Content medically reviewed by Vicky Magobet, PMHNP-BC, on April 24, 2023.
It's no secret that alcohol is an accepted, easily accessible substance. It's there when you grab dinner with co-workers after work. It's there when you attend a housewarming party at a friend's new place. It may even be there when you go to a movie theater. Therefore, many people don't think twice about the role it plays in their lives.
However, alcohol use can turn into misuse — and more than 14 million people in the U.S. have alcohol use disorder. That's a concern on its own. But what happens when an illicit substance like fentanyl comes into the mix?
Here's a look at how and why alcohol and fentanyl are a dangerous pair.
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Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, meaning it's an artificial drug. For comparison, similar drugs like opium and heroin are natural opioids. These drugs have related effects, but fentanyl is known to be much more powerful, as it's 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine.
This drug was originally developed as a legal anesthetic. Since its initial use in the 1960s, people have illicitly produced fentanyl for illegal recreational purposes. Doctors can either administer it intravenously or via a pain patch. Those who use fentanyl illicitly either snort it, smoke it, ingest it in pill form or take it on blotter paper. It's possible to obtain legal doses to use illicitly through injection or a pain patch.
Why do people misuse fentanyl? It comes with strong, addicting side effects. The drug makes users experience feelings like relaxation, euphoria and pain relief. However, fentanyl can also cause dizziness, nausea and vomiting — but users like the good effects so much that they don't mind the downsides. Fentanyl can sometimes go by street names, which include "Apache," "China Girl" and others.
While some users may explicitly seek out fentanyl, users may come across fentanyl accidentally when they take other drugs. For example, cocaine and heroin may include fentanyl to increase the drug's effects. This combination can increase the user's risk of overdose and death.
Fentanyl is highly addictive because of its potency. Even if an individual takes their fentanyl prescription according to their doctor's instructions, they can still develop a dependence and experience withdrawal symptoms. While a person can depend on a drug without an addiction, high reliance leads directly to addiction.
Individuals with fentanyl addiction can begin experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms within a few hours after their last dose. These symptoms can be highly uncomfortable, further contributing to fentanyl's addictive qualities. Some main fentanyl withdrawal symptoms include:
Fentanyl has a massive addiction risk and is a common misused drug due to its strength and ability to create an intense sense of euphoria and relaxation. Fentanyl abuse is especially dangerous for individuals without opioid tolerance. If an individual overdoses on fentanyl, they may experience these symptoms:
If an overdose occurs, administering naloxone or Narcan® will reverse its effects. Naloxone is available as an over-the-counter drug in a fast-acting nasal spray or syringe. Even if you are not a health care professional, you can administer naloxone to someone experiencing a fentanyl overdose.
Fentanyl is dangerous for all individuals due to reasons like:
Many individuals do not believe drugs such as fentanyl have significant addictive qualities, making them more likely to abuse this drug. Fentanyl impacts the body's central nervous system and causes excess dopamine. Due to these changes in brain chemistry, someone with a fentanyl prescription might become dependent on it and look for ways to continue using it after reaching their prescribed amount.
Fentanyl is a controlled substance, which means only physicians can legally prescribe the drug under explicit instructions and guidelines. These regulations control the dosage amounts to ensure a healthy recovery without addiction risk. That said, any potentially addictive, lethal substance carries risks.
For fentanyl, users may experience the following risks:
Alcohol can lift your spirits and boosts your energy, so it has some stimulant-like effects. It can increase your heart rate and affect your inhibitions, making it easier to chat and relax. That said, alcohol is primarily a depressant. It influences the chemicals in your brain, effectively slowing down the nervous system.
As a result, users can experience effects like:
Misusing alcohol can have a serious impact on your health in the short and long term. The risks of alcohol misuse include:
Mixing fentanyl and alcohol is dangerous. The result of fentanyl and alcohol interaction can depend on how much of each substance you use, but they'll result in heightened depressive effects no matter how much you take. When combined, these substances increase your chances of experiencing an overdose.
The risks of mixing fentanyl and alcohol include:
Mixing a fentanyl patch with alcohol is just as risky as combining any other form of fentanyl with drinking. Physicians can prescribe fentanyl as a transdermal patch to help manage severe pain. The patches are designed to stick on the skin, much like a nicotine patch. It's simply a different way to administer the drug, rather than ingesting or injecting it through another form.
While using a fentanyl patch, you should avoid drinking alcohol. Alcohol and fentanyl will still interact with your system, regardless of the delivery method of the fentanyl. The same risks of mixing fentanyl and alcohol apply in the case of using a patch. If you're using a fentanyl patch, it's important to know and watch for the risks of using this drug and the risks of mixing it with any other substance.
Contact your doctor as soon as possible if you notice any harmful side effects while wearing a fentanyl patch.
Fentanyl and alcohol interact, but that's not the only risky combination. Mixing fentanyl and other drugs can be just as dangerous.
When making cocaine or heroin, manufacturers may add fentanyl to the mix to help amplify and prolong the effects of the drug. Often, users are not informed that the substance they're using contains fentanyl. This addition can significantly increase the risk of overdose. Mixing any other opioid, such as heroin or oxycodone, with fentanyl will increase the effects of the drugs in your system and lead to a potentially dangerous outcome.
It can also be risky to mix fentanyl with other drugs, whether obtained for recreational use or legally prescribed. For example, mixing certain anti-depressants with fentanyl can cause an adverse drug reaction known as serotonin syndrome. While this reaction is rare, it's potentially fatal, so it's best to avoid combining fentanyl with other drugs even when you're taking it legally.
Mixing fentanyl with benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, can also lead to serious issues. The risk of addiction and overdose increases. Additionally, users are more likely to experience a fatal overdose when mixing fentanyl and benzodiazepines.
If you're using fentanyl under the supervision of a doctor, always ask about potential medication interactions. This way, you can ensure you're taking the drug as safely as possible to treat your health condition. If you're using fentanyl recreationally, carefully consider the risks of adding more substances into the mix.
Withdrawing from fentanyl after an extended period of use can be challenging. Your withdrawal symptoms can start as early as 12 hours after a dose and typically last a week. The first three days are often the worst, as you can experience symptoms such as:
When you're ready to ask for help, fentanyl and alcohol addiction treatment programs are available. Recognizing you need assistance is a critical first step to help you on your journey toward recovery. Whether you're using fentanyl legally or illicitly, you shouldn't hesitate to reach out when you notice certain habits forming, like combining your use with drinking alcohol.
Once you enter substance use disorder treatment, you can expect:
Fentanyl addiction or alcohol addiction alone is tough to manage, but beating a reliance on both substances can be even harder. Fighting addiction is difficult, and withdrawal from fentanyl and alcohol is scary, painful and potentially dangerous. Thankfully, you don't have to face this fight alone.
Diamond House Detox offers support specifically for fentanyl addiction and alcohol addiction. We understand that everyone's journey to recovery will be different, and our health care providers treat each person as an individual who needs a customized treatment plan. Contact us to take the first step toward releasing the grip alcohol and fentanyl have on you or your loved one.
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