Buprenorphine and Alcohol: Risks Explained

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Key Takeaways

  • Mixing Buprenorphine with alcohol increases risks of severe respiratory depression and overdose.
  • Both substances depress the central nervous system, leading to potentially fatal breathing slowdown.
  • Combining them can also cause dizziness, nausea, impaired coordination, and heightened overdose risk.
  • Avoid alcohol to reduce dangers; consult a doctor for safe Buprenorphine use guidelines.

Buprenorphine is a tool used to help people with opioid addictions to manage their symptoms and help them mitigate opioid withdrawal. However, like any medication, it comes with risks which you should be aware of.

In this article, we will discuss whether you can safely mix Buprenorphine and alcohol.

We’ll discuss the risks involved with mixing the two together, as well as what you should know in order to take the medication safely.

What Is Buprenorphine?

Buprenorphine is an FDA-approved medication used as part of Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) to help people with Opioid Use Disorder (otherwise known as opioid addiction) manage their recovery.

Buprenorphine is classed as a partial opioid agonist. It works by attaching itself to the Mu-opioid receptors in the brain. Once attached, it helps to reduce pain, control drug cravings, and minimize opioid withdrawal symptoms.

Unlike other more potent opioids, Buprenorphine has a weaker effect.

In addition to this, Buprenorphine also has a “ceiling effect”, which means that it cannot produce the same euphoric highs other opiates such as heroin, codeine, and fentanyl do.

This means that high doses of the medication won’t create more negative symptoms and therefore have less abuse potential.

Buprenorphine is available in several forms, including pills, films, sublingual tablets, injections, and patches. It is also sometimes combined with another medication called Naloxone and sold under the name of Suboxone.

Can You Drink Alcohol While On Buprenorphine?

No, you should not drink alcohol while taking Buprenorphine.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) warns against the use of alcohol (or any other drugs that may impact breathing) with Buprenorphine as it can cause serious side effects.

Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist, which means that it works on the same receptors that other opioids do to combat withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings.

When opioids (including Buprenorphine) attach to these receptors, they can slow down breathing. Alcohol has similar effects, making it a very dangerous combination – especially in high doses.

What Happens When You Mix Buprenorphine and Alcohol?

Both Buprenorphine and alcohol work as depressants. This means that they slow down various bodily processes, including your breathing. This puts you at serious risk of dangerously slow breathing, otherwise known as respiratory depression.

As well as putting you at risk of overdose and severe side effects, the combination can also slow other processes and make you feel dizzy, disorientated, and drowsy.

Side effects may include:

  • Gastrointestinal issues such as nausea, vomiting, and constipation
  • Headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Changes in blood pressure including dizziness, and fainting spells
  • Increased sweating
  • Heart palpitations
  • Increased risk of heart attacks
  • Poor coordination and reaction times.

Your doctor will likely warn you against drinking alcohol while taking this medication and support you to do so.

The Risks of Combining Buprenorphine and Alcohol

Mixing Buprenorphine and alcohol is dangerous because the effects and risks of the two are similar; therefore, taking them at the same time can compound these side effects and risks.

There are some uncomfortable side effects when mixing the two substances, such as gastrointestinal problems, dizziness, and poor coordination.

At higher amounts, there are some very serious risks such as:

  • Dangerously slow breathing (respiratory depression)
  • Coma
  • Death.

These risks are particularly high for people who have liver failure or liver diseases that delay the breakdown of alcohol or Buprenorphine.

It is also very dangerous for ‘opioid naive’ people (people who have never taken opioids before) to mix the two substances.

Even at smaller doses, mixing both opioids and alcohol can be very dangerous. Using both at once increases your risk of various forms of cancer, damages the liver, and weakens the immune system – making it more likely that you experience adverse effects overall.

Some Guidelines for the Safe Use of Buprenorphine

Before you are prescribed Buprenorphine, your doctor will conduct certain checks to make sure the medication is right for you.

They may run some tests, as well as teach you how to properly take the medication. It is important that you follow their guidelines and ask any questions you may have.

A few tips to taking Buprenorphine safely include:

  • Make use of other services available: Medications used to treat opioid use disorder are often prescribed as part of a Comprehensive Treatment Plan that combines medication along with psychological interventions to help you manage your addiction. These tools can be extremely beneficial to your recovery
  • Regularly check in with your doctor: If you have been prescribed Buprenorphine or a similar medication such as Suboxone, it is likely that you will be asked to attend follow-up appointments. These are important as they will help your doctor determine if the dose is correct, as well as to manage any potential side effects
  • Avoid alcohol and other depressants: Alcohol and other depressants such as benzodiazepines (benzos) are very dangerous when taken with Buprenorphine as they increase your risk of serious side effects. Therefore, it is important that you let your doctor know you are taking Buprenorphine before you are prescribed other medication
  • Be aware of serious symptoms: With Buprenorphine, there is a small but serious risk of severe side effects, especially if someone who has never taken opioids before takes the medication accidentally. It is important to know what symptoms to look out for in case of overdose. These symptoms may include extremely slow or shallow breathing, pinpoint pupils, loss of consciousness, and extreme drowsiness
  • Be careful driving: Often, your doctor will advise you whether you can safely drive while taking Buprenorphine. Since Buprenorphine can result in slower reaction times and occasional vision problems, it may be best to avoid driving or using heavy machinery when taking this medication.

Final Thoughts

While Buprenorphine is an effective medication that’s commonly used to treat Opioid Use Disorder, it is important to know how to take the medication safely.

It is vital that you avoid taking alcohol and other depressants while on this medication.

Mixing alcohol and Buprenorphine increases your risk of dangerous side effects and should therefore be avoided.

If you or someone else accidentally takes Buprenorphine with alcohol, it’s important to seek medication attention and be aware of the symptoms of overdose.

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