Vicodin and Alcohol: The Side Effects, Interactions and Dangers

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In the event of drug dependence or addiction, recovery is always possible.

Tragically, opioid misuse has swept the nation and has garnered the well-deserved status of an epidemic. It's a public health crisis: opioids damage our loved ones, our health care systems and our communities. But many still misunderstand the epidemic, or point to heroin or illegal drugs as the primary contributors. Heroin is not the only opioid, and it's not the only danger.

Prescription painkillers often contain opioids, and someone can easily misuse legally prescribed medications and become dependent or addicted to them. Many people with opioid use disorders started with a prescription medication for pain management as a result of an injury or health condition. Not to mention, mixing painkillers with alcohol can create an overdose and prove fatal. So Vicodin and hydrocodone use needs to be very carefully managed.

In the event of drug dependence or addiction, recovery is always possible: many have and will continue to recover from addiction and lead lives of health and hope.

What Is Vicodin?

Vicodin is a pharmaceutical drug and a composite mixture of hydrocodone and acetaminophen. It is generally prescribed for pain relief, but can be misused because of its euphoric capabilities. With its inclusion of hydrocodone, Vicodin is classified as an opioid medication and poses serious risk of dependence.

Vicodin is only a brand name. The same or similar combinations of hydrocodone and acetaminophen can also be found in other drugs, including but not limited to:

  • Anexsia
  • Hycet
  • Lorcet
  • Maxidone
  • Zydone

Any prescription painkillers that include hydrocodone present a possibility for dependence or addiction, and any descriptions or dangerous mixtures we describe further down on this page also apply to other brand names that include hydrocodone.

How Does Vicodin Work?

As mentioned above, the hydrocodone found in Vicodin is an opioid, which is classified as a depressant. It's generally prescribed for moderate to severe short-term pain. Depressants slow the central nervous system (CNS)—the parts responsible for sending signals across the spinal cord and brain. In simpler words, it moderates breathing, heart rate and brain function.

With Vicodin or hydrocodone, the opioid depresses or slows the brain's functioning which results in slower breathing and heart rate. This will present itself as feelings of calm or sleepiness. But, when the CNS slows too much, overdose and other dangerous health consequences can result. This is especially true when opioids are mixed with alcohol, another CNS depressant. Ultimately, Vicodin or other hydrocodone-based medications should only be treated as short-term solutions.

What Are the Side Effects of Vicodin or Other Hydrocodone-Based Medications?

Common side effects include:

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Lightheadedness
  • Constipation

If you experience any unusual thoughts, a slow heartbeat, fainting or confusion, you should consult your doctor immediately.

What Are the Risks of Mixing Alcohol with Vicodin or Other Opioids?

Mixing alcohol with any opiate like Vicodin is extremely dangerous. Opioids and alcohol are both depressants and both slow the central nervous system (CNS), which is responsible for breathing. When mixed, alcohol and Vicodin can slow the CNS to the point where the brain fails to send signals to the body to breathe, which can lead to death. The mixture can also cause respiratory distress, with symptoms that include:

  • Breathing heavily
  • Changing color of the skin, usually causing blue coloration around the mouth and fingertips
  • Sweating with cool or clammy skin
  • Wheezing, which indicates constricted air passages

Other outcomes from mixing opioids with alcohol include extreme sedation, confusion and sleepiness. Any prolonged use will cause severe liver damage, as both alcohol and opioids are processed in the liver. Continued use will also cause reoccurring stress to the lungs and long-term damage.

What Does Dependence and Withdrawal from Hydrocodone Look Like?

First, Vicodin and other hydrocodone-based prescription drugs are highly addictive, in part because of their potency. The effects of opioid drugs on a person's neurochemistry are extremely powerful. But prescription painkillers are also dangerous because people may let their guard down in regard to the dangers when these medications are prescribed by a trusted doctor or healthcare provider. People can unwittingly become dependent or addicted to painkillers very quickly.

Despite the high risk of dependency, the signs that a person has crossed the threshold into dependency aren't always clear. Initially, a person might notice an increase in tolerance, where it takes more of the prescription drug to achieve the desired effects. If someone has developed a physical dependence, withdrawal symptoms would also arise whenever they attempt to quit or their drug use is otherwise discontinued. Symptoms are flu-like:

  • Anxiety
  • Shakiness
  • Muscle tension
  • Body aches
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting

In recognizing the basic brain science of addiction, you can understand that drug dependence is no one's fault. There should be no blame or shame. After all, addiction is the hijacking of the reward pathways as a response to neurochemicals. No one chooses the brain's response, and no one chooses addiction.

How to Tell if a Loved One Is Dependent or Addicted to a Prescription Drug like Vicodin

In addition to the physical, flu-like symptoms someone experiences during the withdrawal period, there are other warning signs that indicate a dependence on prescription painkillers or other drugs.

Oftentimes, opiate and opioid users will become very isolated and withdrawn from the family. They are often sedated, sleepy, nodding off or confused, and their involvement in activities will prove rather limited as a result. Opioid users might also engage in something known as doctor shopping, where they bounce from doctor to doctor to ensure an ongoing prescription to the medication of their choosing.

If any warning signs are present, loved ones should reach out to professionals for help. Licensed addiction specialists can address your specific concerns and identify options. Professionals can also arrange treatment and continuing care to pursue a healthy recovery from addiction to Vicodin, alcohol, opioids or opiates, or any other drug.

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