Mixing Hydrocodone and Alcohol

Hydrocodone pills next to a glass of alcohol

Hydrocodone is one of the most commonly prescribed opioids for managing pain. Many people may be more familiar with one of hydrocodone’s brand names: Vicodin, Lortab, Lorcet or Norco. Hydrocodone is a partially synthetic opioid closely resembling codeine. All opioids act on the same opioid receptors in the brain, the central nervous system (CNS) and the digestive system. Once ingested, hydrocodone binds to opioid receptors in these regions and acts as a CNS depressant. In other words, opioids decrease the activity of the CNS including breathing functions. 

Additionally, alcohol is also a CNS depressant, albeit it works in a completely different way than opioids, specifically hydrocodone. If a person is prescribed hydrocodone and drinks alcohol (e.g., after surgery or to temporarily manage severe pain), they may not be aware of the negative effects it can have on their body. Alcohol affects everyone differently. Many medicines also contain alcohol, which can potentially interact with hydrocodone unbeknownst to the person taking the medicine. It is possible that when a person mixes alcohol with hydrocodone they are putting themselves in danger. 

Side Effects of Mixing Hydrocodone and Alcohol

What happens when you mix hydrocodone and alcohol? Even if a person is addicted to alcohol or hydrocodone alone, the side effects of combining the substances are severe and potentially fatal. Even worse, the side effects of alcohol and hydrocodone can be even more damaging and intense when used together. There are various physical side effects that a person may encounter when mixing alcohol and hydrocodone, including

  • Having an irregular heartbeat
  • Having irregular or slowed breathing
  • Excessive tiredness or inability to stay awake
  • Muscle weakness
  • Potential to overdose
  • Organ damage
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Seizures
  • Decreased control of movements
  • Losing consciousness
  • Death

Risks of Mixing Hydrocodone and Alcohol

Upon mixing hydrocodone and alcohol, a person may feel peaceful or relaxed. However, there are unseen risks or events that may occur after the initial euphoria wears off. Using both drugs together intensifies each of their effects. Using both drugs together not only causes a person to be more drowsy and dizzy, but it increases their risk for overdosing from either drug. Besides physical side effects associated with consuming hydrocodone and alcohol, there are negative consequences on cognitive processes, including

  • Increased confusion
  • Lapses in memory
  • Increased aggression or hostility
  • Decreased decision-making ability

Further, not many people realize that hydrocodone is commonly prescribed in a form that is mixed with acetaminophen (Tylenol). For many years, it has been known that acetaminophen can lead to liver toxicity in high quantities as well as from interactions with alcohol. Thus mixing hydrocodone and alcohol is associated with liver toxicity due to the presence of acetaminophen when used long-term. Besides liver toxicity, mixing alcohol and hydrocodone formulations can also lead to stomach ulcers and internal bleeding.  

Can You Overdose on Hydrocodone and Alcohol?

Individuals who consume alcohol and hydrocodone significantly increase their risk for an overdose. Effects of an overdose include respiratory depression, meaning their breathing stops or slows to a dangerous level incompatible with life. Furthermore, a person may lose their ability to control their body and can end up choking, falling or severely injuring themselves. Typical symptoms associated with a hydrocodone overdose include: 

  • Bluish fingernails or lips
  • Unresponsive or comatose
  • Sweaty or clammy skin
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Decreased (or stopped) breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Decreased pupil size

Nowadays, there are opioid reversal drugs which directly counteract opioids and can be administered relatively easily. Unfortunately, there are no such drugs which counteract alcohol. A person instead may be given fluids or have their stomach pumped to remove as much alcohol as possible before it is absorbed into the bloodstream. Therefore, even if naloxone or a similar drug are given to reverse opioid activity, the person may still experience the negative repercussions from alcohol poisoning. 

Getting Help for Hydrocodone and Alcohol Addiction

Currently, there are many ways in which individuals can begin on their road to recovery. Hydrocodone treatment may include getting concurrent help for alcohol addiction, attending opioid and alcohol support groups, receiving treatment at an inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation facility, and counseling or behavioral therapy, among many other opportunities. 

Contact The Recovery Village Ridgefield today if you or a loved one are struggling with hydrocodone or alcohol addiction. Call to speak with a representative to learn how professional addiction treatment can help.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Mixing Alcohol With Medicines.” 2014. Accessed August 15, 2019. 

National Institutes of Health. “Hydrocodone/oxycodone overdose.” January 31, 2017. Accessed August 15, 2019. 

PubChem. “Hydrocodone.” (n.d.) Accessed August 15, 2019. 

Scholastic. “Dangerous Liaisons: Mixing Hydrocodone with Alcohol and Other Drugs.” 2007. Accessed August 15, 2019.