Hydrocodone & Alcohol Interactions

What is Hydrocodone?

Hydrocodone is a prescription pain reliever. It is used to alleviate severe pain. 

The drug is only used to treat people who require painkillers to relieve pain around-the-clock for an extended time and cannot be treated with other medications.

The pain reliever is in a class of medications called opiate (narcotic) analgesics. Popular brand names of hydrocodone pain medications include Vicodin, Lorcet, Norco, and Dicodid.

If you take hydrocodone combination products, it’s essential to read all the ingredients on the product’s packaging. If you are unsure about any ingredients listed, ask your healthcare provider for more information.

Effects of Hydrocodone

Hydrocodone works by adjusting the way the brain and nervous system respond to pain. 

Hydrocodone is a powerful semi-synthetic opioid, and patients can become dependent on it within a week of use. Hydrocodone opioid addiction usually starts with a prescription that patients develop a tolerance to within a short timeframe.

tramadol

To overcome the body’s tolerance and increase the effects of hydrocodone, users will have to start ingesting more pills over time. Or, they may crush and snort hydrocodone pills for amplified effects.

Despite an awareness of the adverse effects of hydrocodone addiction, many people experience a compulsive desire to obtain the drug. 

Side Effects of Hydrocodone and Alcohol

Hydrocodone and alcohol misuse can lead to both psychological and physical effects.

Psychological Effects

Being dependent on opioids, such as hydrocodone, and drinking alcohol can lead to a range of psychiatric issues. The misuse of hydrocodone and alcohol can lead to:

  • Panic
  • Depression
  • Social phobia
  • Anxiety

If a person exhibits at least two of the below criteria within the same one-year timespan, they may be addicted to hydrocodone and alcohol. 

The continuum varies from mild to moderate to severe, depending on the number of present symptoms. 

  • Hydrocodone and alcohol is consumed in larger quantities or over a significant period
  • The person has a continuous desire to stop using hydrocodone and alcohol but has been unable to cut down
  • A considerable amount of time is spent trying to obtain hydrocodone and alcohol and then using the substances or recovering from the adverse side effects
  • The person experiences strong urges or cravings to consume hydrocodone and alcohol
  • As a result of hydrocodone and alcohol use, the person is unable to fulfill responsibilities
  • There is ongoing hydrocodone and alcohol use even though it is causing social or relationship problems or worsening tensions in those relationships
  • The person sets aside essential areas of life including work, family, school, and social activities due to alcohol and hydrocodone use
  • Even though the person gets into dangerous situations after using hydrocodone and alcohol, such as driving while intoxicated or having unprotected sex, the use continues
  • The person continues to use opioids and alcohol even though it is causing or worsening a physical or psychological issue
  • The person builds a tolerance to hydrocodone and alcohol 
  • When the person stops using hydrocodone or reduces the amounts used, withdrawal symptoms begin 

Physical Effects

Common physical effects of hydrocodone include:

  • Stomach pain
  • Dry mouth
  • Drowsiness and sleepiness (nodding out)
  • Headache
  • Back pain
  • Muscle tightening
  • Difficult, frequent, or painful urination
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep 
  • Foot, leg, or ankle swelling
  • Uncontrollable shaking of parts of the body

If these side effects are severe or persist, speak to your doctor.

Some side effects of hydrocodone can be severe. Severe side effects of hydrocodone include:

  • Chest pain
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Confusion
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shivering
  • Severe muscle stiffness or twitching
  • Loss of coordination
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Irregular menstruation
  • Decreased sexual desire
  • Swelling of the eyes, face, lips, tongue, or throat
  • Hoarseness
  • Changes in heartbeat
  • Hives
  • Itching
  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing 
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Erectile dysfunction

If you experience any of these severe side effects, speak to your doctor immediately, or seek emergency medical treatment.

Common physical effects of alcohol include:

  • Memory loss
  • Balance issues 
  • Hearing loss 
  • Slowed reaction times 
  • Blurred vision 
  • Anxiety 
  • Restlessness
  • Lowered inhibitions

Risks of Mixing Hydrocodone and Alcohol

Medical professions recommend avoiding combining opioid drugs like hydrocodone with other depressive substances like alcohol. Both hydrocodone and alcohol produce similar effects in the brain. This means the two can compound each other’s intoxication, making the user feel extremely high or drunk.

As alcohol and opioids are both depressants, they lead to relaxation, pleasure, adjustments to breathing and heart rate, and difficulties thinking clearly or remembering events.

The riskiest symptoms of combining hydrocodone and alcohol involve breathing and heart rate. When two drugs cause these side effects, mixing the two increases the likelihood that a person will pass out, stop breathing, or experience heart failure and die.

Can You Overdose When Mixing Hydrocodone And Alcohol?

When hydrocodone and alcohol are mixed the results can be life-threatening. Excessively drinking alone can lead to alcohol poisoning. Together, the risk of opioid overdose and death becomes significantly high.

There is no specific limit to how much hydrocodone and alcohol would cause an opioid overdose. This is because it depends on how large the dose is or how the substances are consumed.

If a person overdoses on alcohol and hydrocodone, it’s essential to call 911 immediately. The person requires emergency medical attention to survive and mitigate long-term damage.

Signs of an opioid overdose on hydrocodone and alcohol include:

  • Pale, cold, or clammy skin
  • Significant confusion or memory trouble
  • Stumbling
  • Drowsiness and sleepiness
  • Blue fingernails or lips
  • Vomiting or gurgling noises in the throat
  • Low or stopped heartbeat
  • Breathing problems

Treatment for Hydrocodone and Alcohol Abuse

There are various treatments available if you or a loved one is suffering from alcohol and drug abuse.

Detox

Withdrawing from alcohol and hydrocodone without professional help can be an uncomfortable and dangerous experience. Withdrawal can be deadly due to the severe withdrawal symptoms. Medication-assisted treatment may also be necessary to control symptoms, depending on the individual. 

Withdrawing from the combined use of hydrocodone and alcohol can lead to:

  • Body pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Restlessness
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Goosebumps
  • Increased anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Confusion
  • Sweating
  • Seizures

Due to the potential consequences, a professional detox under supervision is one of the primary treatments for alcohol and opioid addiction. 

Detox with help from medical staff assists with comfort and safety while leading to better long-term outcomes. This is because cravings and the risk of relapse are high during this time.

Inpatient Hospitalization

Once detox is complete, the focus on long-term recovery starts with various addiction treatment options. Inpatient hospitalization is a short-term program to assist with physical and mental health issues.

Rehab

Residential rehab is another option, lasting between one to three months with continuous supervision from medical staff. Daily addiction treatments at recovery include group and individual therapy, medication management, and teaching patients how to live a healthy lifestyle.

Outpatient Therapy

Outpatient therapy includes an extensive selection of addiction treatments ranging from one hour weekly to six hours daily. Therapy addresses triggers of substance abuse and methods to avoid relapse.

Therapy is an excellent option for patients with a robust support system in place at home. It’s often used in conjunction with residential addiction treatment. Many patients in recovery attend informal support groups, including 12-step meetings, to gain support and information from people with similar issues.

Resources

Hydrocodone, MedlinePlus, 2020, https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a614045.html 

Hydrocodone, Drug Enforcement Administration, 2019, https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_chem_info/hydrocodone.pdf 

Hydrocodone Combination Products, MedlinePlus, 2020, https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a601006.html 

Harmful Interactions, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 2014, https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/harmful-interactions-mixing-alcohol-with-medicines 

Alcohol Use and Your Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm

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Updated on: November 4, 2020
Author
Ellie Swain
About
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Medically Reviewed
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Annamarie Coy,
BA, CADACII/ICADC, ICPR, MATS
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