Because both fentanyl and alcohol depress the nervous system, using them together can be dangerous.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, which is a substance that acts on opioid receptors in the brain to reduce pain, among other effects. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine.

When it comes to pharmaceutical fentanyl, this opioid can be an effective medication for pain relief when taken under the supervision of a medical professional. However, illegally manufactured fentanyl can be dangerous and even fatal, especially when mixed with alcohol or other drugs.

Below, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the interaction between fentanyl and alcohol, including when to seek emergency medical attention for a potential drug interaction or overdose.

Alcohol and fentanyl are both depressants, which means that they “depress,” or slow down, the activity of the central nervous system (CNS). Here are some of the depressant effects that each of these substances can have on the body:

  • Alcohol can cause euphoria, relaxation, drowsiness, slowed speech, and loss of coordination, among other effects.
  • Fentanyl can cause euphoria, relaxation, drowsiness, sedation, and slowed breathing, among other side effects.

When you combine depressants like alcohol and fentanyl, the effects of each drug are amplified, which can significantly increase the risk of overdose and even death. In fact, research found that from 2008 to 2017, around 15% of opioid-related deaths in the United States involved alcohol.

Research on fentanyl and alcohol is somewhat limited, but several studies have explored the effects of mixing alcohol with opioids.

One review published in 2018 explored the research on alcohol use, opioid use, and the use of both drugs together. According to the review, using alcohol and opioids together greatly increases the risk of complications and death.

For example, one study in the review found that emergency department visits for opioid reactions were more likely to result in serious outcomes if alcohol was involved. Another study found that having both opioid use disorder and alcohol use disorder was associated with a higher risk of overdose death, liver-related death, and death from any cause.

Even though there is some research on opioid and alcohol use, there are very few studies on the risks of drinking alcohol after fentanyl sedation.

However, one early study published in 1991 explored the possible effects of consuming alcohol after IV sedation with midazolam-fentanyl. Results of the study found that when participants drank alcohol 4 hours after receiving an IV of midazolam-fentanyl, there was no significant reaction between the two substances.

One possible reason for this is that fentanyl is a relatively short-acting sedative, meaning that the effects wear off quickly. Because of this, drinking alcohol many hours later might not have the same effect as taking both drugs at the same time.

Still, if you’ve received fentanyl sedation as part of a medical procedure, it’s always important to follow your post-procedure guidelines to avoid any potential complications. Check with your doctor if you plan to drink following a fentanyl sedation.

When someone combines alcohol with other substances or drugs, this is known as polysubstance use. Polysubstance use is dangerous because not only can it increase the effects of each drug, but it can also cause unpredictable and dangerous side effects.

One study from 2019 explored the possible effects of mixing alcohol with substances like nicotine, cocaine, opioids, and more.

According to the researchers, mixing alcohol with other drugs can cause serious side effects, including an increased risk of dependency and withdrawal, toxicity, overdose, organ damage, and death.

And this risk isn’t just limited to alcohol and recreational drugs ― it also applies to prescription drugs, as well.

In 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a safety announcement stating that healthcare professionals should avoid prescribing opioid pain medications to patients taking other CNS depressants, such as benzodiazepines and alcohol.

Since then, other studies have shown that not only have deaths from illegal fentanyl been on the rise, but it’s also commonly mislabeled and sold as heroin. Another study also found a correlation between a state’s excessive drinking rates and the rate of deaths by opioid overdose.

Recognizing an emergency

Some of the symptoms of a medical emergency after combining drugs like alcohol and fentanyl can include:

It’s also important to know what a fentanyl overdose looks like if you or someone around you has taken fentanyl. Some of the possible symptoms of an overdose can include:

  • constricted or “pinpoint” pupils
  • slowed or no breathing
  • gurgling or choking sounds
  • cold or clammy skin
  • discolored nails or lips
  • loss of consciousness

If you or someone around you is experiencing any of the symptoms above after mixing drugs, seek medical attention immediately.

If you suspect that someone is experiencing a fentanyl overdose and you have Narcan (naloxone) available, administer it as soon as possible while you wait for emergency services to arrive.

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Fentanyl and alcohol are two types of depressant drugs that can have serious effects on the central nervous system. Combining alcohol and fentanyl, especially at higher doses, can lead to severe side effects like respiratory distress, overdose, and death.

If you believe that someone around you is having a reaction after taking alcohol and fentanyl, getting them medical attention as quickly as possible could save their life.