Why Combining Methadone with Alcohol Can Be Lethal

Methadone is a prescription drug that is used for pain management and opioid addiction treatment. Alcohol is a commonly abused substance – the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) estimates that 29.5 million people in the United States have an alcohol use disorder.

Many people are unaware that combining methadone and alcohol can cause severe side effects and lead to potentially life-threatening health complications.

Yet, research shows that approximately one-third of people who are on opioid maintenance therapy with methadone also have alcohol use disorders.

Please continue reading to learn more about the dangers of mixing alcohol and methadone.

Can You Drink Alcohol on Methadone?

You should not drink alcohol while on methadone. Both these substances are central nervous system depressants. Combining methadone and alcohol can amplify the effects of each of these substances. Mixing the two can lead to life-threatening complications.

Why Do People Mix Alcohol and Methadone?

Here are some of the reasons why people mix methadone and alcohol:

Lack of awareness

Some people who are on methadone maintenance treatment are unaware of the dangers of combining methadone and alcohol. They drink alcohol socially or habitually while on methadone treatment and experience severe side effects as a result.

Intentional methadone and alcohol abuse

Some people intentionally take methadone and alcohol together to intensify the effects of the two substances. Such individuals recognize that mixing alcohol and methadone can be dangerous but continue to do so to produce a higher level of intoxication or more pronounced effects.

Co-occurring alcohol use disorder and opioid use disorder

Some people with an opioid dependence may also have an alcohol dependence. If both conditions are not diagnosed and treated simultaneously, the person may continue drinking alcohol while on methadone maintenance treatment for opioid addiction. This can put them at risk of severe health complications.

What Are the Dangers of Taking Methadone with Alcohol?

The immediate or short-term side effects of drinking alcohol while on methadone include:

  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Vomiting
  • Slowed breathing
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Impaired cognitive function
  • Fainting
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures

The long-term risks of combining methadone and alcohol include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Liver damage
  • Brain damage
  • Increased risk of certain cancers
  • Memory problems
  • Behavior changes
  • Coma
  • Overdose
  • Death

What Is Methadone?

Methadone is an opioid (narcotic) analgesic drug. It is used to treat moderate to severe pain. It provides around-the-clock pain relief to people with chronic pain that cannot be treated with non-opioid pain medications. Methadone relieves pain by acting on the central nervous system (CNS).

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Since the 1950s, methadone has also been used to treat opioid addiction. Commonly abused opioid drugs include prescription painkillers such as oxycodone (OxyContin) and hydrocodone (Vicodin) and the illegal drug heroin.

While methadone is itself an opioid, it does not produce euphoria or the “high” associated with other opioid drugs. This is because methadone is a long-acting full opioid agonist that produces its effects slowly. When an opioid-dependent person takes methadone, it relieves drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms and blunts or blocks the effects of other opioids. These effects of methadone help a person abstain from opioid abuse and sustain recovery.

Methadone is used as one component of a comprehensive opioid addiction treatment program that includes counselling and behavioral therapy for a holistic approach.

Benefits of Methadone

Some people believe that methadone maintenance treatment for opioid dependence is akin to replacing one addiction for another. However, research shows this is not true. The benefits of taking methadone for opioid addiction include:

  • Methadone is an FDA-approved prescription drug that is taken under medical supervision.
  • It is carefully manufactured under controlled conditions and has known benefits and risks. On the other hand, illicit drugs such as heroin are of unknown purity.
  • Methadone is taken by mouth. Drugs such as heroin are injected, putting users at risk of HIV transmission through shared needles.
  • People on methadone maintenance can obtain the drug legally and lead productive lives during opioid addiction treatment. Those with a heroin addiction often engage in criminal activities such as theft to support their drug habit and spend most of their time trying to obtain and use the drug.
  • Methadone maintenance treatment significantly reduces the risk of death associated with an opioid overdose.

Risk Factors of Methadone

Possible risks associated with methadone treatment include unintentional overdose. Additionally, other medications can interact with methadone and increase the risk of heart problems. It is therefore important to share a complete medical history and full list of medications with the prescribing physician to lower these risks.

Methadone is generally safe and effective when used as prescribed under the supervision of a health care professional. The dose of methadone is tailored specifically for the individual patient and adjusted as needed. Some people who are stable on methadone maintenance therapy may be allowed to take methadone at home for limited periods of time without direct supervision by a health care provider.

Safe Methadone Use

Here are some tips on safe use of methadone:

  • Never take more than the prescribed dose of methadone.
  • Be cautious when driving or operating machinery – methadone can make you drowsy and slow your thinking and reaction time.
  • Never share your methadone with others or obtain methadone from other people even if you have the same symptoms or condition.
  • Do not consume alcohol while on methadone.
  • Store methadone carefully out of reach of children and pets to prevent accidental ingestion.
  • Talk to your health care provider about how to dispose of unneeded or expired methadone safely.

How to Get Help After Taking Methadone with Alcohol

Trying to stop alcohol or opioid use suddenly at home can lead to uncomfortable and potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms. It is therefore important to seek help at a professional addiction treatment center if:

  • You are abusing both opioids and alcohol.
  • You are drinking alcohol while on methadone treatment for heroin addiction or prescription painkiller addiction.

Treatment for addiction to opioids and alcohol is a complex process. It’s therefore important to choose a facility that specializes in dual diagnosis substance use disorders. The medical teams at such facilities can coordinate care for both disorders (opioids and alcohol) and increase your chances of sustained recovery.

Discover Recovery: Treatment for Methadone and Alcohol

Discover Recovery Addiction Treatment Center is staffed by a team of experienced professionals. We specialize in treating both opioid use disorders and alcohol use disorders. If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol abuse and and/or opioid abuse, call us today to learn more about our holistic recovery programs. We can help you stop drinking alcohol and overcome your dependence on opioid drugs with methadone treatment.

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