Hydrocodone and Alcohol: Can You Drink While Taking Hydrocodone?

In this blog post, we take a closer look at hydrocodone, especially its interaction with alcohol and other substances. Hydrocodone is an opioid painkiller used for treating severe pain, and it is natural to wonder whether this drug can be mixed with alcohol. However, scientific studies suggest that combining hydrocodone with alcohol may lead to serious side effects and is potentially dangerous. Drinking alcohol while taking hydrocodone is definitely not recommended. Let us examine why.
Frederika Malichová

Frederika Malichová

Neuroscientist at the University Of Cambridge.

A blue image with text saying "Hydrocodone and Alcohol"

Hydrocodone: An overview

Hydrocodone belongs to a group of drugs called opioids. Generally, these prescription drugs are used to relieve pain.

Hydrocodone specifically is structurally similar to codeine (a well-known opioid) and according to the World Health Organisation, it is classified as a step 2 opioid (serving for moderate pain management) [1, 2]. Hydrocodone is usually prescribed in the form of tablets or capsules, providing continuous pain relief [3].

Hydrocodone is typically found in fixed-dose combination with acetaminophen and is often used for pain management [1]. It is an opioid painkiller prescribed by doctors to help manage severe pain in adults, including pain caused by cancer, serious injury, or conditions such as arthritis [3].

Interestingly, hydrocodone is a drug that is commonly abused. In fact, hydrocodone abuse is the most common drug abuse in the general population [2].

However, abusing hydrocodone can have consequences. It is important to keep in mind that frequent use of hydrocodone can lead to potential physical dependence [4]. Therefore, it is always best to consult the dose and effects of the drug with your healthcare provider.

Side effects of Hydrocodone

Like all drugs, even hydrocodone has side effects. Some of the side effects are mild and may disappear over time, whereas others are more severe and may require medical attention.

Common side effects include stomach pain, dry mouth, tiredness, headache, back pain, muscle tightening, and difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Some people may also experience foot, leg, or ankle swelling, uncontrollable shaking of a part of the body, and difficulty with urination [5].

However, the more dangerous side effects include chest pain, hallucination, confusion, increased heart rate, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and more. Further, other adverse effects include the inability to get or keep an erection, impaired coordination, irregular menstruation, decreased sexual desire, swelling and swallowing or breathing problems [5].

Should you experience some of the severe side effects of Hydrocodone, contact your medical professional [5].

Can I drink alcohol while taking Hydrocodone?

It is not recommended to drink alcohol while on Hydrocodone. Both substances affect the central nervous system and the combination of the two may lead to serious consequences.

According to research, mixing alcohol with Hydrocodone can lead to serious side effects. It is believed that this might be due to the synergistic effect of alcohol and hydrocodone resulting in a greater effect on the body [6, 7].

In particular, in a study investigating the effect of mixing alcohol and Hydrocodone, serious side effects occurred in 10.0%, 24.1%, and 66.7% of subjects after 0%, 20%, and 40% alcohol, respectively [8]. This confirms the synergistic effect of the two.

Therefore, it is best to avoid alcoholic beverages while on Hydrocodone as it may increase the risk of potentially dangerous outcomes.

What will happen if I drink alcohol while taking hydrocodone?

Combining alcohol with hydrocodone may have serious consequences, such as profound sedation, respiratory depression, and even death. Hydrocodone may also slow the brain's activity [9].

When hydrocodone and alcohol are consumed together, they have a synergistic effect, meaning the effects of hydrocodone are increased. This can lead to a longer clearance time for hydrocodone from your body and can also lead to dangerous side effects, including the possibility of a fatal overdose [7].

However, the interaction of the effect caused by alcohol use and hydrocodone is not solely dependent on alcohol use, other factors such as the individual's health status or the presence of other medications [8, 10].

It's important to note that the effects of alcohol on hydrocodone absorption and the subsequent effects on the body can vary greatly among individuals. Factors such as the individual's health status, the presence of other medications, and the specific characteristics of the hydrocodone formulation can all influence the interaction between alcohol and hydrocodone [10, 8].

Therefore, it is always important to inform your doctor of any medications you are using as well as your intention of drinking alcohol.

What should I do if I drank alcohol while taking hydrocodone?

If you've consumed alcohol while taking hydrocodone, it's crucial to avoid having any more drinks. This is because both substances are depressants and their combined effect can be greater than when they're used separately [6].

You should be particularly cautious if you notice symptoms such as dizziness, drowsiness, or an upset stomach. These could be signs of an adverse interaction between the alcohol and the hydrocodone [11].

If you've consumed alcohol while on hydrocodone and you're experiencing severe symptoms such as slowed or stopped breathing, seek immediate medical attention. This combination can have serious consequences, including the risk of a fatal overdose [6].

In the future, it's best to avoid drinking alcohol while taking hydrocodone. If you're having trouble managing pain or if you're experiencing withdrawal symptoms from hydrocodone, consult your doctor. They may be able to adjust your dosage or prescribe a different medication to help control your pain [5].

It's also important to remember that drinking alcohol on its own is not beneficial. Alcohol increases chances of developing Parkinson's, or slow your body's immune response. Alcohol may increase fall risks, which could lead to bleeding, especially in people who are on blood thinners or who are older [11].

Interactions of Hydrocodone

Hydrocodone, a semi-synthetic opioid, can interact with several other substances, potentially leading to increased effects or dangerous side effects.

Hydrocodone is metabolized in your body through a pathway known as cytochrome P450 3A. Certain drugs that inhibit CYP3A4 can make it more difficult for your body to break down hydrocodone. These include macrolide antibiotics, azole antifungal agents, and protease inhibitors. Combining these drugs with hydrocodone could result in serious problems, including potentially fatal respiratory depression [7].

Other medications that have been shown to interact with hydrocodone and increase its effects include other narcotics, antihistamines, anti-anxiety agents (like Xanax), tricyclic antidepressants, and antidepressants known as MAO inhibitors [7].

It's crucial to consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new medication while taking hydrocodone to avoid potential interactions.

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Frederika Malichová

Frederika Malichová

Frederika is a postgraduate researcher at the University of Cambridge, where she investigates new biomarkers for Frontotemporal Dementia and other tauopathies. Her research has been published at prestigious conferences such as the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2023. She obtained her BSc in Biomedical Sciences from UCL, where she worked closely with the UK Dementia Research Institute.