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The Risks of Mixing Alcohol and Buprenorphine

Mixing alcohol and buprenorphine can be dangerous. Here is a look at the risks associated with mixing alcohol and buprenorphine.

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In this article

Alcohol interacts with certain medications in ways that can be dangerous and sometimes life-threatening. One of such medications is buprenorphine. Buprenorphine is a medication commonly used to treat opioid use disorder (OUD), and is the primary active ingredient in Suboxone (buprenorphine/naloxone).

Understanding the risks associated with mixing alcohol with certain substances is crucial for individuals undergoing treatment for OUD and their healthcare providers. This article discusses the dangers of mixing alcohol and buprenorphine and safety practices to avoid these risks.

What is buprenorphine?

Buprenorphine is a medication that is primarily used to treat opioid use disorder. It works by binding to the same receptors in the brain that opioids (heroin and prescription painkillers) do. However, as a partial agonist, it only partially activates them. In individuals with OUD, it generally does not produce a euphoric effect. This allows it to help to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms associated with opioid addiction without spurring the need to chase a “high.”

Buprenorphine is available in various forms, including sublingual tablets, films, implants, and injections. It is often combined with naloxone (an opioid antagonist) to prevent misuse, relapse, and overdose. The combination product is commonly known by the brand name Suboxone. Zubsolv and several generic options offer the same combination of medications.

Understanding the interaction between alcohol and buprenorphine

Both alcohol and buprenorphine depress the central nervous system (CNS), which controls vital functions such as breathing, heart rate, and consciousness. Taking both together can significantly increase each other’s sedative and depressant effects, leading to severe CNS depression. This interaction can result in profound sedation (passing out), respiratory depression, coma, and even death.

The dangers of mixing alcohol and buprenorphine

Mixing alcohol and buprenorphine can be dangerous and is strongly advised against due to the compounded effects of both substances on the CNS. The following are the risks associated with mixing alcohol and buprenorphine:

Increased side effects

Buprenorphine use has side effects on its own, but mixing alcohol and buprenorphine can significantly increase its side effects. These include:

  • Increased nausea, vomiting, and constipation
  • Headache, blurred vision, dizziness, and fainting spells
  • Increased sweating
  • Irregular heartbeat or palpitations
  • Increased or decreased blood pressure
  • Impaired cognition and motor coordination

Respiratory depression

Both alcohol and buprenorphine are CNS depressants. When taken together, the effects can be compounded, increasing the risk of life-threatening respiratory depression. Respiratory depression is slow, shallow breathing that does not supply enough oxygen to the body. The breathing rate can drop to dangerously low levels, potentially leading to respiratory failure, coma, or death.

Increased sedation and drowsiness

Alcohol and buprenorphine both have sedative properties. When combined, they can significantly increase sedation, leading to extreme drowsiness, dizziness, and profound sedation. This can impair cognitive and motor functions, increasing the risk of accidents and injuries.

Increased risk of overdose

The combination of alcohol and buprenorphine can significantly increase the risk of overdose even at lower doses of each substance. The sedative and depressant effects of alcohol can mask the signs of buprenorphine overdose, making it harder to recognize and respond to an overdose situation in time. It is incredibly rare to overdose on buprenorphine alone, but adding alcohol greatly increases the risk.

Cardiovascular complications

Both alcohol and buprenorphine can affect cardiovascular function. Alcohol can increase blood pressure and heart rate, while buprenorphine can cause hypotension (low blood pressure). The combination of these effects can lead to cardiovascular instability, which can be dangerous, especially for individuals with pre-existing heart conditions.

Impaired judgment and risky behaviors

Mixing alcohol with any medication that affects the CNS can impair judgment and decision-making abilities. This can lead to risky behaviors such as engaging in unsafe sexual practices, driving under the influence, or using other substances. These behaviors not only endanger the individual but also pose risks to others.

Increased risk of liver damage

Both alcohol and buprenorphine are metabolized by the liver. Chronic use or abuse of alcohol, combined with buprenorphine can lead to liver damage, including conditions such as fatty liver, hepatitis, and cirrhosis. It can also exacerbate pre-existing liver conditions.

Safe practices and recommendations

To ensure the safe and effective use of buprenorphine, it’s important to avoid consuming alcohol while in buprenorphine treatment. Individuals should take their medication as prescribed and keep all of their regular appointments with their healthcare providers. These appointments are crucial for tracking progress, adjusting treatment as needed, and managing any side effects that may arise.

Additionally, individuals should also refrain from mixing buprenorphine with other substances without consulting their healthcare providers. This includes other medications, drugs, and even certain herbal supplements.

Registered nurse and freelance writer Esther Seun is dedicated to educating others about the complexities of health, wellness, and beauty with carefully researched content.

Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. Workit Health, Inc. and its affiliated professional entities make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.

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