Percocet is the brand name for a mixture of oxycodone, one of the strongest opioids, and acetaminophen, the main component in over-the-counter fever reducers like Tylenol. An opioid is a synthetic derivative of opium, and it is commonly used in the strongest prescription painkillers (Julien, 2011).
Opioids induce a feeling of euphoria and numbness in the user, similar to heroin, and they build tolerance, making them ripe for addiction. Percocet is shorter lasting than other oxycodone-based drugs, like Oxycontin. It is used to treat moderate to severe pain, rather than chronic pain. Acetaminophen has a well-documented history of liver damage, which is exponentially increased by alcohol (Brune, et al., 2015).
Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol with Percocet
The visible effects of alcohol and Percocet abuse are no different than combining alcohol with any other painkiller. Both drugs slow breathing and limit coordination. People who use alcohol and Percocet at the same time have limited judgment and are a danger to themselves and others. Alcohol tolerance is decreased by the presence of painkillers.
Someone mixing Percocet and alcohol may merely seem extremely drunk, but the combination is actually much more dangerous. (McCabe et al., 2006). Here are the noticeable signs of concurrent alcohol and Percocet abuse:
Alcohol and Percocet Facts:
- Opioid painkillers are similar in properties and function to heroin.
- Alcohol and painkillers amplify one another’s effects.
- Percocet is a combination of oxycodone and acetaminophen.
- Both are addictive.
- Both Percocet and alcohol are dangerous for the liver.
- Feeling of euphoria.
- Slurred speech.
- Shallow breathing.
- Constant itching.
- Needle marks.
- Small pupils.
- Excessive sweat.
- Cold skin.
- Dry mouth.
Combined Effects of Percocet and Alcohol Abuse
The main difference between mixing alcohol with Percocet and mixing alcohol with other painkillers is the high possibility for severe liver damage. The FDA has issued a warning to pharmaceutical companies, limiting the amount of acetaminophen to be mixed into opioid painkillers (FDA News Release, 2011). Acetaminophen causes more than 400 deaths per year due to its effects on the liver. Alcoholic.org warns that all painkillers weigh heavily on the liver and that those using Percocet are best advised to avoid alcohol completely due to the risk of liver damage. The National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states that the liver along with the brain, heart and pancreas are all organs negatively affected by alcohol (NIAA, 2010).
With prolonged use, a person will build a tolerance to alcohol and painkillers and form addiction (Gudin et al., 2013). Those with a history of alcohol abuse are more likely to develop dependence on opioid painkillers. Mixing alcohol with Percocet greatly increases the likelihood of overdose.
Effects of concurrent alcohol and Percocet use include:
- Depressed respiratory system.
- Inability to focus thoughts.
- Low blood pressure.
- Liver failure.
- Heart attack.
- Colon cancer.
- Death (risk especially high for concurrent alcohol use) (Julien, 2011; Kinney, 2009).
Treatment for Co-occurring Alcohol and Percocet Addiction
Many people dependent on painkillers are afraid of the dramatic withdrawal. Additionally, 12-step education has a proven record of helping addicts of many varieties.
Percocet and alcohol addicts will go out of their way, despite financial, social and health problems to purchase and use these drugs. They may be seeking out multiple doctors, hiding prescription bottles in odd places, and buying Percocet from people who are prescribed the drug for legitimate health reasons.
Statistics for Alcohol and Percocet
- Nearly half of acetaminophen use results in accidental overdose (FDA, 2013).
- Roughly 400 deaths a year are related to acetaminophen overdose (FDA, 2013).
- The Foundation for a Drug-Free World notes that about 10% of twelfth graders abuse painkillers (2016).
- The National Institute on Drug Abuse finds that alcohol has the highest rate of dependence and abuse among all drugs (NIDA, 2015).
- The CDC records over 80,000 alcohol related deaths each year, and people aged 12 to 20 drink 11% of all alcohol consumed in the U.S.
- The CDC also reports that adults over 26 comprise 70% of incidents involving alcohol abuse.
- The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates about 17 million Americans abuse alcohol.
Teen Drinking and Percocet Abuse
The Harvard Mental Health Letter cites teens and young adults as more susceptible to painkiller addiction. Because Percocet has a legitimate use, teens are able to buy it from friends who have been prescribed Percocet. According to CNN, Percocet is sold on the street for around $10 to $15, about twice its actual value (CNN, 2011). The Foundation for a Drug-Free World counts painkillers as only behind marijuana in popularity among teens who abuse drugs. Most teenagers do not believe painkillers are a serious danger.
Resources, Articles and More Information
- The radio program “This American Life” has produced an hourlong program about the dangers of acetaminophen, including its history and a few terrifying stories of those dealing with the consequences of the drug’s abundant use.
- The National Institute on Drug Abuse provides a scientific overview of many controlled substances, including painkillers.
- Alcoholics Anonymous
- Narcotics Anonymous
- How to Help a Percocet Addict
Talk to others about substance abuse, get support from a community of people who understand, and share your story today at our Forum.
- Brune, K., Renner, B. and Tiegs, G. (2015), Acetaminophen/paracetamol: A history of errors, failures and false decisions. European Journal of Pain, 19: 953–965. doi: 10.1002/ejp.621.
- Cable News Network (CNN). “Prescription drugs worth millions to dealers” by Parija Kavilanz@CNN.Money, June 1, 2011.
- Foundation for a Drug-Free World (2016). Prescription Painkiller Abuse. Available at drugfreeworld.org.
- Gudin, J.A. et al. (2013). Risks, management, and monitoring of combination opioid, benzodiazepines, and/or alcohol use. Postgrad Med 125(4):115-30.
- Julien, R.M. et al. (2011). Opioid Analgesics. A Primer of Drug Action: A comprehensive guide to the actions, uses, and side effects of psychoactive drugs. Twelfth Edition. New York, NY: Worth Publishers, pp. 315-358.
- Kinney, J. (2009). Loosening the Grip: A Handbook of Alcohol Information. Ninth Edition. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.
- McCabe, S.E., et al. (2006). Simultaneous and Concurrent Polydrug Use of Alcohol and Prescription Drugs: Prevalence, Correlates, and Consequences. J Stud Alcohol 67(4):529-537.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) (2010). Beyond Hangovers: Understanding alcohol’s impact on your health. National Institute on Health. Revised October 10, 2015. Available at http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/Hangovers/beyondHangovers.pdf
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) (2015). DrugFacts: Nationwide Trends. (Revised June 2015). Available at drugabuse.gov.
- Schulz, J.E., et al. (2009). Nutual Help, Twelve Step, and Other Recovery Programs. In Ries, R.K. et al., Editors. Principles of Addiction Medicine. Fourth Edition. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins pp. 911-922.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)(2011). FDA limits limits acetaminophen in prescription combination products; requires liver toxicity warnings. News and Events, January 13, 2011. Available at fda.gov/acetaminophen
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (2013).
Acetaminophen toxicity, safe use initiative. Available at http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/SafeUseInitiative/ucm188762.htm