Wine and opioids are definitely not a good mix. The alcohol in wine can intensify the effects of opioid drugs such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, and fentanyl. The combined effects of alcohol and opioids pose serious threats to your health. Some of these effects may even threaten your life.
A study led by Dr. Albert Dahan, head of the Anesthesia and Pain Research Unit at Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, has shown the correlation between fatalities due to opioid misuse and alcohol consumption. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) estimate that about 78 people die from opioid overdoses in the US, and many of these deaths involve additional substances like alcohol. Clearly, wine and opioids do not go well together.
Why is mixing wine and opioids a bad idea? Read on to find out more.
What are opioids?
Opioids are a class of drugs commonly prescribed to relieve moderate to severe pain. They are made from compounds extracted from the opium poppy plant. Many opioids are naturally derived, such as morphine, codeine, and oxycodone. Others, like fentanyl, methadone, and tramadol, are made artificially in laboratories.
While opioids are effective painkillers, they do have the potential to cause addiction. For this reason, the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) has classified them as controlled substances. Opioids are often abused even by those who have had the drugs legitimately prescribed by their doctors.
The addictive nature of opioids is due to their ability to trigger euphoric feelings. If you take them in strictly controlled doses, following your doctor’s prescription, there should be no addictive effects. But when you increase your dose without informing your doctor first, you put yourself at risk of an opioid addiction. The higher dose may produce pleasurable highs, which will cause your brain to develop drug-seeking behaviors. In due time, it may turn into a full-fledged addiction.
What are the dangerous effects of opioid misuse?
Misusing opioids has a number of dangerous effects on your body. Taken in high doses, opioids may slow down your heart rate and breathing, as well as make you feel extremely sleepy. The biggest danger is when opioids cause your breathing to stop.
When you experience these symptoms, it’s an emergency. Call 911 or have someone get medical help for you. Do not wait, as every passing minute can mean the difference between life and death.
What happens in opioid addiction?
When you have taken a significant amount of opioids over time, you may become addicted to them. When that happens, opioid use will take over most of your time. This can lead you to:
- Miss work or school to take opioids instead
- Have bad relationships with your colleagues, friends, and family
- Continue using opioids even if you’re aware of how it negatively affects your life
- Have difficulty quitting because of withdrawal symptoms
Simply put, opioid addiction will take over your life. Soon enough, you’ll find that you can no longer function normally without taking opioids. Also, you will have to take higher doses to get the same effects as before. This makes the addiction even more dangerous, as you increase the likelihood of developing fatal respiratory depression.
How does wine interact with opioids?
Wine contains alcohol, which enhances the dangerous side effects of opioid drugs. If you are on opioid medication, and you drink even a small amount of wine, it can have potentially life-threatening consequences. You do not have to be misusing opioids for them to have these effects when you take the drugs along with wine.
In particular, you increase your risk of respiratory depression. In other words, your breathing may slow down to a critical level, or it can stop entirely. This can eventually lead to a coma, or at worst, death, if medical help is not provided promptly.
Aside from this, mixing alcohol and opioids have the following effects:
- Changes in blood pressure
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of coordination
- Significant disinhibition
- Unstable heart rhythms
- Abnormal behaviors
- Loss of consciousness
If you experience these symptoms but not respiratory depression, you should still consider it a potential life-and-death situation. Seek medical attention as soon as you can. If you live with a person having these symptoms, get help for them quickly as well.
What if I have alcohol use disorder and have to take opioids?
This is not a good idea. If you have alcohol use disorder, or have a history of alcohol abuse, inform your doctor. He can then adjust your prescription with other drugs that do not pose the same life-threatening risks as opioids. Also, he can adjust the dosage of any prescribed drugs to safe levels.
Moreover, expect your doctor to refer you to recovery professionals. If he realizes you are suffering from alcohol use disorder, he will treat it as a serious case that must be addressed right away.
It would be wise to take your doctor’s advice and begin your road to recovery. With professional help, regaining your freedom from alcohol use disorder is possible.
Is there any way to drink wine while taking opioid medications?
Unfortunately, there is no way around the harmful interaction of alcohol and opioids. Thus, if you are on opioid medications, you must abstain from drinking wine. It is the only way to prevent the deadly side effects of combining the two substances.
Drinking milder alcoholic drinks is not recommended either. Any amount of alcohol can enhance the side effects of opioids.
It’s also not wise to suddenly stop taking your medications to make way for wine. If you do not complete your prescription, you may inadvertently experience opioid withdrawal. In turn, if you get too uncomfortable, the withdrawal symptoms might compel you to take opioids again. If you don’t get relief, you may be tempted to increase your dose, increasing your risk of respiratory depression.
If you drink wine while this is going on, it will only make things worse. The best thing to do is to abstain for a while and finish your opioid prescription.