Many people who struggle with substance abuse do not just use one substance. In particular, some people mix drugs with alcohol – sometimes inadvertently and sometimes to try to get a more powerful euphoric effect from both substances.
However, combining substances can be very risky to a person’s health. In particular, combining alcohol with opioids like Percocet can lead to severe physical harm, resulting in an overdose response or even coma and death. Knowing how alcohol and Percocet act together can help individuals understand why using these substances together can be a dangerous endeavor.
Effects of Alcohol
Alcohol’s effects are fairly well known. As described by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, consuming alcohol can lead to:
- Slowed breathing
- Slurred speech
- Delayed responses
- Decreased inhibition
- Heart arrhythmia
- Decreased cognitive ability
Over time, this can result in damage to the heart and brain, including heart disease and decreased cognitive abilities. It can also cause injury to the pancreas and liver because of the effort required to remove the toxic substance from the body. Overall, it can damage the immune system, which can lead to increased illness, and some cancers can result from alcohol abuse over the long-term.
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Effects of Percocet
Percocet is a strong opioid painkiller, oxycodone, combined with acetaminophen to help individuals manage moderate to severe pain, such as with cancer or post surgery. As explained by the Food and Drug Administration’s prescribing information on the drug, Percocet affects the central nervous system in ways that can depress breathing and suppress the cough reflex; for this reason, it is sometimes also used in cough medicines.
The respiratory suppression is similar to that produced by other opioids, and it is one of the major risks of abusing this drug on its own. It can also cause low blood pressure, which in rare cases can lead to heart problems. Other effects of Percocet include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weakness and dizziness
- Slowed cognitive responses
Mixing Percocet and Alcohol
As described above, alcohol and Percocet have many similar reactions in the body. Because they are similar, the depressed respiration, slowed cognitive responses, and cardiac effects of each substance are enhanced if the individual takes both substances at the same time. Nevertheless, this often happens, for multiple reasons; most often, either the person does not know that combining the drugs can be dangerous, or the individual purposefully takes both substances either out of a desire to self-treat for physical or emotional pain or in an attempt to increase feelings of euphoria through recreational use.
The University of Michigan University Health Service describes the risk of overdose through combining alcohol with opioids, which can cause breathing to stop, leading to possible death. Still, this isn’t the only risk. Other risks to combining Percocet and alcohol include:
- Slowed heart rate and blood pressure
- Memory loss
- Loss of immune function, leading to illness
The Liver Factor
One element of risk that does not necessarily occur with other opioids has to do with liver damage. As explained above, Percocet does not just contain an opioid drug; it also contains acetaminophen, which is a non-narcotic pain reliever. Studies, such as one from Medical Clinics of North America, have shown that, over time, acetaminophen can cause significant damage to the liver, including:
- Liver failure
Alcohol also causes liver damage. A report from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism explores the mechanisms through which alcohol metabolism causes liver inflammation and scarring that can result in disease similar to the way acetaminophen does.
Mixing Percocet with alcohol increases the risk of each substance alone, meaning that it could be more likely to result in increased liver damage to use both together. Left to itself, this type of liver damage can lead to severe illness and even death.
Signs of Mixing Alcohol with Percocet
Signs and symptoms that a person is mixing alcohol and Percocet have a lot to do with the above factors. A person who is using both for self-medication or to experience euphoria may show the following physical and mental signs:
- Extreme intoxication: slurred speech and delayed responses
- Lack of physical coordination
- Loss of inhibition
- Blackouts and increasing memory loss
- Depressed breathing and unconsciousness
In addition, there may be signs that generally occur with addiction or substance abuse, including:
- Pills missing from a prescription for Percocet
- Focus on obtaining or using the substance
- Inability to control use or stop using
- Relationship troubles based on substance use
- Trouble keeping up with responsibilities due to substance use
When these signs are present, there is a chance that the person is dealing with substance abuse of alcohol and Percocet together. At this point, it is important to seek help in order to avoid the problem becoming worse, along with damage to the individual’s health.
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Getting Treatment for Polydrug Abuse
People who are using more than one substance at a time are likely to need medical support to stop use. Particularly in the case of alcohol abuse, detox and withdrawal can lead to dangerous symptoms. In order to minimize the risk of these reactions, support for stopping substance use can be obtained through treatment programs that are based in research and can demonstrate positive outcomes in substance abuse treatment.
These programs can help not only with detox, but also with the complex mental and physical issues that result from polydrug abuse. Treatment professionals experienced in helping those who combine drugs can provide the needed information, therapy, and skills to help stop use of both Percocet and alcohol, leading to a better future.