Binge Drinkers More Likely to Misuse Opioids
Prescription opioid misuse is more common among binge drinkers, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. In their analysis, researchers discovered that the prevalence of prescription opioid misuse increased significantly with binge drinking frequency; put simply, those who drank more were more likely to misuse their opioid medications.
This is of particular concern because of the dangerous interaction between the two depressants – previous studies show that about one in five opioid overdose deaths also involved alcohol. Today we will explore this study and its implications for binge drinkers nationwide.
Key CDC Findings
This year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzed data from over 160,000 individuals who completed surveys about substance use in 2012, 2013, and 2014. These self-reported responses detailed prescription drug misuse, socioeconomic status, other substance use, and general patterns of drinking.
The researchers found that 2.2 million binge drinkers reported prescription opioid misuse, which was nearly twice as much as the percentage of affected nondrinkers. This number – 2.2 million – accounted for more than half of the estimated 4.2 million teens and adults who reported misusing opioids. There was also an increase in the prevalence of misuse with binge drinking frequency.
In response to these findings, the researchers recommend a variety of strategies for reducing binge drinking – alcohol taxes, regulating the density of alcohol outlets, and instituting commercial host liability laws. They wrote, “The high prevalence, frequency, and intensity of binge drinking among adults and adolescents in the U.S., along with the heightened prevalence of prescription opioid misuse among binge drinkers, emphasizes the importance of adopting a comprehensive and coordinated approach to addressing both binge drinking and prescription opioid misuse to reduce the risk of opioid overdoses.”
What is Polysubstance Use?
The combination of alcohol and prescription opioid medications is a type of polysubstance use. This term applies to the consumption of more than one drug at once – while often used in reference to illicit drugs, it also applies to instances of prescription and nonregulated substances.
In some cases, those using prescription medications may unintentionally combine substances. Without proper information from their physician or pharmacist, they may not understand that their prescription should not be mixed with alcohol, for fear of an interaction.
Others intentionally mix substances in an effort to experience greater mood- and state-altering effects from those drugs. For example, those using opioids regularly may decide to combine them with benzodiazepines for doubled sedative effects.
Unfortunately, whether done intentionally or accidentally, polysubstance use carries significant dangers along with it. Mixing drugs and alcohol can create unpredictable interactions and life-threatening consequences.
The Dangers of Mixing Alcohol and Opioids
While overdose is always a possibility with any type of substance misuse, the risk is multiplied when multiple substances are used. Alcohol can enhance the side effects of prescription medications in unpredictable ways. According to The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), consumption of alcohol and prescription drugs together can result in alcohol poisoning, unconsciousness, respiratory depression, and even death. Opioids typically combined with alcohol include Vicodin, OxyContin, Tylenol 3 with codeine, and Percocet.
Because alcohol and opioids are both classified as central nervous system depressants, combining the two doubles negative effects. This can slow breathing to a dangerous rate, which prompts the oxygen-less brain to begin shutting down organ systems, resulting in the patient becoming comatose or even dying.
Help for Alcohol and Opioid Misuse
If someone suffers an overdose from an opioid, first responders now use a drug called naloxone to temporarily reverse the overdose, giving them enough time to transport the person to the hospital for further treatment. While this is extremely effective for those overdosing on opioids, it cannot reverse the effects of alcohol poisoning. This can only be treated by physicians in the hospital.
If someone you love shows signs of opioid addiction, alcoholism, or both, time is of the essence. Residential treatment centers can be extremely helpful because they keep the person away from their substances of choice and can provide medically supervised detox services. After the last traces of alcohol and opioid medications have left the body, complete recovery can begin. To learn more about recovery from polysubstance use, call BRC Recovery at 1-866-905-4550.