Suboxone® is a crucial part of treating opioid use disorder (OUD), giving patients more control over their lives. The combination of buprenorphine and naloxone bonds to opioid receptors in the brain without producing the pronounced high of other drugs (important safety information). It’s an effective treatment for OUD, but like any other medication, it requires some lifestyle modifications.
Alcohol might seem like less of a problem than opioid drugs, but it does not mix with Suboxone—in fact, combining them can be dangerous. Not only is alcohol risky on its own, but as a depressant, it can amplify the effects of medications with sedative properties, including Suboxone. If you’ve been wondering whether the occasional drink is okay while taking Suboxone, here’s what you need to know about how these substances interact and can affect you.
The risks of combining alcohol + Suboxone
How do these substances affect the body?
Both Suboxone and alcohol are nervous system depressants, meaning they affect the body in similar ways. And the combination can have exaggerated and unwanted effects. Alcohol can enhance potential side effects of Suboxone, including headache, dizziness, fainting, nausea, and vomiting. Some people may also experience heart palpitations, changes in blood pressure, and an increased risk of a heart attack. Alcohol by itself can affect motor function, reasoning, and judgment, and these effects can be more intense with Suboxone in the mix. These cognitive impacts can be especially harmful if they lead a person into other dangerous situations.
In the long term, using alcohol and Suboxone together can affect the heart rate and decrease blood flow, making respiratory infections more likely. The cognitive effects are also likely to get worse, which affects logic and decision-making. Decreased blood flow can also lead to brain damage and increase the risk of intentional self-harm alongside accidentally risky behaviors.
Over time, the body can struggle to regulate normal functions, which also increases the risk of falling into a comatose state. The combination of Suboxone and alcohol increases the risk of overdose. Even though buprenorphine has a ceiling effect, the decreased inhibition and poor judgment brought on by alcohol misuse can lead to someone taking more than prescribed or drinking more to intensify the effects.
What happens in cases of alcohol misuse?
Addiction and dependence aren’t limited to one substance at a time, so an alcohol use disorder can put someone at risk for another drug dependency, which is known as polysubstance abuse. Although Suboxone is formulated to limit its abuse potential, the body can become dependent on having a certain amount present to achieve the desired results. This might sound like a drawback to using any substance, even a medication, but that belief tends to be rooted in stigma surrounding drug use in general. When it comes to medications, the goal is to find what works to keep the patient feeling as normal and healthy as possible—in short, the body is dependent on having the medication for its baseline standard.
Alcohol can function much the same way, even before someone experiences the social consequences of addiction. The difference between this type of dependency and a dependency on life-saving medication is that alcohol has harmful effects that worsen over time and eventually disrupt a person’s daily life. The physical dependency starts to have other consequences, including an inability to stop the behavior.
It's important to be open and honest with your MAT provider about any other substance use, even something as seemingly normal as alcohol. They’ll connect you with resources to address problem drinking behavior and keep you on track with ongoing OUD treatment.
Comprehensive care, no matter what you’re facing
Suboxone has been a gamechanger for many patients, and mixing it with alcohol is simply not worth the risk. Whether you’re concerned about the potential effects of a casual drink or a pattern of alcohol misuse while taking Suboxone, your Ophelia clinical team is here to help.
Our triage nurses are available around the clock for emergency support, and your dedicated care team will make sure you have access to additional resources to address any underlying behavioral or psychological issues that may be driving problematic alcohol use.