Concurrent Alcohol and Hydrocodone Abuse
The Problem of Alcohol and Hydrocodone Abuse
Both alcohol and hydrocodone are relatively safe when used appropriately and in moderation. When used excessively or when combined, these substances can create volatile and unpredictable outcomes.
Alcohol is a widely used and abused substance. In fact, according to a large study published in JAMA Psychiatry, approximately one-third of adults in the US have met criteria for an alcohol use disorder at some point.
The concept of alcohol abuse can apply to situations wherein people:
- Use the substance illegally - e.g, prior to drinking age.
- Drink to intoxication.
- Drink to self-medicate.
- Drink despite risk of harmful results.
Hydrocodone is the most commonly prescribed opiate pain reliever in the US, and is found in many brand name forumulations like:
This substance is only available with a prescription and can aid in the management of moderate to severe pain. Like alcohol, hydrocodone can produce feelings of euphoria that may lead to the development of physical dependency and, eventually, substance addiction.
Abuse of hydrocodone occurs when people:
- Take the medication without a prescription.
- Take the medication more frequently or in higher doses than prescribed.
- Take the medication for reasons other than prescribed.
- Take the medication in combination with other substances to amplify its intoxicating effects.
Alcohol and Hydrocodone Abuse question 1
Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol with Hydrocodone
To understand the dangers of concurrent alcohol and hydrocodone abuse, it is helpful to understand the consequences of each. When alcohol use becomes heavy, it can lead to many unwanted results such as:
- Reduced coordination and muscle control.
- Decreased inhibitions, which could result in verbal or physical confrontations.
- Impaired judgment, potentially placing the user and those around them in dangerous situations.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Mood changes.
- Poor memory.
Over an extended period, alcohol use can lead to increased incidence of liver problems and even some forms of cancer.
Hydrocodone can lead to signs and symptoms that are similar to other opiates like morphine, heroin, and oxycodone. They include:
- Changed perceptions of pain.
- Slowed heart rate.
- Slowed breathing.
- Slowed gastrointestinal motility.
- Lower motivation and energy.
- Mood changes.
Alcohol and Hydrocodone Abuse question 2
Combined Effects of Hydrocodone and Alcohol
Alcohol and hydrocodone work differently in the body, but they both serve to slow down the body and diminish response time. Substances that work in this way are referred to as depressants.
When two or more depressants are used concurrently, they may increase the unwanted repercussions dramatically--leading to increased health risks.
People that use alcohol and hydrocodone in combination may put themselves at risk for:
- Alcohol poisoning.
- Loss of consciousness.
- Dangerously slowed breathing.
- Dangerously weak heart rate.
An additional risk of this concurrent use is the impact on the liver. As mentioned, alcohol will damage the liver over time. In the case of some combination pharmaceutical formulations - including Lortab, Norco and Vicodin - hydrocodone is mixed with acetaminophen, the latter being related to severe liver complications if used in excess. Concurrent use of alcohol additionally lowers the threshold for acetaminophen's liver toxicity.
When Abuse Becomes Addiction
When alcohol and hydrocodone are used together, the short- and long-term effects have the potential to become compounded and increasingly harmful. Among the most unwanted effects of concurrent use is the heightened risk of developing both tolerance and physical dependence--both ultimately paving the way towards a poly-substance addiction.
Individuals may double up on various substances as a way to augment the experience of each. At least initially, the separate highs or euphoric effects of both substances serve to supplement the other, resulting in a synergized reward that the brain quickly takes note of. This rewarding experience serves as a foundation from which the brain will continue to internally promote the use and re-use of these substances to achieve a pleasant high--even when it begins to consistently lead to unwanted life consequences.
Just as with individual substances in isolation, as use continues, the brain and body will become more familiar with the substance combination and will eventually adapt to their presence. This adaptation results in what is known as tolerance--where the user will be required to increase the amount of drugs used or begin to use them more frequently to approximate the initial high.
As the body acclimates to these consistently elevated levels of substance use, physiological dependence can develop. Dependence results when the body is so accustomed to the substances being available that it may begin to essentially malfunction without them. Should this occur, without alcohol and hydrocodone in the body, the user may experience high levels of discomfort and sometimes dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
Alcohol and Hydrocodone Abuse question 3
Alcohol and Hydrocodone Addiction Treatment
The Need for Supervised Detox
Withdrawing from alcohol or hydrocodone alone can be a very uncomfortable experience. When combined, withdrawal can be dangerous and deadly due to the severe withdrawal syndrome associated with alcohol. Withdrawing from combined use can lead to:
- Body pain.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Goose bumps.
- Increased anxiety.
Because of the possible consequences, many will need to detox under supervision. Undergoing a period of detoxification with medical supervision will assist with comfort and safety while yielding better long-term outcomes since cravings, and the subsequent risk of relapse, will be high during this period.
Once detox has completed, the focus on recovery can begin with several levels of available treatment including:
- Inpatient hospitalization - This is a short-term program to stabilize physical health and mental health issues.
- Residential rehab - Residential programs usually last between one and three months with steady supervision. Daily treatments will include group and individual therapy, possible medication management, and encouragement to engage in a healthy lifestyle.
- Outpatient therapy - This includes a wide range of outpatient modalities ranging from one hour weekly to six hours daily. Therapy will address triggers of use and methods to prevent relapse. This is a good option for those with a strong support system in place at home and is often used in conjunction with residential treatment as a continuation of care.
Many people in recovery engage in informal support groups like 12-step meetings to gain information and support from people with similar substance-related issues.
Alcohol and Hydrocodone Abuse question 4
Alcohol and Hydrocodone Use Statistics
The Drug Enforcement Administration reports:
- More than 135 million prescriptions were filled for hydrocodone in 2013.
- Nearly 25 million people have abused hydrocodone in their lifetime.
- Emergency room visits related to hydrocodone increased 107% from 2004 to 2011.
Regarding alcohol use, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports:
- 25% of people 18 and over reported binge drinking during the last month.
- Almost 90,000 people die from alcohol-related issues each year.
- Alcohol is linked to nearly half of all deaths from liver disease.
Alcohol and Hydrocodone Abuse question 5
Teen Drinking and Hydrocodone Abuse
While both the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report that the rates of teen drug use are stable or decreasing slightly, the ease of access to these substances and the perception that prescription drugs are safer than illegal drugs is a huge factor in the abuse of these drugs. Teens unwittingly place themselves at high risk due to the amplified potency that results from mixing the substances.
Increased preventative measures like education and family communication can lead to lower levels of substance abuse in teens, including that of prescription opioids and alcohol.
Alcohol and Hydrocodone Abuse question 6
Resources, Articles and More Information
For more articles, info and statistics, please visit the National Institutes of Health website or see the following articles:
You can also find support and discuss substance abuse with others who understand in our community forum.
- Hydrocodone. (n.d.). Retrieved December 21, 2015, from http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_chem_info/hydrocodone.pdf
- Overview of Alcohol Consumption. (n.d.). Retrieved December 21, 2015, from http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption
- Monitoring the Future Study: Trends in Prevalence of Various Drugs. (n.d.). Retrieved December 21, 2015, from http://www.drugabuse.gov/trends-statistics/monitoring-future/monitoring-future-study-trends-in-prevalence-various-drugs
- Behavioral Health Trends in the United States. (n.d.). Retrieved December 21, 2015, from http://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FRR1-2014/NSDUH-FRR1-2014.pdf
- Rethinking Drinking: Alcohol and Your Health. (2015). Retrieved January 6, 2016, from http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/RethinkingDrinking/Rethinking_Drinking.pdf