If you’ve ever had an opioid dependence, you might be familiar with buprenorphine (Suboxone®). buprenorphine (Suboxone®) is a Schedule III narcotic medication prescribed for those who are looking to end their opioid use. It’s a mixture of buprenorphine (an opioid agonist) and naloxone (an opioid antagonist). It binds to opioid receptors in the brain, tricking the mind into thinking it’s getting its regular drug of choice. It also works to block the effects of other opioids like Oxycodone, Vicodin, and more.
When taken as prescribed, buprenorphine (Suboxone®) can decrease opioid withdrawals, prevent opioid-related overdose, and even curb cravings. Many physicians prefer buprenorphine (Suboxone®) over its commonly used counterpart, methadone. It’s prescribed through medication-assisted treatment programs (MAT), primary care physicians, and rehabilitation centers. buprenorphine (Suboxone®) is being used more frequently by physicians because of the overwhelming proof that it prevents overdose and improves functionality during withdrawal symptoms. This medication doesn’t have a high risk of dependence like its narcotic counterparts. It also has a “ceiling effect”, which means the person taking it is not likely to get more inebriated the more they take it.
As effective as it is, buprenorphine (Suboxone®) doesn’t make it “easy” to stop taking opioids. Some people have been taking them for years, and coming off them is physically and psychologically challenging. Those first few months without opioid use can be difficult, even if buprenorphine (Suboxone®) is prescribed. It’s because of this that many people seek other forms of pain relief, like alcohol.
There are other reasons someone who’s taking buprenorphine (Suboxone®) might want to turn to alcohol, like life stressors, relaxation, or social engagements. But is it okay to drink when you’re taking buprenorphine (Suboxone®)? Let’s take a look at why this is generally not advised.
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What Happens if You Mix Alcohol and buprenorphine (Suboxone®)?
Alcohol and narcotics are both considered depressants, which means they slow the functioning of your central nervous system. Respiration rates decrease, reaction time slows, and coordination is compromised. On their own, alcohol and narcotics can be relatively safe. Especially when taken in moderation. When you combine them, however, your nervous system slows down at an alarming rate.
Taking both of these substances can simultaneously magnify their individual side effects, creating dangerous situations. Here are some of the side effects you can expect to see when buprenorphine (Suboxone®) is mixed with alcohol:
- Vomiting, Nausea, and constipation can lead to severe dehydration
- Fainting, blurry vision, and migraines can lead to car accidents or head injuries
- Heart palpitations and increased blood pressure can lead to heart attack or stroke
Mixing alcohol and buprenorphine (Suboxone®) long-term can lead to a myriad of complications such as:
- Respiratory distress (infections, tissue damage, and organ damage)
- Decrease in blood flow (this also causes damage to organs)
- Muddy or disjointed thinking patterns (which can lead to self-harm, depression, and anxiety)
- Brain damage
All of these complications can lead to an increased risk of conditions like cancer, cardiovascular disease, liver cirrhosis, ulcers, and more.
Is it Ever Okay to Drink Alcohol While Taking buprenorphine (Suboxone®)?
Usually, people will mix buprenorphine (Suboxone®) with alcohol for one of five reasons: they don’t know how dangerous the interaction is, they want to “enhance” the high of buprenorphine (Suboxone®), they use it as a “date rape” drug, they have alcohol use disorder along with opioid use disorder, or they’re experiencing a mental illness and feel the need to “self-harm.”
One question that is common for those using buprenorphine (Suboxone®) is, “can I skip a buprenorphine (Suboxone®) dose and drink instead?” You might wonder if skipping a dose of buprenorphine (Suboxone®) will make it safer to consume alcohol, but unfortunately, it doesn’t. buprenorphine (Suboxone®) (along with many opioids) has a long half-life, which means it stays in your system far longer than your last dose.
The half-life of buprenorphine (Suboxone®) is 36 hours, and it takes around 8 days for a person’s body to be completely free of the medication. That means that buprenorphine (Suboxone®) is still in your body for over a week, and you’re still at risk for complications when you mix it with alcohol. You might know others who drink while taking buprenorphine (Suboxone®), but they’re risking their health. They also risk accidents, permanent brain damage, organ failure, and more.
Can You Overdose While Drinking Alcohol on buprenorphine (Suboxone®)?
Overdose is far more likely if someone is drinking alcohol while taking buprenorphine (Suboxone®). When a doctor prescribes buprenorphine (Suboxone®), they’re not assuming that someone is drinking while taking it. They’re providing you with an effective dose for your particular condition. By adding alcohol to your prescription of buprenorphine (Suboxone®), you’re essentially increasing the dosage that the doctor gave you. Alcohol magnifies the effects of buprenorphine (Suboxone®), and the two generally don’t mesh well together.
Overdose can also happen with buprenorphine (Suboxone®) if someone takes more than what they’re prescribed. Here are some of the common signs of buprenorphine (Suboxone®) overdose:
- Extreme drowsiness (like an inability to stay awake)
- Blue lips or fingernails
- Slurred speech
- Impaired coordination
- Tiny pupils
If you or someone you love is experiencing any of these symptoms while taking buprenorphine (Suboxone®), it’s important to get immediate help. There are medications available to counter the effects of an overdose, but medical attention is necessary.
Can buprenorphine (Suboxone®) Help Patients with Alcohol Use Disorder?
In an alcohol detox center, buprenorphine (Suboxone®) isn’t typically used to treat alcohol use disorder (AUD) or withdrawals from alcohol. buprenorphine (Suboxone®) has been tested on AUD in the past, but it wasn’t as effective as other medications. If you’re living with AUD and you’re wondering what medications are typically prescribed, buprenorphine (Suboxone®) doesn’t make the list. People in AUD detox are usually prescribed benzodiazepines, Acamprosate, or disulfiram. In both alcohol and opioid detox centers, individual or group therapy is also recommended in conjunction with medications.
What To Do if You’re Taking Both Alcohol and buprenorphine (Suboxone®)
If you’re taking alcohol with buprenorphine (Suboxone®) and you’re aware of the risks, you might need to get yourself into treatment. There are treatment options for those who mix alcohol and buprenorphine (Suboxone®). If this is happening to you, you’re not alone. Here are some common treatment options for substance use disorders:
- Medication-assisted treatment (MAT): MAT could be a great option for you if you’re struggling with combining alcohol and buprenorphine (Suboxone®). In a MAT program, you’ll be closely monitored and your clinicians will check in with you regularly while prescribing your buprenorphine (Suboxone®). It’s a great way to stay accountable and lean on others during withdrawal. MAT also includes a therapeutic element like group therapy.
- Inpatient or residential treatment. This is another great option if you need a higher level of support. During inpatient treatment, your medications will be given to you on a schedule and there’s no access to alcohol. You’ll sleep and attend therapy at the clinic of your choice. Make sure you choose a facility with a staff who uses evidence-based treatment methods. You should also choose a place where you feel comfortable, welcomed, and respected.
- Individual or Group Therapy. If you’re looking for a journey of abstinence, it’s important to attend an element of therapy. Some patients benefit the most from group therapy because they can lean on others who have been through similar circumstances. Others benefit more from individual therapy – building trust and learning techniques with a therapist they respect. Whichever option you choose, it’s important to include therapy into your treatment plan for sustained abstinence. A therapist can help you identify and understand your triggers while constructing healthy coping strategies.
- Detox. Detox programs are a great opportunity to get help when you’re stopping alcohol use. If you’re having difficulty discontinuing your drinking while taking buprenorphine (Suboxone®), a detox program might be a great option. In detox, you’ll be monitored 24-7 by staff and clinicians to ensure your safety as you go through your withdrawals. Detox usually takes about 3 days. After detox, you’ll receive recommendations for aftercare.
- Reach out to friends and family. Substance use disorders make people high-risk for isolation. Reaching out to friends and family members that you trust and keeping them involved will increase your chances of recovery. You don’t have to go through this alone. If you feel like your friends and family wouldn’t be understanding, people have found great support and success in abstinence groups. You can find one in your area or online.
Get Treatment Today!
At ReVIDA Recovery®, we know how hard it can be to struggle with substance use. We’re here to help. We offer medication-assisted treatment, structured outpatient treatment, counseling, group therapy, and buprenorphine (Suboxone®) treatment programs to reduce your symptoms and help you find relief. For questions or to set up a consultation, call us at (423) 631-0432.
FAQs About Can You Drink on buprenorphine (Suboxone®)
How long after taking buprenorphine (Suboxone®) can I drink alcohol?
You should wait at least 8 days after taking your last dose of buprenorphine (Suboxone®) before drinking alcohol. That being said, alcohol shouldn’t be used as a substitute for buprenorphine (Suboxone®) because it doesn’t treat opioid withdrawal or cravings.
Can I drink 12 hours after taking buprenorphine (Suboxone®)?
No, it’s not advised to have any alcohol for up to 8 days after your last buprenorphine (Suboxone®) dose. buprenorphine (Suboxone®) has a half-life of 36 hours, so if your last dose was 12 hours ago, it’s still very active in your system.
Does buprenorphine (Suboxone®) rot your teeth?
buprenorphine (Suboxone®) can impact your dental health, especially if it’s taken for a long time. To avoid this, take your buprenorphine (Suboxone®) prescriptions as directed and only stay on the medication as long as medically necessary.