Mixing methadone with alcohol

Methadone and alcohol are two substances that should not be used together. Dangerous complications including respiratory problems, low blood pressure, a weak heart rate, and coma are possible. More on risks of mixing the two here.

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Methadone provides relief for patients who do not respond to non-narcotic pain medicines and has also been used for decades to treat individuals who suffer from addiction and dependence on heroin and narcotic pain medicines. However, methadone may become hazardous when used with alcohol, other opioids (opium-like substances) or illicit drugs that depress the central nervous system.

So what exactly happens when you mix alcohol with methadone? What are the consequences of mixing the two?  We review here and invite your questions about methadone or getting help for addiction problems with methadone at the end.

Methadone and alcohol effects

Taking methadone and alcohol TOGETHER is dangerous because of the way these substances affect a person’s body. Methadone and alcohol are both classified as depressants, which can hinder reflexes, slow heart rate, lower blood pressure, and restrict breathing. When the two substances are taken together, the effects are amplified.  How does each of these substances work individually?

Methadone is in a class of medications called opiate (narcotic) analgesics. Methadone works via the central nervous system by changing the way the brain and nervous system respond to specific symptoms, including pain and cravings for harder drugs.  While methadone is mainly used in the treatment of harder opiate addiction by helping to address cravings, it still has a central nervous system depressant effect on the entire body.  Methadone’s duration of action should be taken into account anytime you are using this Rx medication and reaching for a drink.

Similarly, alcohol affects the brain and central nervous systme as well. During period of intoxication, alcohol can cause walking difficulties, blurred vision, slurred speech, slowed reaction times, impaired memory. So clearly, alcohol affects the brain. A person who drinks heavily over a long period of time may have brain deficits that persist well after he or she achieves sobriety.

Dangers of mixing methadone and alcohol

Methadone and alcohol are two substances that should not be used together. The effects of mixing methadone and alcohol can be profound. Methadone increases the effects of alcohol in some people, so taking the two together might make you become drunk more quickly and may inhibit your motor skills. Further, because alcohol is a nervous system depressant, taking it with methadone can lead to dangerous complications, including respiratory problems, low blood pressure, a weak heart rate, and coma. Taking both methadone and alcohol at the same time can also increase the risk of an overdose.

Methadone and alcohol overdose

Like any other drug, especially any narcotic, methadone can be purposefully or unintentionally abused and present serious health risks when taken with other drugs. Overdose can happen when more than the prescribed dose is taken, when methadone is injected or when methadone is taken with other drugs, such as alcohol or minor tranquillizers. When an individual takes methadone and alcohol together, he or she can experience a wide range of physical and emotional problems.

Overdose of methadone and alcohol can cause the following side effects:

  • anxiety
  • body aches
  • dizziness or faintness
  • fainting
  • hallucinations
  • nausea
  • palpitations
  • respiratory and heart problems
  • shortness of breath
  • unconsciousness
  • vomiting

Alcohol can also speed up the methadone withdrawal process, which can cause an individual severe physical pain and mental stress that may lead them back to using more dangerous opiates. At worst, mixing methadone and alcohol can lead to death.

Methadone and alcohol deaths

Most cases of overdose and death related to methadone intake involved mixing methadone with another depressant drug, especially alcohol, against doctor’s orders. Alcohol and methadone are central nervous system (CNS) depressants and taking them simultaneously increases the cumulative depressive effects on the brain’s respiratory centers. This could lead to respiratory depression and coma followed by death.

Is it safe to drink on methadone?

Alcohol and methadone simply do not mix. In fact, alcohol taken with any substance of abuse is a leading cause of drug-related deaths. Even a modest amount of alcohol combined with methadone can slow methadone metabolism and make the drinker dangerously intoxicated. The person may pass out and choke to death on his/her own vomit.

Mixing methadone and alcohol questions

Still have questions about mixing methadone with alcohol? Please leave your questions in the comments section below. We do our best to respond to you personally and promptly.

REFERENCE SOURCES: DPT: How to use methadone safely
DAO: Alcohol interaction with other drugs
MedlinePlus: Methadone
NSW Government: Health
CAMH: Methadone and other drugs
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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