Alcohol and Opioid Drugs – a Deadly Combination

Alcohol and Opioid Drugs – a Deadly Combination

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It should be obvious that mixing alcohol and opioid painkillers is a bad idea.  Right?


And now we have confirmation

In a report just published in the respected journal, Anesthesiology, researchers confirmed that combining just one painkilling opioid pill with even a modest amount of alcohol increases the risk for a life-threatening side effect known as respiratory depression.

According to the latest data on drug use in the U.S., an average of 78 Americans dies each day from an opioid overdose.  And according to the study’s author, Albert Dahan, M.D., Ph.D., many of these deaths can be attributed to mixing even small amounts of alcohol with these drugs.

In the study in Anesthesiology, researchers carefully looked at the effect taking oxycodone in combination with alcohol had on breathing in 24 healthy volunteers (one-half were aged 21 to 28, the other half ages 66-77) who had not been chronically taking or who had never taken opioids.

Over the course of three successive visits to the lab, volunteers received one 20 mg oxycodone tablet combined with either placebo or ethanol (an intravenous infusion of alcohol) of varying amounts.

So that researchers could continuously evaluate patient safety, the amount of alcohol was increased cautiously at each visit—from placebo on the first visit, to concentrations of 0.5 g/L (approx. 1 drink in women and 3 drinks in men) during the second visit and 1 g/L (approx. 3 drinks in women and 5 drinks in men) during the third visit. Resting respiratory variables, minute ventilation (the amount of air the volunteers breathed per minute) and the number of times volunteers temporarily stopped breathing were carefully monitored throughout the experiment.

What the researchers found alarmed them…

One oxycodone tablet reduced baseline minute ventilation by 28 percent, while the addition of 1 g/L of ethanol caused minute ventilation to further decrease by another 19 percent –

a total decrease of 47 percent

. The combination of alcohol with the opioid drug caused a significant increase in the number of times volunteers experienced a temporary cessation in breathing—0 to 11 such events at 1 g/L of alcohol ( as compared to 0 to 3 events with no alcohol administered).

The danger of combining alcohol and the opioid drug was found to be especially high among the elderly volunteers.

 What does all this mean?

If you or a loved one are using opioid drugs for any reason – extreme care must be taken to make sure these drugs are NEVER mixed with alcohol. 

If you are struggling with an addiction to these drugs and need help in Connecticut or New Hampshire, the recovery teams at Aware Recovery Care are here to help.  Our unique model of care is producing rates of recovery that are more that 300% above the national average.  To learn more or to talk to one of our Recovery Specialists, visit