Oxycodone and Alcohol Addiction Treatment
Oxycodone (an opiate painkiller) and alcohol are both highly addictive, and when consumed together their effects on the body and brain are magnified. Mixing oxycodone and alcohol can create chemical dependency in a relatively brief period, and drinking alcohol while taking oxycodone also increases the risk of a potentially fatal overdose. Consuming oxycodone and alcohol together is an especially hazardous form of substance abuse, and anyone overindulging in this potent combination should seek addiction treatment services immediately, before disaster strikes.
People who abuse any type of drug can suffer frightening consequences. But men, women, and adolescents who mix two or more drugs together face an especially severe risk for addiction and overdose, the latter of which could be fatal.
The dangers of mixing alcohol and opiate painkillers like oxycodone far surpass the hazards associated with consuming either drug individually, and those who choose to combine these substances are playing with fire. An oxycodone and alcohol high can be intense, but the crash that follows may be incredibly destructive.
What is Oxycodone?
Oxycodone is a semi-synthetic medication that belongs to the opiate family, a class of drugs derived from the opium poppy plant. Oxycodone is the active pain relieving ingredient in a number of prescription drugs used to treat moderate-to-severe pain, and is frequently prescribed to patients experiencing the aftereffects of serious medical conditions or invasive medical procedures.
Oxycodone works by binding with naturally occurring opiate receptors in the brain, and it may produce feelings of euphoria and/or relaxation in addition to its capacity to dull pain.
While oxycodone can be injected, it is usually taken orally as a pill (tablet or capsule) and is available in time-release or immediate-release formulations. Some of the most widely prescribed oxycodone-based drugs include OxyContin, Percocet, Percodan, Roxicodone, and generic oxycodone, and approximately 60 million prescriptions for oxycodone products are written in the United States each year.
Statistics on Oxycodone and Alcohol Use
Oxycodone and alcohol are both widely abused drugs, with significant consequences for those who use them separately or together:
- In 2016, 11.5 million Americans aged 12 and older (4.3 percent of this group) abused prescription opiates, including 3.9 million (34 percent of the total) who misused oxycodone products specifically.
- In 2016, 1.8 million Americans aged 12 and older suffered from a painkiller addiction, which represents 16 percent of those who abused these drugs.
- Of the 11.5 million who misused prescription opiates in 2016, 62.3 percent did so to manage pain, 12.9 percent did it to get high, and 10.8 percent did it to relieve stress and tension.
- In 2016, 15.1 million Americans aged 12 and older (5.6 percent of this group) suffered from an alcohol use disorder.
- Of the 15.1 million who battled an alcohol addiction in 2016, 2.3 million (15 percent) also suffered from a drug use disorder.
- In 2011, oxycodone was responsible for more emergency room visits (175,229) than any other pharmaceutical painkiller.
- Between 2000 and 2016, natural and semi-synthetic opiates (including oxycodone) were responsible for 14,427 fatalities in the United States.
- In 2010, 18.5 percent of emergency room visits for opiate painkiller abuse also involved alcohol, and 22.1 percent of opiate-related overdose deaths did as well.
Why is Mixing Oxycodone and Alcohol So Dangerous?
In 2016, an estimated 64,000 Americans died from drug overdose, making it the country’s leading source of accidental death. The majority of these fatalities could be traced to opiate abuse, and that makes the mixing of oxycodone and alcohol a special concern.
As nervous system depressants, alcohol and oxycodone both repress activity in the brain, which can affect everything from heart rate to blood pressure to breathing. It is the suppression of the respiratory system in particular that puts opiate users at risk of death by overdose, and when the alcohol is consumed as well breathing difficulties are magnified and the chances of respiratory failure are enhanced.
In addition to increased chances of overdose, the development of addiction to either alcohol or oxycodone (or both) is accelerated when the two substances are consumed together. This is inevitable given the similarity of their effects on the body and the brain, and people who frequently combine alcohol with any opiate, including oxycodone, may succumb to chemical dependency in a matter of a few weeks.
Physical Signs and Symptoms of Oxycodone and Alcohol Abuse
Since both surpass or dampen the activity of the central nervous system, the symptoms of alcohol and oxycodone abuse largely overlap. The side effects of mixing oxycodone and alcohol can mimic heavy use of one of these substances individually, which can confuse friends and family members who may be unaware their loved ones are abusing multiple substances.
The physical symptoms experienced by individuals mixing oxycodone and alcohol may include:
- Slowed reaction times
- Excessive drowsiness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dry mouth
- Low blood pressure
- Respiratory distress
- Reduced heart rate
When oxycodone and alcohol use is heavy or sustained, additional and more serious side effects may be experienced, including:
- Confusion and disorientation
- Poor motor control
- Loss of consciousness
Overdose victims may simply stop breathing, and if medical intervention is not made available immediately a tragic ending may be unavoidable.
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Behavioral Signs of Oxycodone and Alcohol Abuse
For addicts drugs become an all-consuming priority, which distorts their behavior and personality in ways that are impossible to miss.
Some common behavioral signs of oxycodone and alcohol abuse include:
- Increased consumption of alcohol, oxycodone, or both, in response to an increase in tolerance
- Doctor shopping for extra oxycodone prescriptions
- Stealing, borrowing, or begging for oxycodone from friends and family
- Run-ins with law enforcement (for DUIs, theft, buying prescription drugs illegally, drunk and disorderly conduct, etc.)
- Use of drugs and alcohol in amounts greater than originally intended
- Moodiness, irritability, fits of anger
- Denial and defensiveness when confronted about drug or alcohol use
- Excessive expenditures on drugs and alcohol, usually leading to financial troubles
- Lying and manipulative behavior revolving around substance abuse
- Multiple emergency room visits for suspected symptoms of overdose
While any type of drug dependency will likely reveal itself through similar behavioral symptoms, the consequences of mixing alcohol and oxycodone will be more severe than if just one of these drugs is abused. The addict’s descent into dangerous territory will occur more quickly, and their efforts to feed their chemical dependency will become more desperate.
Alcohol and Oxycodone Withdrawal
The symptoms of oxycodone withdrawal are extremely unpleasant, but the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are even worse. When an individual is dependent on alcohol, withdrawal could potentially be life-threatening if medical attention is withheld or delayed.
The symptoms of withdrawal from oxycodone include:
- Anxiety, agitation
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle aches and pains
- Chills, runny nose, and other flu-like symptoms
- Stomach cramps and diarrhea
- Panic attacks (rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, sweating, lightheadedness, intense fear of fainting, etc.)
Anxiety, nausea, insomnia, and panic-like symptoms are also experienced during alcohol withdrawal. But depending on the severity of the alcohol dependency, other withdrawal effects may also manifest, including:
- Throbbing headache
- Shaky hands or full-body tremors
- Confusion, disorientation
- The onset of delirium tremens (DTs), a life-threatening condition that produces hallucinations and delusions
Withdrawal symptoms are likely to commence within a few hours of the last drink or pill consumed and peak in intensity in 24-48 hours. In each instance, supervised detox is necessary to make sure those undergoing oxycodone and alcohol withdrawal have access to the medical services they need to recover safely and with a minimum of pain and discomfort.
Medication is often used to help lessen the intensity of the detox process. People suffering from alcohol dependency are often prescribed sedatives from the benzodiazepine drug class, such as lorazepam, diazepam, or chlordiazepoxide, to relieve their anxiety and take the edge of the most severe withdrawal symptoms.
Meanwhile, patients with opiate addictions are frequently administered substitute drugs like methadone and buprenorphine, which are also opiates and will bind to the same receptors as oxycodone. But these drugs produce little euphoria and milder withdrawal symptoms, and therefore can be used for short-term relief and as aids in the transition to long-term sobriety.
Treatment for Alcohol and Oxycodone Addiction
The side effects of mixing oxycodone and alcohol can be dire. Taken together, they increase the odds of overdose and create a faster pathway to addiction. People seeking an oxycodone and alcohol high may end up as another tragic statistic, adding yet another number to the oxycodone and alcohol death tally.
When an addiction to one or both substances has been diagnosed by a physician or addiction treatment specialist, the best solution is inpatient treatment at a residential rehab facility. Intensive outpatient programs may be an acceptable option in some cases, if barriers prevent the patient from enrolling in a full-time inpatient treatment program, but in general residential treatment is the preferred choice for recovering addicts and alcoholics.
This is especially true when addiction involves more than one substance. When a dual diagnosis for alcohol dependency and oxycodone addiction has been given, integrated inpatient treatment services that address all the symptoms of each condition offer the best odds of recovery. Comprehensive residential rehabilitation plans that include therapy (individual, group, and family), medication-assisted treatment, life skills and self-help courses, and holistic mind-body healing techniques are necessary to help patients change their behavior and embrace sobriety as a full-time lifestyle.