When you receive a prescription medication, whether it’s an opioid painkiller like oxycodone, a depressant like Xanax or a stimulant like Adderall, you’ll often find stringent warning labels about the risks of mixing alcohol with the drug. When combined with the effects of alcohol, many otherwise routine prescription drugs can become deadly. Relaxing with a drink or two at night is dangerous when the effects of alcohol are combined with certain prescription drugs. Some people may use prescription medications and alcohol together to intensify the effects of both substances. This can lead to a substance use disorder when the drugs are used together, especially in excess.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a prescription drug and/or alcohol addiction, it’s important to reach out for assistance. Facilities like The Recovery Village provide treatment options for a variety of substance use disorders, including those involving alcohol and prescription drugs.

What Are Prescription Drugs?

Prescription drugs are a wide classification of medications that includes opioid painkillers, benzodiazepine (benzo) depressants and amphetamine stimulants, among others. They can have a variety of uses, including relieving pain due to illness or surgery, helping calm anxiety or maintaining impulse control. When used as directed, prescription drugs can effectively manage a variety of ailments and issues. However, when misused, they can often become addictive and dangerous, especially when combined with other substances like alcohol.

What Are the Side Effects of Prescription Drugs and Alcohol?

Prescription drugs have various side effects when taken alone, including drowsiness, nausea, changes in blood pressure and loss of coordination. There are also long-term side effects to prescription drug use that may include liver damage, internal bleeding and heart problems. The side effects vary from drug to drug, so it’s important to use a prescription medication ONLY as it’s prescribed to prevent any unnecessary effects, and be sure to consult your doctor if you have any questions.

While prescription drugs have side effects when taken exclusively, these effects can be exacerbated when combined with alcohol. Not only does alcohol impact the effects of prescription drugs, it can also change the performance of the medications. In some cases, alcohol can completely negate the effectiveness of prescription drugs. In other instances, it can enhance their effects. Each substance has its own list of potentially negative impacts that can be severely heightened when mixed with alcohol. Side effects may include:

  • Headache
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Impaired breathing
  • Internal bleeding
  • Depression
  • Seizures
  • Liver damage
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Heart problems

Dangers of Mixing Prescription Drugs and Alcohol

In addition to negative side effects like nausea and drowsiness, combining alcohol and prescription drugs can be extremely dangerous and even life-threatening. When certain drugs interact with alcohol, they create a  potentially deadly reaction. Alcohol and medications can also change a person’s thoughts and actions, making risky behavior a definite threat. The combination of alcohol and prescription drugs also impairs the medication’s desired impact, which often leads people to drink or ingest more substances to achieve a similar high. This increase can lead to an overdose or alcohol poisoning. With the risk of long-term organ damage and a host of short-term side effects, it is best to avoid combining alcohol and prescription drugs, especially in excess.

Alcohol poisoning can be fatal. If you suspect someone is experiencing alcohol poisoning, call 911 immediately. Do NOT be afraid to seek help. If you do not have access to a phone contact Web Poison Control Services for online assistance.

Treatment for Prescription Drugs and Alcohol

If your relationship with alcohol and prescription drugs has reached an unhealthy level, help is available. The Recovery Village offers treatment programs for a wide array of substance use disorders, including alcohol and prescription drugs. These treatment centers, located throughout the United States, provide a full continuum of care for co-occurring disorders like alcohol and drug addiction alongside mental health disorders.

These programs will guide you through medical detox, a healthy, monitored treatment that allows you to safely transition away from drugs and alcohol. After detox, inpatient and outpatient programs give you the tools you need to learn how to live life without potentially dangerous substances. Reach out to one of our intake coordinators who can advocate your first step toward recovery.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.