ARTICLE SUMMARY: The most life-threatening side effect of mixing alcohol with OxyContin involves depressed breathing. More on the potential harms and warnings for mixing OxyContin with alcohol here.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- A Scare Tactic?
- Effects on the Brain
- Side Effects
- Drinking Safely
- When You Need Professional Help
A Scare Tactic?
Some people may think that doctors, law enforcement, or school officials exaggerate the negative effects of drinking while taking OxyContin. The fact is that OxyContin is truly dangerous. It has a high potential for abuse, and can lead to severe psychological or physical dependence. Even when taken alone, OxyContin has the potential to seriously ruin your life.
OxyContin is a powerful prescription painkiller. Its main ingredient is oxycodone, a strong prescription painkiller called an “opioid”, or synthetic, man-made opiate. OxyContin can cause feelings of euphoria, especially when taken in amounts larger than prescribed. This is one of the reasons why DEA placed this painkiller in the group of schedule II drugs. Plus, the original formula for OxyContin was revised in 2013 by the order of the FDA to prevent people from chewing, crushing, or injecting it. But how much warning is a scare tactic and how much is for real?
Again, we repeat: OxyContin is dangerous. Some people mix Oxys with alcohol to intensify its pleasurable effects. However, alcohol has a chemical reaction with OxyContin in the body and the two chemicals have an additive effect when combined. That means that the effects of the alcohol and OxyContin are both stronger when they’re mixed together, or even taken on the same day. This can cause accidental overdose and death.
Every day, over 1,000 people are treated in ER departments for using painkillers the wrong way.
When taken together, alcohol and OxyContin create serious imbalance in brain chemistry.The FDA-approved OxyContin label reads:
Oxycodone may be expected to have additive effects when used in conjunction with alcohol, other opioids, or illicit drugs that cause central nervous system depression.
How exactly does the combo affect the brain? Well, the answer is not that simple. When alcohol is in the body, it increases the effects of sedation and relaxation by elevating levels of GABA, one of your body’s primary neurotransmitters that acts to calm your central nervous system. This is how alcohol actually works as a natural occurring sedative and is effective at suppressing anxiety and lowering stress levels.
Both alcohol and OxyContin also affect dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is responsible for regulating moods, sleep quality, and movement functions. High levels of dopamine create pleasure while low levels can cause depression. Alcohol and OxyContin increase levels of dopamine, which is why people feel happy while under the influence of one or both substances. When the effects of this combination wear off, dopamine levels drop and people start experiencing depression and low mood swings.
In sum, fluctuations of dopamine levels changes the way the brain naturally produces dopamine. The brain will start relying on alcohol and OxyContin in order to remain chemically balanced. If you continue to mix these two substances you risk developing physical dependence.
In self-reports, like this one from Erowid, people who have mixed OxyContin with alcohol report some of these effects:
- dream-like state
- wandering mind
The most life-threatening side effect of mixing alcohol with OxyContin involves depressed breathing.
If you drink and take OxyContin, your breathing rate will slow down. Without enough oxygen, the brain can begin to shut down organ systems, and you can eventually suffer brain damage or death due to lack of oxygen.
If you’re mixing booze and OxyContin, you can also fall into a coma. Alcohol enhances the sedative effects of OxyContin, leading to increased drowsiness. This can eventually cause you to fall asleep and be unable to wake up.
Mixing alcohol also increase the risk losing your balance and suffering severe falls, particularly in older adults. Loss of coordination occurs, and risk for injury skyrockets for people who drive or operate machinery while under the influence. Finally, taking these drugs (individually or together) lead to serious memory loss or increase the effects of dementia.
This is because of the additive effect they have on one another. Some potentially dangerous effects of mixing OxyContin with alcohol include:
- impaired coordination
- loss of consciousness
- shallow breathing
- slowed heart rate
OxyContin is more dangerous when mixed with alcohol, but the reverse is also true. Alcohol’s sedative effects will be heightened when mixed with any narcotic; you’ll experience more intoxication from the alcohol. Not only that, but your alcohol tolerance will be lower than normal. This can lead to alcohol poisoning, so it’s important to be aware of the subjective signs of alcohol intoxication rather than count drinks.
Drinking and using OxyContin can cause your breathing rate to slow. The brain’s oxygen supply decreases, and it begins to shut down organ systems. Brain damage or death due to lack of oxygen are possible. Or, you can fall into a coma. Alcohol enhances the sedative effects of OxyContin, leading to increased drowsiness. This can eventually cause you to fall asleep and be unable to wake up.
When drinking and taking this opioid, expect trouble concentrating and difficulty with coordination. You’re more likely to be involved in an accident or injure yourself.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that from 199-2016, 200,000 people have died from an opioid overdose. In 2016 alone, every day, over 1,000 people are treated in emergency departments for misusing prescription opioids. While this data is not “OxyContin-only”, it gives you a good idea that there is a high risk when using OxyContin.
It’s much easier to overdose on OxyContin when it’s taken with alcohol. OxyContin becomes stronger and more dangerous when combined with other depressants. In fact, doctors do not recommend mixing the two drugs at all. Sometimes it can be dangerous to take them on the same day, even hours apart, especially if you’re been prescribed an extended release version of OxyContin, or chase snorting OxyContin effects.
To prevent OxyContin overdose:
- Never take it more than prescribed.
- Report any side effects or concerns to your doctor
- Avoid taking opioids with alcohol and other substances or medications.
- Do not share or sell your prescription opioids.
- Safely store OxyContin, perhaps under lock and key.
The higher the dosage, the higher your risk of overdose. Many people take high doses of OxyContin, especially if they become tolerant to the oxycodone and need more medication for pain relief. However, occasional reduction or tapering can help reduce risk of overdose. To calculate your daily dose and to evaluate if it’s a risk for you, see the daily dosage opioid calculator from the CDC here.
Abusing OxyContin by taking more than a normal dose or by chewing, injecting or snorting OxyContin can cause overdose or even death. This risk increases when you add alcohol. The numbers back this up. The CDC reports that drugs like OxyContin were involved in 42,249 deaths in 2016, and that opioid overdose deaths were five times higher in 2016 than 1999.
Despite the dangers, OxyContin is often mixed with alcohol. But even normal doses of OxyContin combined with alcohol can cause your breathing to slow or stop completely. The only way to avoid these risks is to decide not to drink at all while on OxyContin.
Is It Safe To Drink On OxyContin?
No. It’s not safe to ever mix OxyContin and alcohol.
The combination brings out the worst in both drugs. In fact, the FDA warns against mixing the two at all. You should ask your doctor for more information on how to stop drinking, if you find the idea of giving up drinking too difficult.
Check out table 3 in the study written by Ron Weathermon, Pharm.D., and David W. Crabb, M.D. about Alcohol and Medication Interactions, to learn more about the effects of mixing alcohol and various classes of medications.
When You Need Professional Help
It can be hard to admit that you have a problem with a prescription medicine. Here’s one rule of thumb that we generally recommend that people follow:
If you think you have a problem, you probably do.
Still, drug problems can be difficult to recognize. If you ever need to assess yourself, check out this NIDA drug screening tool resource kit. You can look into brief online versions, or schedule a visit with your prescribing doctor for a full assessment. Looking for some more immediate information?
Here are some general signs that your OxyContin use requires professional help:
- You’ve tried, but cannot quit OxyContin for good.
- You take OxyContin, even in the face of health, financial, social, or work problems.
- You’re using OxyContin to get high and to avoid feeling negative emotions.
- You drink when you take OxyContin to intensify the effect.
Any of these behaviors signal the need for professional help from an addiction counselor, psychotherapist, rehab center, detox clinic, or even your family doctor. Whether you call us on the phone number listed above, or pick up the phone to call a friend….KNOW THIS: Drug problems are treated medically.
There is hope. You can life drug-free!
Got a Questions?
Do you still have questions about OxyContin safety?
Please leave your OxyContin questions here. We try our best to answer all questions personally, and promptly. And if we don’t know the answer, we will refer you to someone who can help. Your experiences with mixing OxyContin and alcohol are also welcomed here.
Reference Sources: NIAAA pamphlet: Harmful Interactions, Mixing Alcohol with Medicines
Medline Plus: Oxycodone
PubMed: Oxycodone involvement in drug abuse deaths
DailyMed: Oxycodone drug label
DEA: Drug Schedules
NIH: Alcohol and Medication Interactions
All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a licensed medical professional.