The Dangerous Interaction between Alcohol and Opiates

Are you struggling with addiction to prescription painkillers, or opioids like heroin? Do you drink heavily while using your opioid medication? We want you to know that you’re not alone in this struggle, and we’re here to help you overcome it. At the same time, it’s vital that you’re aware of the risks associated with mixing alcohol and opioids, as this combination can be particularly dangerous and potentially deadly.

Unfortunately, an analysis by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)’s Clinical Trials Network (CTN) found that 38% of opioid treatment seekers had an alcohol-use disorder.

This is especially concerning, because when opiates and alcohol are used together, they can have a synergistic effect on the brain and body, intensifying the pleasurable feelings of euphoria and relaxation, but also increasing the risk of respiratory depression, coma, and death. Additionally, abusing multiple substances can make it more difficult for you to achieve and maintain sobriety, as they can reinforce the addictive patterns in the brain and exacerbate mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

But you have already made the first step and are looking for help. We believe that recovery is possible for everyone, and we’re committed to helping you overcome your addiction and achieve a healthier, more fulfilling life. We’ll work with you to create a customised treatment plan that addresses your unique needs, including any underlying mental health issues, and we’ll provide you with the support and resources you need to succeed.

How Alcohol Affects the Brain and Body

The consumption of alcohol has a significant impact on the brain and body, resulting in both short-term and long-term health complications. Such complications include:

  • Disruptions in the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, adversely affecting cognitive function and decision-making abilities. This, in turn, impairs memory, attention, and learning abilities.
  • Liver damage, including fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis. These conditions can pose a life-threatening risk.
  • A heightened risk of various cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and gastrointestinal problems.
  • Increased likelihood of accidents and injuries due to reduced coordination and slower reaction times.

Alcohol consumption is also linked to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. It can exacerbate existing conditions or contribute to the development of new ones. This is one of the biggest risks related to misusing multiple substances.

Alcohol Abuse Potential

If you’re currently in drug addiction treatment, it’s important to be aware that combining alcohol with antidepressants can increase the risk of relapse and make it harder to achieve and maintain sobriety. This is because alcohol and antidepressants can interact in ways that make depression and anxiety symptoms worse and increase their sedative effects. If you find yourself caught in a cycle of alcohol use and mental health issues, it can be challenging to break free from the effects of drug abuse.

In addition, the prolonged recovery time and changes in brain chemistry caused by alcohol and drug use can further complicate your journey towards sobriety. That’s why it’s crucial to seek professional help.

At CATCH Recovery, we understand that every patient’s journey towards sobriety is unique, and we can work together to address both the substance use disorder and the underlying mental health issues to help you achieve a healthy, sober future.

Opiates and the Brain

The use of opiates can have a profound effect on the functioning of the human brain. Opioids bind to specific opioid receptors in the brain, producing effects such as alterations in pain perception and inducing euphoria. This binding also leads to physical and psychological dependence, meaning that if you become addicted to opioids, you will need to undergo therapy if you wish to manage your dependence and promote long-term recovery.

Studies indicate that opioid use can lead to changes in cognitive functioning and emotional regulation, potentially affecting decision-making, reward systems, and impulse control. As a result of these changes, people suffering from an addiction often seek out drugs compulsively and suffer from social withdrawal and depression.

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Defining Polysubstance Dependence

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, or DSM-5, is the American Psychiatric Association’s gold standard text on mental health. In the UK, we might consult with it, but the preferred substance use disorder manual is the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD). This guidebook, widely used by mental health professionals, helps us define addictive behaviours and provide quality mental health care.

We use the diagnostic and statistical manual to define polysubstance dependence and help you find the therapist you need achieve long-term sobriety without it affecting the treatment of your ongoing chronic conditions which require opioid medication.

Negative Consequences of Mixing Alcohol with Illicit Opioid Drugs

Illicit opioid drugs such as heroin, as well as prescription drugs, such as codeine (including co-codamol), tramadol, fentanyl and morphine, should not be mixed with alcohol. Substance use disorders often include abusing multiple drugs alongside alcohol. When you are using more than one drug, you are affecting the response times, and efficacy and are obstructing the effective treatment processes. Alcohol, as an individual drug, can cause tolerance and obstruct the successful measurement of vital signs. When combined with additional substances, even a single opioid substance, it can massively influence your blood pressure, trigger anxiety disorders, heighten your addictive behaviours, and bar treatment centres from helping you achieve alcohol abstinence and heal from your poly-drug abuse.

Increased Risk of Substance Use Disorder

Mixing alcohol with opiates, such as prescription painkillers or heroin, increases the risk of drug and alcohol addiction due to the reinforcing effects of both substances on the brain’s reward system.

This happens because both opiates and alcohol increase the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in the brain’s reward pathway, producing pleasurable feelings of euphoria and relaxation. When the two substances are used together, the effects are amplified, leading to a more intense high that can be more addictive. It also affects the rates at which our bodies develop a tolerance as they are exposed to more than one substance with a similar effect.

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Additionally, chronic use of alcohol combined with opiates can lead to changes in the brain’s chemistry, making it more difficult to feel pleasure without using these substances. This can lead to dependence and substance use disorder, as the brain becomes reliant on the drugs to produce feelings of pleasure and avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Dangerous side effects of simultaneously abusing these substances, such as respiratory depression, can be life-threatening. This can occur even when the substances are used in small amounts.

Reduced Effectiveness of Opiates

Both alcohol and opiate medications such as sedatives, tranquillisers, and hypnotics, are Central Nervous System Depressants that work by slowing down parts of the brain, resulting in impaired cognitive function. Thus, mixing both types of substances is very dangerous because they can interact and potentiate each other’s effects.

Examples of Effects When You Mix Alcohol with Opiates

With prescriptions, it is even more dangerous as you do not know how drinking alcohol will affect the specific effects for which you are being prescribed this medication. Some examples of the effects of alcohol on the way your medication works are:


  • increased central nervous system depression

  • respiratory depression

  • decreased alertness

  • sedation

  • impaired coordination

  • increased risk of adverse reactions

  • risk of opioid overdose

  • risk of accidental death

While some medications may be safe to mix with alcohol in small amounts under certain circumstances (such as taking acetaminophen), this is not generally recommended due to the potential for adverse reactions or even overdose if caution is not taken properly.

Withdrawal Symptoms in Multiple Substance Abuse

Physical withdrawal symptoms of opioid addiction include:

  • muscle aches and pains
  • inability to sleep or extreme fatigue
  • nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea
  • excessive sweating
  • rapid heart rate

Psychological withdrawal symptoms of polysubstance use and opioid addiction include:

  • anxiety disorders
  • depression
  • paranoid ideation
  • acute worry
  • irritability

If you are taking opioid medications, you need to discuss their condition with a doctor before drinking alcohol, as this can increase the risk of serious side effects. Furthermore, it is important to be aware that even if you are taking opioid medications as prescribed, it does not necessarily mean that you will not experience an overdose if you drink alcohol. Therefore, it is essential to follow the guidance of your healthcare provider on how best to manage your condition and regulate any potential substance use.

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Seeking Professional Help for Polysubstance Abuse

If you are struggling with Substance Use Disorders or believe you may be at risk of mixing multiple substances, it is crucial to seek professional help from a qualified and experienced substance use disorder specialist. CATCH Recovery’s addiction programme can connect you with an expert psychiatrist or psychologist who can provide support for mental health disorders and treatment for substance use disorders, including multiple drug abuse.

Our certified drug counsellors can provide guidance on how best to break the cycle of addiction and help you develop an effective recovery plan. Furthermore, attending our 12-step programme can provide social support, structure, and accountability in recovery.

Start Your Journey to Recovery Today

Starting your journey to recovery today is the best way to ensure long-term success. At CATCH Recovery, we are committed to helping you get started on the path towards a healthier and happier life. Through our programme for therapy for substance use disorder, we will support you throughout your journey. Our team of experts understands the complexity of substance use disorders and can help you develop an effective recovery plan tailored to your individual needs.

So why wait? Contact us today and let’s start your new life today!

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