Studies have found that if you’re suffering from alcohol addiction, you’re twice as likely to become addicted to opiates at some stage in your life. Mixing alcohol and opiates such as heroin or codeine has become increasingly common, and is done in order to enhance the sedating effects of both substances, resulting in a stronger and more intense high. 

What are opiates?

Opiates is the name given to a group of prescription medications derived from the opium plant. These drugs are usually prescribed to treat mild to severe pain in patients. However, due to the intensity of their effects and their ability to make you feel calm and relaxed, there is a high potential for abuse and addiction. 

Types of opiates

Opiates are prescribed for a wide range of medical needs. There are two main classifications for this type of drug: antagonists and agonists.

Antagonists such as naltrexone and naloxone are less addictive than agonists, though the potential for abuse still exists. They are often used to help with the detox, which takes place as the first part of addiction treatment.

Agonists interact with specific receptor sites in your brain to mimic the effects of naturally occurring endorphins in the body. This is what gives them their opiate effect. 

Agonists are most commonly used in medical environments due to their strength and ability to effectively eliminate pain. These include drugs like morphine and fentanyl which, like many substances in this category, have a very high potential for abuse and addiction. Other examples of opiate agonists can be found in the list below.

Codeine

Codeine is one of the weaker opioid medications and can be obtained through prescription or over the counter. It is easily obtained with a prescription, as well as in some over-the-counter medicines. 

Demerol

A narcotic used to treat moderate to severe pain, Demerol is less frequently prescribed in modern times because of its high potential for addiction. Demerol is the brand name for meperidine, which has euphoric effects similar to morphine.

Dilaudid

Dilaudid is an exceptionally strong painkiller. Its potency means that addiction can develop very quickly. This can cause several health issues such as breathing problems or even death.

Fentanyl

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid. Unlike heroin, fentanyl is not derived from the poppy plant, but is made in a lab and is up to 100 times more potent than morphine. Fentanyl is only prescribed in cases of severe pain. When taken with other opiates such as heroin, fentanyl can quickly lead to overdose and other dangerous side effects.

Hydrocodone

Hydrocodone is the main ingredient in many powerful painkillers, Hydrocodone can be found in drugs such as Vicodin. It is typically combined with acetaminophen or Ibuprofen, but pure hydrocodone medications have recently been approved.

Methadone

An opioid used for moderate to severe pain, methadone is also used as a way to curb cravings for people who are addicted to other substances, including heroin. Despite its use for helping treat other addictions, methadone is still an addictive substance in its own right.

Morphine

Morphine is widely used in medical settings to help people suffering from severe chronic pain. It is also one of the most addictive substances known and responsible for a large amount of unintentional drug-related deaths nationwide.

Oxycodone

Oxycodone is sold under different brand names including OxyContin and Percocet. It is a widely prescribed painkiller and has a high potential for abuse.

Effects of mixing alcohol and opiates

Due to how both of these substances affect your brain, mixing alcohol and opiates significantly intensifies their effects and increases the risks of suffering devastating consequences such as respiratory depression. 

Respiratory depression causes irregular breathing, which in turn reduces the amount of oxygen reaching your brain and body. This deprivation of oxygen can then result in long-term damage to major organ systems and even death. The two substances cause increased shallow breathing, lowered blood pressure and heart rate, and deep sedation that can lead to a coma or brain damage. All sedating medications can cause overdose on their own, however, when the drugs are combined, this risk substantially increases.

Other common side effects of combining alcohol and opiates include:

  • Extreme drowsiness 
  • Drug dependency 
  • Mood swings
  • Uncontrollable vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Weak pulse
  • Shallow breathing
  • Impaired coordination
  • Respiratory depression
  • Tremors
  • Slowed or irregular heart rate
  • Lack of coordination 
  • Cognitive impairment 
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Coma
  • Fatal overdose

The overwhelming majority of opiate-related overdoses are caused by combining the drug with other sedatives like alcohol.

Polysubstance abuse

The pleasurable effects of mixing opiates with alcohol can lead to abuse, dependence and addiction. Using more than one drug at a time or alternating between drugs to counteract the side effects of the other, is known as polysubstance abuse. Alcohol is the most common substance involved in polysubstance abuse. By taking prescription drugs with alcohol, not only are you increasing the risks to your mental and physical health, you are doubling your chances of experiencing negative side effects.  

Treatment of polysubstance abuse

While it’s possible to recover from polysubstance abuse such as alcohol and opiates, treatment can be more complex. The physical dependence on more than one substance often means twice withdrawal symptoms. For this reason, it is always recommended that you choose to undergo your detox at an inpatient rehab clinic, which can be provided by one of CATCH’s trusted partners. Here you will be monitored around the clock, by fully-trained medical staff.  

Withdrawal symptoms will be treated with the appropriate medication depending on the severity of your addiction. Once you have completed your detox and are considered fit enough, you will usually participate in other treatment therapies.  CATCH Recovery uses evidence-based treatments such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Dialectic Behavioural Therapy (DBT) grief and trauma therapy, one-to-one counselling sessions, group therapy and online therapy. This non-medical therapy teaches the development of healthy coping strategies so that you won’t turn to drugs or alcohol in future.

Getting help for alcohol and opioid addiction

Our addiction therapists at CATCH Recovery have years of experience treating multiple addictions and co-occurring disorders. If you or someone you love has been abusing substances such as alcohol and opiates, you should seek help as soon as possible. Starting treatment early can prevent your addiction from causing further harm to yourself and those you love.   

Our outpatient clinic is based in South West London, which is accessible from anywhere in the UK. If you need support but don’t live in the South East of England, you may benefit from the tele-health services we offer. If you require residential rehab, we also provide referrals to rehabs in the UK and Ireland. Call us today to discuss the different options that are available.

Call our admissions team today for your free addiction screening and start your journey to sobriety.