Alcohol And Painkillers: All Things You Need To Know

In this article, we will discuss detail information about alcohol and painkillers.

Introduction

DO NOT MIX WITH ALCOHOL is a label that should never be ignored. Over-The-Counter (OTC) medications are medicines that do not need a doctor’s prescription and often these medicines emphasize the importance of the above label. When in pain we often just pop a pill but convenience does not always mean safety. OTC pain relief medications are strong medicines nonetheless, so think twice before taking some Tylenol or Ibuprofen. 

Alcohol can work as a numbing agent on its own. It can suppress the central nervous system and thus block pain sensations. Extensive use of alcohol leads to impaired judgment, poor motor skills, and even organ damage.   

Non-opioid painkillers and alcohol

Acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs are the non-opioid painkillers readily available to the general folks. 

  • NSAIDs have anti-inflammatory properties that help in reducing fever and pain in cases of toothaches, back pains, and menstrual cramps. Aspirin and ibuprofen are popular examples of the same.
  • Acetaminophen does not have anti-inflammatory uses but it helps reduce fevers. Whereas, Tylenol also reduces headaches. 

Acetaminophen is broken down in the liver with the help of various enzymes and is excreted through urine after being processed in the kidneys. Thus liver and kidneys are more prone to damage from the use of painkillers.  

Upon interaction with alcohol, acetaminophen affects the liver drastically. Prolonged use of Tylenol with alcohol can cause severe liver damage. Even worse, Aspirin and alcohol is a deadly combination. It can result in stomach ulcers and bleeding in the stomach and intestines.

Opioid painkillers and alcohol

 

Narcotic painkillers deal with moderate-to-severe pain. They are found in combination with painkillers of the non-opioid kind or cough medications. These analgesics are prescription drugs and can turn addictive with extensive use. Codeine and Morphine are popular examples. 

Interaction of these drugs with alcohol can result in severe and life-threatening situations. Breathing becomes difficult after the intake of certain amounts of opioid analgesics with alcohol and it is one of the most reported causes of death.   

Effects of mixing alcohol with medication

Alcohol And Painkillers

Different substances react differently to alcohol. Certain combinations increase the bioavailability of the drugs and result in high and toxic levels of drugs in the blood. Sometimes it results in worsening of existing symptoms or end up causing new ones. Others either negate the effects of the drug or sedate the consumer. 

Recorded effects of mixing alcohol and analgesics are:

  • Dizziness 
  • Impaired judgment
  • Confusion and drowsiness
  • Change in blood pressure 
  • Mood swings
  • Unstable emotions and behavior 
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting 
  • Ulcers 
  • Affects reaction skills and reflexes
  • Severe sedation 
  • Respiratory depression
  • Severe liver damage
  • Erectile dysfunction  
  • Kidney dysfunction 
  • Bleeding in the intestines and stomach 

In some cases, mixing alcohol with drugs leads to life-threatening situations of overdose and alcohol poisoning. 

Effects across the population

This highly concerning combination of alcohol and painkillers induces different results in different people. 

  • Senior citizens often take long-acting drugs. Combined with this, the interaction of pain medication and alcohol can be fatal. Since the ability of the body to deal with shocks as such decreases with age, it is safe to consult a doctor before taking in any new painkillers. 
  • Women have lesser water content in their bodies than men do. This results in higher risks for problems when compared to men. Also, women are more prone to alcohol-related organ damage.     
  • Children also show equally adverse symptoms when the mixture of drugs is introduced into their systems. Teens should be made aware of the effects of using alcohol as well as pain medicines. 

Long-term exposure

Over time the combination of alcohol and painkillers results in severe organ damage. It interferes with memory. Memory loss is intensified as alcohol and drugs block out the pain. Chronic abuse of alcohol and painkillers also results in frequent bouts of blackouts. 

Mood disorders like depression, mood swings, and psychosis have a higher chance of appearing in these cases. Painkillers and alcohol together form an addicting combination. The symptoms of such an addiction are:  

  • inability to cut back on doses
  • being absent from social appointments and family commitments 
  • tolerance to the substance 
  • attempts to acquire more prescriptions
  • ‘misplacing’ prescriptions to get more 
  • ‘borrowing’ medication from friends    
  • denial and defensiveness upon confrontation 
  • decreased appetite 
  • slurred speech 
  • dilated pupils 
  • extreme mood swings 

Dealing with addiction  

The number of people being admitted for addiction to prescription drugs and alcohol has increased dramatically in recent years. If you observe the symptoms of addiction, seek treatment immediately. 

Detoxification requires medical help most of the time. Quitting it ‘cold turkey’ can be life-threatening. De-addiction can cause secondary medical conditions like chronic pain and depression. This is because “withdrawal” is an arduous process and can be painful in most cases. 

Symptoms of withdrawal are:   

  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Clammy skin
  • Headaches
  • Increased heart rate
  • Chronic memory disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Disturbed sleep patterns
  • Seizures
  • Delirium and disorientation

Breaking a polysubstance addiction requires a combination of treatments with medicines, behavioral therapy, relapse prevention skills, and support groups.

The therapy techniques used include:

  • Periodic interventions to review the patterns of usage and potential risks.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy to make positive changes to reinforce avoidance of substance use or other negative behaviors.
  • Motivational enhancement therapy to strengthen motivation and make positive life changes, including sobriety.
  • Marital and family counseling to help resolve relationship issues and increase family support to aid recovery.
  • Consulting a therapist and sharing experiences with people from similar walks of life prevents relapse.   

Overdosing

Painkillers cause significant damage when taken in excess on its own. Combined with alcohol, it changes the way the body breaks down the drug. Liver damage is the primary concern in cases like this. 

Symptoms of overdose include:

  • upset stomach
  • black, tarry stools
  • blood in the vomit
  • swelling, especially in the hands or feet
  • tiredness 
  • decreased alertness      

Preventive measures

To prevent stressful events where pain medications interact with alcohol:

  • Be sure to communicate frequently with your doctor and pharmacist regarding such interactions
  • Research about the medicines you take 
  • Frequently visit one pharmacy so that all your history is recorded there 
  • Think twice before any food or beverage intake along with medication 
  • Inform your doctor about your caffeine and alcohol use 
  • Don’t take the drugs prescribed for someone else
  • Follow the dosage recommendation    
  • Do not buy your medicines from sketchy online stores

In case of a potential drug-alcohol interaction, contact your doctor immediately. Get yourself checked at the earliest if you start showing any irregular symptoms. Alcohol and drugs can interact maliciously even if they are not taken in close intervals. If you drink alcoholic beverages daily, consult your doctor before taking any medication.

Conclusion 

There are too many things that could go wrong while consuming drugs and alcohol together. Nevertheless, reading the instructions on the package and following the dosage orders can go a long way in preventing health disasters.

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