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The Effects of Oxycodone and Alcohol

by Landmark Recovery

January 10, 2020
A pair of glasses on an open book.

When you think of running into problems with substance abuse, legal substances like oxycodone and alcohol are not the first things that typically spring to mind. Both of these socially acceptable substances can be ruinously damaging, though. Today, we’ll explore what you can expect if you abuse either oxycodone or alcohol so we’ll launch right in.

What is Oxycodone?

Oxycodone is a chemical ingredient used in the formulation of several different varieties of pain medication. Oxycodone is used as the primary pain-relieving ingredient in pain medications like Percocet, OxyContin, and Roxicodone. Since the 1960s, regulatory departments and agencies have worked to classify oxycodone as a dangerous drug. This is because, in addition to its pain-relieving compounds, oxycodone also induces feelings of pleasure or euphoria. Though the medical benefits can’t be discounted, the risk of abuse and addiction to oxycodone is high. Because of this, oxycodone is classified as a Schedule II controlled substance in the United States – meaning it’s illegal to possess or use it without a doctor’s prescription.

What is the Purpose of Oxycodone?

The primary intended purpose of oxycodone-based drugs is to assist patients in safely managing pain after surgery or injury. When used in accordance with the provided prescription, these medications are a beneficial short term solution to provide comfort and relief. When taking oxycodone, the medication interacts with opioid receptors in the brain. This interaction blocks the brain from transmitting pain signals to the nervous system. Oxycodone also triggers a release of dopamine, resulting in sedation and euphoria. The euphoric and pain-killing effects of the oxycodone can unfortunately result in abuse of and addiction to the medication. For some people, addiction to oxycodone can begin to develop after the first use.


Where oxycodone is intended to be used purely for medicinal purposes, alcohol is not. Most people use alcohol to alter their moods. When you drink alcohol, some of it is metabolized by your body. Excess alcohol that cannot be metabolized then gathers in your blood and travels to the brain. Working through the central nervous system, alcohol slows down the functioning of your brain. Time now for a few facts about both of these substances.

Usage of Alcohol and Opioids

In the United States, the abuse of alcohol and opioids (like oxycodone) is staggering. There are many dangerous health risks associated with this combination of substances, and you should be aware of them.

Alcohol Facts

In the United States, alcohol is the third leading cause of death resulting in nearly 90,000 deaths each year. Throughout the world, alcohol accounts for 3 million deaths each year (that’s over 5% of all deaths globally). 5.1% of all the global burden of disease can be traced back to alcohol in some way. 9.8 million men and 5.3 million women over the age of 18 have an alcohol use disorder. Less than 7% of adults who have an alcohol use disorder in the past year received treatment. 6 million people over 12 year of age reported binge drinking.

Opioid Facts

  • Nearly 2 million Americans misused prescription painkillers for the first time within the past year.
  • Over 1 million people have an opioid use disorder.
  • Each day, more than 130 people die from opioid overdose.
  • In one year (2016-2017) emergency room visits from opioids increased by 30%.
  • In the last 20 years, sales and deaths related to prescription opioids have quadrupled in the United States.
  • People addicted to opioid painkillers are 40 times more likely to develop a subsequent addiction to heroin.
  • While these substances can be damaging in isolation, mix them and the negative consequences are magnified.

Mixing the Two

As with all substances, different people feel the effects in different ways. Many variables determine how these substances are tolerated by a person. Gender, age, weight, and tolerance will all play a role in how alcohol and other substances are metabolized.

Side effects of alcohol can include:

  • Low blood pressure
  • Loss of coordination and motor skills
  • Impaired decision making
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Slow reflexes and reaction time
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Reduced breathing

The side effects of oxycodone sometimes resemble the side effects of alcohol use. Some of the side effects of oxycodone include:

  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Diminished strength
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness and fatigue
  • Dry mouth
  • Low energy levels
  • Itching
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Slowed breathing, and in some cases stopped breathing
  • Sweating

Long-Term Side Effects

When combining alcohol and Oxycodone, the side effects of each substance can be multiplied. These effects can also vary in the short-term and the long-term.

Some of the short-term side effects from using alcohol and Oxycodone together can include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Increased risk of overdose
  • Inability to operate a moving vehicle
  • Loss of memory
  • Marked drowsiness
  • Motor skill impairment
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Sedation
  • Uncharacteristic behavior

Long-Term Health Risks from Substance Abuse

Using alcohol and oxycodone together can be seriously detrimental to your health, but even one or the other can cause problems when chronically misused.

Long term health risks associated with chronic alcohol abuse include:

  • Brain atrophy
  • Chronic high blood pressure
  • Cirrhosis
  • Gastritis
  • Heart problems
  • Higher risk of liver cancer
  • Increased risk of cancers in the mouth, esophagus, pharynx, and stomach
  • Liver inflammation
  • Memory loss

Over the long haul, oxycodone abusers build a tolerance to the drug. This means they need more and more of the drug to generate the same benefit. Eventually, the feeling obtained from using oxycodone may not be enough, and the person could turn to harder drugs to achieve the same high. Some individuals opt to mix oxycodone with other substances, like alcohol. Although each substance has unpleasant short and long-term side effects, when users combine them it can be extremely dangerous. Oxycodone suppresses vital areas in the brain like those that control breathing. When combined with alcohol, the chance of overdosing is increased exponentially.

Dangers of Mixing

The CDC reports that nearly 20% of opioid-related emergency room visits in the United States also involve the use of alcohol. Nearly 2 million people in the US have been affected by the opioid epidemic. Many people who struggle with opioids also struggle with other addictions, like alcohol. When alcohol and opioids are used in combination, the side effects are intensified, and they can turn deadly.

Some of the most significant dangers of mixing alcohol and oxycodone are:

  • Addiction
  • Depression of the respiratory system
  • Increased overdose risk
  • Liver damage

What is Respiratory Depression?

The most dangerous and life-threatening side effect that can occur from combining alcohol and oxycodone is respiratory depression, but what does this mean? Respiratory depression is when breathing is severely slowed or even stopped. Both oxycodone and alcohol can depress breathing (as well as other functions like brain activity). Since both substances can slow breathing on their own, it makes sense that when combined the dangerous effects are multiplied. When you use oxycodone and alcohol together, they can severely limit your breathing. In some cases, they can even temporarily cease breathing. Many people will quickly resume breathing, but others will not. Since both of the substances also decrease brain activity and reaction times, the brain might not respond to the lack of oxygen quickly enough which can be fatal.

Risk of Overdose

Taking oxycodone while consuming alcohol can lead to severe consequences much more rapidly than using either substance alone. It also elevates the risk of overdose. Elderly people as well as people who abuse oxycodone are at a much higher risk for overdose.

Long-Term Health Risks When Combines

Many people who abuse substances know the risks associated with mixing them and do so intentionally with the goal of achieving a more intense high. People who mix substances like alcohol and oxycodone will experience several negative health consequences in the short and long term. When taking medications (like Percocet and also drinking alcohol, liver damage is almost inevitable. This is because both alcohol and Percocet have been linked to liver damage.

There are other long-term health risks associated with abusing alcohol and oxycodone together. Some of these risks include:

  • Addiction
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased fall risk
  • Kidney Problems
  • Loss of memory
  • Severe Dependence

Substance Abuse

There are many different indicators that point to substance abuse. You should be on the lookout for these, especially if a friend or loved one is using prescription painkillers. These medications can become addictive in a relatively short period.

Some of the signs of oxycodone abuse are:

  • Crushing pills and snorting them for a faster high
  • Taking more doses than prescribed
  • Taking higher doses than prescribed
  • Seeking prescriptions from different doctors

Many things can influence how a person reacts and responds to substances, and whether they will abuse them. Mental health, biological factors, genetics, life stress, and more things can all play a part in a person’s struggle with substance abuse and addiction.

Signs of Addiction

Many people’s abuse and misuse of drugs and other substances will turn into a full-blown addiction. Some signs of addiction include:

  • Engaging in risky behavior to obtain the substance
  • Loss of time and money related to the substance
  • Needing more and more of a substance to get the same effect
  • Negative impact on social, career, and personal activities as a direct result of substance use and abuse
  • Not being able to focus on other tasks or thoughts due to an intense urge for a drug or substance
  • The need to use a substance multiple times each day
  • Withdrawal symptoms when use is discontinued

Withdrawal From Opioids and Alcohol

There are several physical symptoms when withdrawing from oxycodone and alcohol, and some can be severe.

Some of the most common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety and panic
  • Confusion
  • Diarrhea
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Headache
  • High blood pressure
  • Inability to sleep
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Seizures
  • Shakiness
  • Sweating

When it is an Emergency?

When combining substances like alcohol and oxycodone, dangerous symptoms can occur. If left untreated, these symptoms can be fatal.

If you, a friend, or a loved one is experiencing any of the following symptoms when mixing alcohol and oxycodone, seek emergency care right away:

  • Blue lips or fingernails/toenails
  • Contracted pupils (“pinpoint pupils”)
  • Gurgling or choking sounds
  • Non-responsiveness
  • Pale skin
  • Respiratory distress (slow, shallow, or no breathing)
  • Unconsciousness
  • Weak pulse or lack of pulse

What to do Next

If you or a loved one is struggling with abusing and misusing painkillers, or with an addiction to oxycodone or alcohol, we’re here to help. Here at Landmark, we have several state-of-the-art treatment options to help our patients break free from their stronghold of addiction and reach a healthy place in their lives. Please reach out to us today so we can help you get back on track. Don’t let oxycodone and alcohol ruin your life! Call us at 888-448-0302 today.

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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.