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Mixing Alcohol and Vicodin (Hydrocodone): Risks and Warnings

Mixing Alcohol and Vicodin (Hydrocodone): Risks and Warnings

Vicodin and alcohol in combination can be dangerous. Learn about the dangers, as well as how to seek medication-assisted treatment (MAT), here.

When using any sort of drug or medication, it’s important to be aware of the ways the drug may interact with other substances you’re using. One potentially dangerous interaction is that between Vicodin and alcohol. Some people may misuse alcohol while being prescribed Vicodin, whereas others may misuse Vicodin while drinking in an effort to feel “high.” Unfortunately, Vicodin and drinking do not mix well together. If you’re having difficulty giving up either substance, you may benefit from medication assisted treatment to help you stay committed to recovery and protect yourself from the dangers of using painkillers and alcohol together. 

What Is Vicodin?

Vicodin is an opioid medication that is used to treat pain. It is often known by its generic name, hydrocodone. Hydrocodone is a Schedule II controlled substance, meaning that it has a high potential for misuse and is monitored by the government. Some people may misuse Vicodin because they enjoy the relaxing effects of the medication, whereas others may become dependent upon the drug, even when taking it as prescribed by a doctor. 

How Does Vicodin Work?

Vicodin contains the opioid drug hydrocodone, which works by stimulating opioid receptors in the brain. These receptors are involved in the experience of pain, so when they are activated by drugs, a person experiences pain relief. Hydrocodone can also act on an area of the brain that is involved in coughing, so some products contain

hydrocodone as a cough-suppressing agent.

Side Effects of Vicodin 

While Vicodin can be beneficial in cases of chronic pain, doctors use caution when prescribing this medication, because it does come with a risk of side effects. Below are some of the common adverse effects of Vicodin.

  • Gastrointestinal Symptoms

GI symptoms like constipation, upset stomach, abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting are common with Vicodin. 

  • Breathing Problems

Opioid drugs including Vicodin can cause breathing problems, including shortness of breath. In high doses, Vicodin can lead to respiratory depression, which is life-threatening. 

  • Cardiovascular Side Effects 

Cardiovascular side effects associated with Vicodin include edema, low heart rate, and low blood pressure. 

  • Neurological Symptoms

Neurological side effects related to Vicodin can include headache, dizziness, drowsiness, fatigue, anxiety, sedation, and insomnia. 

  • Other Adverse Effects 

Some other side effects of Vicodin are rash, ringing in the ears, and urinary tract infections. 

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Why Is Vicodin Addictive?

Beyond the side effects mentioned above, another adverse effect of Vicodin is that it comes with a potential for misuse and addiction. Vicodin is addictive because opioid medications can make people feel extremely relaxed or high. This can lead to repeated misuse of drugs like Vicodin. 

When people repeatedly misuse Vicodin, either by taking larger doses than prescribed or using it for non-medical purposes, they place themselves at risk of addiction. They may develop a tolerance, meaning they need larger quantities of Vicodin to achieve the same desired effects. With tolerance also comes a risk of dependence, which means that people will experience uncomfortable withdrawal side effects when they stop using Vicodin. 

Vicodin misuse statistics demonstrate just how addictive this type of drug can be. According to a 2020 survey from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 9.3 million people aged 12 and older had misused prescription pain medications like Vicodin within the past year. Overall, 3.3 percent of Americans misused pain medications, but the rate of misuse was highest among young adults aged 18 to 25, of whom 4.1 percent misused painkillers. 

Vicodin vs. Alcohol 

One of the reasons that mixing Vicodin and alcohol is so dangerous is that both substances act as central nervous system depressants. This means that they slow activity in the nervous system and can produce feelings like sedation.

While alcohol and Vicodin are both central nervous system depressants, there are some differences between the two substances. Alcohol’s active ingredient, ethanol, contributes to the depressant effects by stimulating the activity of a neurotransmitter called GABA, which slows activity in the nervous system and produces a calming effect. Over time, the body becomes tolerant to this calming effect, and a person must consume more and more alcohol to feel relaxed.

Opioid drugs like Vicodin, on the other hand, stimulate the brain’s opioid receptors, which produces a pain-relieving effect. When activated, opioid receptors also cause the body to release large amounts of dopamine, which creates a pleasurable effect and encourages people to keep using opioids. 

Can You Mix Vicodin and Alcohol?

Hydrocodone mixed with alcohol can have dangerous interaction effects, as both substances are central nervous system depressants. For this reason, Vicodin and alcohol should not be taken together. 

Dangers of Mixing Vicodin and Alcohol 

Vicodin and alcohol overdose is one of the main dangers of mixing these two substances. Opioid overdoses are often the result of respiratory depression. Since alcohol is also a central nervous system depressant, mixing Vicodin and alcohol can make respiratory depression worse. Ultimately, this can lead to a potentially fatal overdose. Furthermore, the combination of alcohol and Vicodin can lead to overdoses with lower quantities of opioids than would normally result in an overdose. 

Effects of Mixing Vicodin and Alcohol

There are additional side effects of combining Vicodin and alcohol, beyond the risk of overdose. Since both substances are central nervous system depressants, using the two together intensifies the depressant effect and results in the following side effects:

  • Drowsiness
  • Sedation
  • Lack of coordination 

These side effects can make a person more prone to injuries and accidents from falls or motor vehicle crashes.

Long-Term Effects of Mixing Vicodin and Alcohol

Over time, mixing Vicodin and alcohol can lead to serious consequences, including addiction to both substances. You may also experience negative side effects related to substance misuse.

Physical Effects

Since the combination of alcohol and Vicodin increases the risk of overdose, long-term use of these substances is linked to serious physical consequences. Beyond death from overdose, people may experience brain damage from lack of oxygen during an overdose. 

Psychological Effects 

The main psychological effects associated with long-term use of alcohol and Vicodin involve factors related to addiction. Research suggests that using both substances together leads to co-addiction, which means that cravings for one substance can lead to cravings for the other as well. 

When alcohol and Vicodin are mixed, the pleasure or high associated with the substances is more intense than when either substance is used on its own. This can make it even more difficult to stop using Vicodin and alcohol. 

Long-term use of both substances can also lead to mental health problems, including depression.

Signs of Vicodin and Alcohol Addiction

When someone develops an addiction to a substance like Vicodin or alcohol, they are diagnosed with a substance use disorder. Some general signs of a substance use disorder are as follows:

  • Using substances in risky situations, such as driving while under the influence
  • Continuing to use substances, even when they cause a health problem or make an existing health condition worse
  • Showing withdrawal symptoms when not using the substance
  • Developing a tolerance, so that larger amounts of the substance are needed to achieve the same effects 
  • Strong cravings for the substance
  • Being unable to cut back on substance use, even when there is a strong desire to do so
  • Spending a significant amount of time using the substance
  • Giving up other activities in favor of substance misuse
  • Continuing to use drugs even when it causes problems with functioning at work, school, or in family life

In summary, a person who is addicted to both Vicodin and alcohol will continue to use both substances, even when substance misuse causes serious consequences. A person may continue to mix the two substances, even when it results in overdoses or other health problems. They may become so fixated on using alcohol and Vicodin that they give up all other hobbies or begin to neglect their families. 

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If you’re looking for information on what happens when you mix pain pills and alcohol, the answers to the following questions are also helpful. 

How Long After Drinking Can I Take Painkillers?

Alcohol and painkillers like opioids should not be taken together, as the two substances can cause dangerous interaction effects and lead to an overdose. You should not take opioids while you still have alcohol in your system. Talk with your medical provider about when it is safe to take painkillers after drinking. 

How Long After Taking Hydrocodone Can I Drink Alcohol?

There are different formulations of hydrocodone; some versions are extended release, whereas others are immediate release. Extended release versions stay in your system longer than immediate release versions. The half-life of extended release versions can be as long as 12 hours, meaning that the drugs stay in the system for quite some time. 

The point is that hydrocodone can stay in your system for several days, even after you stop taking it. You should not drink at any time while taking hydrocodone or immediately after stopping the use of this medication. Ask your doctor when it is safe to drink after you have been using hydrocodone. 

What Medication Can You Not Drink Alcohol With?

In addition to Vicodin, there are several other medications that are not safe to use with alcohol. These include benzodiazepines like Xanax or Valium, stimulant medications like Ritalin, and other prescription opioids like Percocet. Ask your doctor if you are concerned that one of your medications may interact with alcohol. 

Is Vicodin Dangerous?

Vicodin is a prescription medication with legitimate medical uses, and some people may need it for relief of severe or chronic pain. However, misuse of the medication can be dangerous and lead to addiction and overdose. The medication is safe when used under the direction of a doctor, but it should never be used without medical supervision or in larger doses than prescribed. 

How to Deal With Vicodin and Alcohol Addition

If you’ve developed an addiction to alcohol and Vicodin, it’s important to seek treatment. An addiction is a legitimate medical condition, and it is difficult to stop using on your own. 

Treatment and Medication

Substance use disorders, including alcohol and Vicodin addiction, are often treated with a combination of medication and behavioral treatments like counseling. While you’re in treatment, you may also attend support group meetings or work with a recovery coach. 

Medication-assisted treatment is commonly used for both alcohol and Vicodin addiction. This approach uses medications to help people manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms so that they can stay committed to their recovery. 

There are numerous medications used in the treatment of substance use disorders. One medication, called naltrexone, can be effective for treating both alcohol and opioid misuse. A doctor can help you to determine the best medication (s) for your specific needs. 

Vicodin (Hydrocodone) Withdrawal 

Withdrawing from an opioid drug like Vicodin can lead to uncomfortable withdrawal side effects, including nausea, vomiting, hot flashes, sleep disturbances, diarrhea, anxiety, sweating, runny nose, and muscle cramps. People who have moderate to severe opioid withdrawal symptoms may benefit from an inpatient detox program, where they can receive medications like buprenorphine or methadone to make withdrawal symptoms less severe. After undergoing detox, a person is ready to transition to an ongoing treatment program. 

It is also important to understand that alcohol withdrawal can lead to serious and potentially fatal side effects, including seizures and a dangerous condition called delirium tremens. If you’re struggling with both alcohol and Vicodin addiction, it’s important to reach out for medical support while undergoing withdrawal, to prevent serious complications. 

Risks of Mixing Alcohol With Other Opioids

It’s important to know that Vicodin and alcohol are not the only combinations that can be dangerous. Alcohol also has dangerous interaction effects with other opioids, including Percocet, OxyContin, and codeine. Using alcohol with any of these opioids can lead to respiratory depression and overdose, much like mixing alcohol and Vicodin. 

Consult With Confidant Health to Recover From Vicodin and Alcohol Misuse 

If you’re struggling with misuse of Vicodin and alcohol and are seeking support, Confidant Health is here to help. We offer medication assisted treatment for alcohol use and opioid use in a virtual format, so we can provide you with support as you begin your journey toward recovery. Our app is available on the App Store and the Google Play Store. Download it today to receive medication assisted treatment from home. 

This article has been medically reviewed by
Erin Hillers
Erin Hillers
Erin Hillers
Nurse Practitioner

Erin is a Nurse Practitioner with 8 years of experience in midwifery and women's health. She has spent the past 5 years specializing in the treatment of opioid and alcohol use disorders.

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