The Dangers of Fentanyl and Alcohol

What is Fentanyl and How Is It Used?

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid with a dangerous reputation. It can be 100 times stronger than morphine, and 50 times stronger than heroin. This increased potency means a greater likelihood of causing life-threatening opioid side effects or a fatal overdose. These already significant risks are amplified even further when fentanyl and alcohol are combined. Even in small doses, the combination can be quite the lethal duo.

Forms of Fentanyl:

  • Lozenge
  • Pill
  • Patch
  • Injectable solution
  • Powder 
  • Blotter paper 
  • Eye droppers 
  • Nasal sprays 

Fentanyl is classified as a Schedule II substance. This means that it has a high potential for abuse and can result in severe physical or psychological dependence. Other drugs in this classification include cocaine, methamphetamine, and oxycodone. This classification might come as a surprise seeing as how fentanyl is far more powerful than heroin, which is classified as a Schedule I, the highest tier. The reason for this is that fentanyl does have prescribed uses whereas heroin does not and is purely illicit. 

The Dangers of Fentanyl

Synthetic opioids are one of the leading causes of drug overdose deaths in the United States. Fentanyl leads those numbers and in 2017 resulted in nearly 30,000 overdose fatalities. Over half of all opioid-related deaths that year involved fentanyl. 

Unlike with other types of opioid abuse that are driven by misuse of a prescription (typically by a non-prescribed individual), the majority of illicit fentanyl usage is supplied by illegal manufacturing of the substance by clandestine laboratories.  

Although fentanyl operates as your typical opioid would, the higher potency means that the neurological reactions are much stronger, the effects on the body are more drastic, and the likelihood of addiction far greater. As little as a 2-milligram dose can be lethal (picture for scale). Fentanyl comes in a variety of forms and its versatility of consumption is a significant factor in why this dangerous substance is so widespread.

How Fentanyl Affects the Body

Fentanyl is fast-acting and works like your typical opioid. It is a mu-opioid receptor antagonist that controls pain and emotions. Once it has activated receptors, dopamine levels increase which blocks sensations of pain and sometimes results in feelings of euphoria. Fentanyl also acts as a depressant on central nervous system functions which can slow down breathing and digestion. One surprising difference between fentanyl and other opioids is that fentanyl does not seem to have the same cardiovascular effects that most other opioids do. The most common fentanyl side effects include:

  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Drowsiness
  • Euphoria
  • Hypoxia
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Nausea/Vomiting
  • Slowed or difficulty breathing
  • Sweating

Fentanyl and Alcohol: Making a Bad Situation Worse

Both fentanyl and alcohol are depressants. They both cause cognitive impairment and disruption to central nervous system functions but do so in different ways. The primary danger of using both substances together is where those side effects overlap: respiratory depression.

On its own, fentanyl can slow breathing to a dangerous rate and initiate a potentially-fatal chain of events. Slowed breathing means less oxygen intake, and this oxygen shortage leads to brain hypoxia which often results in a comatose state. From there, things can quickly get worse. The best-case scenario of the individual waking up from a coma could still result in permanent brain damage from the lack of oxygen. The worst? Death. 

In addition to brain hypoxia, the rise of carbon dioxide levels (caused by the lack of oxygen’s presence) can trigger hyperglycemia. Both of these conditions eventually lead to a change in the brain’s temperature and slow metabolic brain activity

Treating Polydrug Use and Abuse

Using alcohol with any sort of medication is generally a bad idea, and opioids even more so. Polysubstance abuse brings out the worst of each other and can often result in entirely new sets of less than desirable side effects. In circumstances of polysubstance abuse, treatment can be particularly difficult trying to extricate one symptom or trigger from another. Our experienced staff are well-versed in such types of addiction treatment and can help manage unpleasant side effects with our medical detox program. Contact us today to learn more and start your journey to recovery. 

Is Alcohol Withdrawal Headache Normal?

Alcohol withdrawal isn’t pretty; it can trigger a host of unpleasant physical and psychological symptoms that can last a few days or as long as a few weeks.  Some are mild and flu-like, with little cause for concern. Other symptoms can be severe, life-threatening, and require hospitalization. Fortunately, alcohol withdrawal headaches aren’t usually part of the latter category. They are a fairly commonplace symptom and on their own are not a cause for alarm.

Why Does Alcohol Withdrawal Cause Headaches? 

The cause of alcohol withdrawal headaches is the same as withdrawal itself. Alcohol withdrawal happens when the body has developed a physical dependence on the substance. The brain has learned to compensate for the dulling effect of alcohol by constantly releasing extra chemicals in order to keep up functions as normal. This overstimulation becomes the new normal – even when alcohol is no longer present. The discomfort that occurs is the adjustment period of chemical production returning to normal. 

How Long Do Alcohol Withdrawal Headaches Last? 

Alcohol withdrawal is not a clear-cut process. It can vary widely from person to person based on the severity of their drinking habits, and get very messy in the interim before the body re-adjusts to functioning without alcohol. Therefore, alcohol withdrawal-induced headaches can be difficult to predict. The average withdrawal process can take a few days or, in rare cases, over a month to pass. 

Types of Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can occur within hours after your last drink. However, the time distinction is not as important as the severity of the symptoms and does not follow a linear time-based schedule. Minor, moderate, or severe symptoms of withdrawal can occur at the very onset of the withdrawal process. 

 

The first stages of withdrawal begin around the 6-hour mark. Symptoms typically peak around the 48-hour mark and subside in intensity. Persisting symptoms that occur or worsen are usually attributed to delirium tremens, the most severe type of withdrawal. 

Minor Symptoms (Common)

The most common withdrawal symptoms are ones that affect the autonomic nervous system. These are functions that regulate the body’s automatic body functions like breathing, heart rate, digestion, reflexes, sneezing, etc., and typically cease after 48 hours.

 

  • Headache
  • Dilated pupils
  • Higher blood pressure
  • Higher body temperature
  • Nausea/Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia

Moderate Symptoms (Less Common)

Moderate symptoms include psychological side effects. These can begin 12-24 hours after withdrawal begins, and lasts significantly longer, for up to 6 days. 

 

  • Hallucinations (visual, auditory, or touch)
  • Seizures

Severe Symptoms (Uncommon)

  • Hyperthermia
  • Hypertensions
  • Fast breathing
  • Extreme sweating
  • Tremors
  • Delirium tremens

Alcohol & Headaches 

Headaches are one of the first symptoms of alcohol withdrawal to occur. They typically do so within the first 24-hours and can range in intensity from mild to severe (migraine-like). Headaches are often one of the first indicators the withdrawal is occurring. Withdrawal isn’t the only condition associated with headaches after heavy drinking, however. Hangovers are also known to leave heads pounding and bleary after a night of heavy drinking. Sometimes, hangover symptoms can be so severe that it is mistaken for withdrawal. 

 

Despite the similarities, headaches caused by withdrawal are completely different from those that occur as the after-effects of a binge drinking session. Withdrawal headaches are triggered by the absence of alcohol in the system, while hangover headaches are caused by too much alcohol being consumed at once. So while the pain may feel the same, the underlying cause of a withdrawal headache is much more serious.

 

If you have begun to experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms, it is recommended to have medical intervention for the detox process. Contact us today to learn more. 

 

Sources:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6761817/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6084325/ 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441882/ 

 

Oxycodone and Alcohol: A Dangerous Combination

There’s a reason why most medications have a warning label against mixing with alcohol. In this specific instance, the danger of simultaneously using oxycodone and alcohol lies in that they have similar effects on the brain and central nervous system, although they do so in different ways. Both of these substances are depressants capable of causing irreparable harm to internal organs and a permanent imbalance of neurochemical levels. When combined, these two drugs make a deadly pair that amplifies each other’s negative effects and creates an entirely new host of dangers.

How They Work On Their Own

To better understand the risk that combining these drugs can cause, let’s look at how oxycodone and alcohol work independently.

Oxycodone

Oxycodone is a fast-acting opioid and powerful pain reliever. It functions by binding to opioid receptors, slowing down messages to the brain while simultaneously triggering the release of dopamine. This results in pain relief and a feeling of euphoria or relaxation. With neurons no longer firing as normal, this depression of neuron activity causes multiple bodily functions including breathing, heartbeat, metabolism, and digestion to slow. This, in turn, can cause severe respiratory issues, low blood pressure, and constipation. Oxycodone can remain in the system for several days after the last use, making it dangerously easy to cause substance buildup within the body.

Alcohol

Alcohol, another depressant, causes a number of both chemical and physical changes within the body. Similar to oxycodone, alcohol also causes the slowing of neuron activity. Alcohol interrupts dopamine, serotonin, GABA, and glutamate circuits, each of which has some effect on mood, motor skills, cognitive functioning, and impulse control. Long-term alcohol abuse can cause permanent damage to the hippocampus and result in severe memory impairment. Physical long-term side effects include hypertension, cardiac stress, liver disease, digestive problems, and depression.  

Side Effects of Oxycodone and Alcohol Combined

Even the most mundane medications (like an antifungal cream) can have dangerous repercussions when exposed to an opioid. So it goes without saying that adding alcohol to the mix is bad news. 

  • Dangerously slow breathing – The brain can shut down if it doesn’t get enough oxygen, this can lead to a coma or death
  • Low blood pressure and cardiac distress
  • Severely impaired memory or memory loss
  • Drowsiness or unconsciousness
  • Increased likelihood of addiction

Both of these drugs are depressants that have a significant impact on central nervous system functions, combining them can make existing side effects turn deadly. And besides making an already bad situation worse, using oxycodone and alcohol together can cause withdrawal symptoms to be even more severe.

Treating Polysubstance Abuse

Polydrug users, those who abuse or are addicted to multiple drugs, are at much greater risk of experiencing compounded drug side effects. This is often a result of individuals using multiple drugs to “balance” the other out and stabilize drug side effects. This is a dangerous practice that can cause toxic buildup within the body which can unleash an entirely new set of damage to the body.

Polysubstance abuse can be incredibly difficult to treat and the chance of relapse is significantly higher. Medical detox is recommended for circumstances like this, where the effects of having multiple drugs in a system can be severe and require medical intervention. If you or a loved one find yourself addicted to multiple drugs at the same time, consult a Level Up Lake Worth addiction professional today. 

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