Mixing alcohol with pain relievers can cause life-threatening health problems, including kidney and liver failure, and death. It is best to avoid using any pain medication with alcohol.

Mixing different drugs can cause dangerous results. We know this from the perfect storm of drug mixing, such as when people combine heroin (an opioid) with cocaine (a stimulant) to create speedballs. Both substances are highly potent drug types. While the risk of overdose is understandable when it comes to speedballs, what happens when users mix less suspecting drugs? Here’s why mixing alcohol with pain relievers is dangerous and something we cannot afford to downplay.

How Alcohol Interacts With Pain Relievers

Alcohol interacts with the brain by suppressing stimulation in the central nervous system. This often results in relaxed feelings and euphoria. However, suppression of the central nervous system interrupts the brain’s signals to the rest of the body. The more alcohol is used over a short time, the more this signaling is interrupted, and the more dangerous it becomes. This makes mixing alcohol with other substances risky. It intensifies the effects of both substances to life-threatening levels in a short time. Various pain relievers are on the market, so it is helpful to consider how each one interacts with alcohol.

Alcohol and Benzodiazepines

While benzodiazepines are commonly used to treat anxiety and insomnia, they also have a range of use in pain management. Benzos also help people go through alcohol detox programs because they effectively treat intense withdrawal symptoms such as seizures. Like alcohol, benzos suppress the central nervous system, which makes mixing these two drugs an intense experience. Both drugs can intensify each other, resulting in impaired coordination, confusion, and shallow breathing.

However, compounded effects also increase with heavy use of either drug when mixing. These include irregular heartbeat, liver damage, pancreatitis, brain damage, and stroke. Many people are unaware of the additional risk of mixing these drugs, while some do this unintentionally.  Once someone drinks an alcoholic drink and takes a pill, it becomes much harder to tell how strong either drug’s effects are. This can result in another drink or another pill, which makes overdosing noticeable when it’s too late.

Alcohol and Opioids

Another notable drug that is dangerous when used with alcohol is opioids. Unlike benzos, these drugs are prescribed almost exclusively for pain management. Much like the previous example, mixing opioids with alcohol can cause short- and long-term effects. These effects include:



     Memory loss

     Dementia risk



Over time, the continual mixing of these two substances can weaken the immune system, opening users up to secondary health risks. What makes opioids particularly dangerous is their potency. While benzos are dangerous in their own right, opioids like fentanyl are deadly in very small amounts. Opioids can also include medicines sold separately as over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, such as hydrocodone, which is mixed with acetaminophen. We will now consider these.

Alcohol and OTC Pain Relievers

While we might not consider ourselves at risk with the previous examples, chances are that almost 100% of people who use alcohol also keep OTC pain medications on hand, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen. If you look at the label of either drug, you will find a warning about using these drugs and alcohol consumption. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage when used long-term, but mixing acetaminophen with alcohol can greatly increase this risk quickly. When the liver is compromised, our body’s ability to break down either drug is diminished, and people can experience ulcers while inhibiting the body’s ability for blood clotting in the digestive process.

Ibuprofen and alcohol used together can damage the stomach’s lining. While acetaminophen seems to damage the liver, ibuprofen poses a greater risk for kidney damage. NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen stop the production of an enzyme responsible for normal filtering functions in the kidneys. Since ibuprofen is typically used to manage the pain of a hangover, it poses an added risk since alcohol can still be present in our bodies when experiencing hangover symptoms.

Detoxing From Alcohol Successfully

The issue of mixing alcohol with other drugs is not always what it seems. With these various examples, we most likely find ourselves at a greater risk than we may have realized at first. Identifying alcohol overdose symptoms is an important way to keep ourselves and those we love safe. But we should always remember that the visible signs of an alcohol overdose are signals of what is already taking place in our bodies.


When we add the possibility of overdosing on alcohol and other drugs, we’re dealing with a much more dangerous issue with a short window of time to act. If you or someone you love is experiencing the effects of an alcohol overdose along with other drug use, get medical treatment as soon as possible.


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Medical News Today. (2019 Mar 5). Is it Safe to Mix Ibuprofen and Alcohol? Retrieved https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/mixing-ibuprofen-and-alcohol

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