Dangerous Liaisons: Mixing Hydrocodone with Alcohol and Other Drugs

First published 2007. To view the latest Heads Up content, click here.

Hydrocodone, the active ingredient in pain relievers such  as Vicodin®, Anexsia®, Lorcet® and Norco®, is one of the most commonly abused prescription drugs among teens and is especially dangerous when mixed with other substances. Hydrocodone depresses the central nervous system and slows breathing. Mixing hydrocodone with other substances that also depress the central nervous system—such as alcohol, antihistamines, barbiturates, or benzodiazepines—could  lead to life-threatening respiratory problems.

Hydrocodone may make you drowsy, less alert, or unable to function well physically, so it’s necessary to avoid using other medicines that also make you sleepy (such as cold medicines, other pain medications, muscle  relaxants, and medicines for seizures, depression, or anxiety). The interaction between two medications could result in extreme drowsiness or coma, making it particularly dangerous to drive a car, operate machinery, or perform other activities.

Learn more about hydrocodone.

Mixing hydrocodone with alcohol is extremely dangerous and can cause impairment of judgment, thinking, and psychomotor skills. Death has been reported due to overdose. Alcohol can be found in many over-the-counter medicines, such as cough syrup, so it is important to read all medicine labels to avoid the risk of taking medications that contain alcohol while using hydrocodone.

Hydrocodone is usually formulated with acetaminophen, a drug commonly found in over-the-counter pain relievers like Tylenol®. Acetaminophen can be toxic to the liver. Extended use of pain relievers such as Vicodin®, or mixing them with over-the-counter medicines that also contain acetaminophen, may lead to an upset stomach, internal bleeding and ulcers, and serious long-term damage.

When a doctor prescribes hydrocodone to treat a particular medical problem, he or she knows important specifics about the patient, such as weight, current condition, medical history, any particular allergies or sensitivities, and can prescribe the appropriate dose and form of the drug, warn of side effects, and monitor progress. When a person uses hydrocodone in a different form and dosage than a doctor has prescribed (with or without a prescription) or mixes it with other substances like alcohol, serious problems can occur.
What are the possible signs of trouble?

Get emergency medical help if you observe any of these signs of an allergic reaction: hives; difficulty breathing; swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Call a doctor at once if you experience any of these serious side effects:

  •     shallow breathing or slow heartbeat;
  •     seizures (convulsions);
  •     cold, clammy skin;
  •     confusion;
  •     severe weakness or dizziness; or
  •     feeling light-headed or faint.

For more information about hydrocodone and its effects, see MedlinePlus from the National Institutes of Health: www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/medmaster/a601006.html

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