Mixing Alcohol and Oxycodone

On May 13, 2011, professional hockey player Derek Boogaard died in Minneapolis. The cause of his death was an overdose on a combination of oxycodone and alcohol. After his death, his family revealed that he had been struggling with addiction for several years. Derek’s death was tragic, but it was not unusual. Thousands of Americans die every year from overdosing on oxycodone and other opioids. Oxycodone is one of the most common contributors to fatal overdoses on prescription opioids in the United States. Alcohol increases the dangers of oxycodone. In fact, mixing the two substances, even accidentally, may cost someone their life. Fortunately, there are options for rehab available to anyone who is struggling with co-occurring addiction to alcohol and oxycodone. 

What Is Oxycodone?

Combining Alcohol and Oxycodone Is Especially Dangerous

Oxycodone is an opioid, a chemical substance that pharmaceutical companies use to manufacture a variety of medications for pain relief and anesthesia. Oxycodone is the primary ingredient in the medications OxyContin, Percocet, and Roxicodone. In the United States, it is classified as a Schedule II controlled substance. This means that it has medical value yet poses high risks for addiction and abuse. It is illegal to use or possess oxycodone without a prescription.

OxyContin and other oxycodone-based medications can help patients safely manage moderate to severe pain when patients use them within the limits of their prescriptions. However, the effects of oxycodone can entice people to misuse these drugs. Oxycodone interacts with opioid receptors in the brain and blocks the transmission of pain signals in the nervous system. It also causes sedation and euphoria by unleashing a surge of dopamine, a neurotransmitter which reinforces behavior. This effect is so powerful that people sometimes begin to develop an addiction to oxycodone after using it only once.

Someone who develops an oxycodone addiction may misuse it by taking it too much OxyContin or Percocet or by purchasing illegal oxycodone pills from drug traffickers. Oxycodone pills, as street drugs, are sometimes called “oxys,” “percs,” or “512s.” Oxycodone is also dangerous because it suppresses the respiratory system. When someone overdoses on oxycodone, they may suffer lethal respiratory failure.

How Oxycodone Reacts With Alcohol

Mixing Alcohol and Oxycodone Can Result In Respiratory FailureCombining alcohol with oxycodone is highly dangerous. Both drugs function as central nervous system depressants. Alcohol, like opioids, slows down a person’s breathing. When the body attempts to withstand the effects of both drugs, the respiratory system may be overwhelmed.  In fact, the combination of alcohol and oxycodone is likely to cause respiratory depression, a condition characterized by minimal breathing or no breathing at all.

This is a form of suffocation. If left untreated, respiratory depression can quickly cause brain damage and ultimately cause someone to die. Researchers have found that drinking even a moderate amount of alcohol along with taking just one oxycodone pill is enough to risk respiratory depression. Studies have also shown that the elderly are most vulnerable to having a fatal oxycodone overdose after drinking alcohol. The combination of the two drugs also endangers the heart. Since they are depressants, alcohol and oxycodone both slow down a person’s heart rate. For this reason, mixing alcohol and oxycodone may shock the cardiovascular system and cause a heart attack or a stroke.

Since neither alcohol nor oxycodone (as prescribed medication) are illegal, it’s easy for normal, law-abiding people who have no experience with using drugs to take them both in a single day, possibly without understanding how dangerous they are together. Someone doesn’t even have to be an alcoholic or a drug addict to be at risk for an oxycodone overdose, nor do they have to take alcohol and oxycodone at precisely the same time. Someone just needs to have a Percocet prescription and one or two glasses of wine with dinner to unknowingly risk respiratory depression. Anyone who has a prescription for an oxycodone-based medication should avoid alcohol completely.

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Alcoholism and Oxycodone Abuse as Co-Occurring Disorders

It is possible for someone to be addicted to alcohol and to also have an addiction to oxycodone. Someone who lives with addiction to two or more substances suffers from co-occurring disorders. In many cases, co-occurring alcoholism and drug addiction may exist for years and inflict major consequences on someone’s health and wellbeing. However, co-occurring alcoholism and oxycodone addiction could quickly become a lethal condition. The combined effects of the two substances are likely to cause a medical emergency. Therefore, anyone who is addicted to both of them and uses them together will, almost certainly, eventually experience respiratory depression or suffer a heart attack.

For this reason, if someone has an addiction to alcohol and then starts to use oxycodone, either as a prescription medication or as an illegal drug, it is absolutely crucial that they find treatment for their alcohol use disorder. Moreover, if someone has co-occurring addictions to both substances, they should seek treatment for both disorders.

How to Find Treatment

You shouldn’t wait for the combination of alcohol and oxycodone to take your life or the life of someone you know. If this article resonated with you because you or your loved one is using these two drugs, take action today, and contact a dedicated treatment professional to get more information on the options for treatment and where to go to get help. Many recovery centers offer programs for treating alcohol abuse, opioid addiction, or both together. Detox, medication, and therapy at a rehab facility are some great ways to start a successful recovery from alcohol and oxycodone addiction.

  • Author — Last Edited: August 29, 2019
    Photo of Nathan Yerby
    Nathan Yerby
    Nathan Yerby is a writer and researcher. He is a graduate of the University of Central Florida.
  • Clinical Reviewer — Last Reveiwed: July 10, 2019
    Photo of David Hampton
    David Hampton

    All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

    Learn more about David Hampton

  • Sources

    American Society of Anesthesiologists. (2017). Mixing Opioids and Alcohol May Increase Likelihood of Dangerous Respiratory Complication, Especially in the Elderly, Study Finds. Retrieved on May 21, 2019, from https://www.asahq.org/about-asa/newsroom/news-releases/2017/02/mixing-opioids-and-alcohol-may-increase-likelihood-of-dangerous-respiratory-complication

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Prescription Opioid Data. Retrieved on May 21, 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/prescribing.html

    Drug Policy Alliance. (n.d.). What happens if you mix heroin with alcohol or other drugs? Retrieved on May 21, 2019, from http://www.drugpolicy.org/drug-facts/mixing-heroin-alcohol-drugs

    Klein, J.Z. (2011). Boogaard Died from Alcohol and Drug Mix. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/21/sports/hockey/boogaard-died-from-mix-of-alcohol-and-oxycodone.html

    National Institute on Drug Abuse. (revised 2018). Prescription Opioids. Retrieved on May 21, 2019, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-opioids

    Nierenberg, C. (2013). How 8 Common Medications Interact with Alcohol. LiveScience. Retrieved on May 21, 2019, from https://www.livescience.com/41481-how-common-medications-interact-alcohol.html

    Seladi-Schulman, J. (n.d.). Oxycodone and Alcohol: A Potentially Lethal Combination. Healthline. Retrieved on May 21, 2019, from https://www.healthline.com/health/addiction/oxycodone-and-alcohol

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