Hydrocodone and Alcohol

Mixing any narcotic or medication with alcohol can cause serious side effects, and it is best to avoid whenever possible. This is especially true for substances in the opioid family. Taking hydrocodone (the active ingredient in several opioid combo medications) along with alcohol can cause a life-threatening overdose and increase its already-high addiction potential.

Why is Hydrocodone Addictive?

Hydrocodone is a prescription medication that helps patients who suffer from moderate-to-severe chronic pain. It is designed to provide consistent relief throughout the day with only one dose. Most hydrocodone doses are administered via extended-release oral capsules or tablets. They typically also include acetaminophen, a common over-the-counter pain reliever. Some common drugs that contain hydrocodone include Vicodin and Norco. 

While hydrocodone is quite effective in combating pain, it does bring with it the high potential for addiction. As with many other opioids, hydrocodone can create feelings of drowsiness and euphoria which may become addictive over time. Some people may take opioids intentionally to get high and escape their reality. Addiction can occur when they regularly seek the opioid out, take more than their prescribed dose, or abuse it without a prescription, behaviors which can all lead to dependence.

hydrocodone and alcohol

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) categorizes hydrocodone as a Schedule II drug. As such, it has been identified as having some medical purposes but also has a very high potential for abuse.  It is one of the most frequently-misused prescription drugs, especially among teens and young adults. 

Hydrocodone’s Side Effects

Hydrocodone and other opioids share similar side effects since most only vary by the strength of the dose. In other words, oxycodone and hydrocodone offer essentially the same type of pain relief. Studies show that oxycodone is about 1.5 times stronger than hydrocodone. 

Some of hydrocodone’s side effects include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Fainting 
  • Lethargy 
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Irregular heartbeat 
  • Trouble breathing
  • Fever
  • Hallucinations

What Does a Hydrocodone Overdose Look Like?

Hydrocodone is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant. Depressants work to slow down critical nerve function, which affects breathing and cognitive ability. Opioid overdoses are caused when the nervous system is depressed to a critical point and the body is unable to function. If someone takes too much of any opioid, the respiratory system may become overwhelmed and cause breathing to completely stop.

hydrocodone and alcohol - opioid overdose

Not all overdoses are fatal, but they can cause long-term organ damage due to the lack of oxygen. Without a consistent oxygen supply, organ tissue like the ones found in the brain can die, causing permanent brain damage. 

Signs of an Opioid Overdose

Overdose is most likely when someone abuses their prescription, takes hydrocodone without one, or mixes the drug with alcohol or other drugs. Some physical signs of an overdose include:   

  • Rapid heartbeat 
  • Increased body temperature
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nausea
  • Blue fingers or lips
  • Seizures 
  • Unconsciousness

If you think someone is showing one or more of these symptoms after taking any opioid, get emergency medical help right away. 

Mixing Hydrocodone and Alcohol

Alcohol, like hydrocodone, is a CNS depressant. Most people are familiar with its effects  and understand how it can impair physical and cognitive ability and slow reaction times.

Mixing alcohol and hydrocodone can lead to an overdose because of the body’s inability to effectively handle two depressants with compounding effects. Typically, mixing any two drugs will enhance the negative effects of both substances. Consuming alcohol with an opioid such as hydrocodone will enhance the depressive effects of both substances. Even if mixing the two drugs does not cause an overdose, it can still increase the chance of engaging in dangerous activities such as driving under the influence.

consuming hydrocodone and alcohol will enhance the depressive effects of both substances

Additionally, the drugs that hydrocodone is typically formulated with can create adverse reactions with alcohol. Acetaminophen, found in over-the-counter brands like Tylenol as well as hydrocodone medications, is toxic to the liver when taken with alcohol. Combo ingredients like this make internal damage more likely when alcohol is present.

How Long Does Hydrocodone Stay in Your System?

Hydrocodone has a half life of approximately 3.5 hours. A substance’s half life is a determination of how long it will take for the substance to effectively decompose to half of its original size. For example, if you take 10mg of hydrocodone, it will take 3.5 hours for that to become 5mg in the body. However, even after the drug has completely left the body, it is possible to detect in saliva 12-36 hours after ingestion, in urine 2-4 days and in hair for up to 90 days.

Metabolism rates for drugs vary by the person and their body composition. The body’s ability to process a drug involves factors such as body fat percentage, age, and history with the drug and organ function.

When taking a medication that includes hydrocodone, always talk to a doctor about how to dose it and whether it is safe to consume any other drugs at the same time.

Getting Help

Addiction is medically categorized as a chronic illness, which means it will have the same relapse rates as other chronic diseases. This means that unfortunately, many people struggle to recover on their own. However, this shouldn’t be discouraging. Lifelong sobriety is absolutely possible, especially with the support of professional addiction clinicians and sober communities.  If you or a loved one is suffering from addiction, please contact us today.

Kayla E
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