers are 3.5 times more likely to abuse prescription medications, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Such was proven in a study published in the Centers for Disease Control website. According to the authors, prescription drug abuse was commonly seen in alcoholics. In fact, results show that alcohol use was linked to 18.5% of opioid-related hospital visits. Worse, it was attributed to 860 of the 3,883 cases of opioid-related deaths.

The amount of alcohol consumed can affect the degree of oxycodone abuse as well. The study of Zacny and Drum has shown that moderate drinkers have a higher tendency of abusing drugs, compared to those who were light drinkers.

Effects of Taking BOTH Alcohol and Oxycodone

When alcohol is taken with oxycodone, the initial signs include increased confusion and clumsiness. This can be attributed to alcohol’s depressant activity, meaning it can slow brain function outright.

Apart from making you sluggish, alcohol’s depressant action can increase the risk of oxycodone overdose. Warning signs include:

  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Chest discomfort/pain
  • Pupillary changes
  • Decreased responsiveness or awareness
  • Drowsiness that may lead to loss of consciousness
  • Loss of movement or muscle tone

The most dangerous complication is respiratory depression, where one’s breathing becomes shallow – or just stops entirely. Opioids are potent enough to do this, but if alcohol – another depressant – is thrown in the mix, the chance of respiratory failure becomes even higher.

According to a study, one oxycodone tablet can decrease ventilation – the act of inhalation and exhalation by as much as 28%. A gram of alcohol, which you can get from 1.2 ounces of beer, can further decrease ventilation by as much as 19%. So when you take these together, your breathing will be decreased by 47% – almost half of its usual capacity.

This was reflected in the study results, with opioid takers – who did not drink alcohol – having breathing cessations for as much as 3 times. The temporary stop in respiration was markedly increased in those who drank alcohol, with the group registering as much as 11 incidences.

While respiratory depression can occur at any age, the seniors are at the most risk, according to an interview with Dr. Albert Dahan. That’s because their respiratory conditions are not that optimal. Additionally, their livers are not as efficient in metabolizing alcohol as they did before.

Naloxone for Oyxcodone Overdose

To curb the number of fatalities associated with opioid misuse, many experts – including the US Surgeon General VADM Jerome Adams – have lobbied for Naloxone use. After all, this drug can help reverse the fatal respiratory effects of oxycodone overdose.

Research has shown that the availability of such a drug can help decrease the number of deaths in the community. As such, it is included in the emergency kits of medical technicians, first responders, and police officers.

Standby Naloxone is generally recommended for these high-risk groups:

  • Individuals who have a history of misusing oxycodone or other opioids
  • People addicted to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl or carfentanil

What Can Be Done

It is no secret that the United States is in the midst of an alcohol and opioid crisis. Thousands have died because of alcohol abuse – with thousands more suffering from drug overdose. With these overwhelming figures, the CDC recommends the following interventions for abusers of both alcohol and drugs:


Wrapping It Up

Despite the abundance of treatment options, experts recognize the challenge of treating concurrent addictions. Those who abuse both alcohol and oxycodone often do poorly in abstinence programs, compared to drinkers who do not take opiates. Because of this complex relationship – and the possible need for extensive treatment, it is recommended to enroll alcohol and opiate addicts in rehab facilities right away.

Latest posts by Raychel Ria Agramon, BSN, RN, MPM (see all)

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