vicodinVicodin (hydrocodone and acetaminophen) consists of a narcotic pain reliever (hydrocodone) that is classified as a full opioid agonist. This means it is similar to morphine, heroin, oxycodone, and other opioid drugs.

Vicodin acts in the same way that other narcotic medications act, by attaching to certain receptors in the brain and stimulating the neurons in the brain to increase the pain threshold (which is the amount of stimulation required for a person to feel pain) and to reduce one’s perception of the experience of pain. Thus, Vicodin is a central nervous system depressant as well as a pain reliever.

Common effects associated with using Vicodin include:

  • Pain suppression
  • Feelings of euphoria and general wellbeing
  • Feeling relaxed
  • Sedation
  • Decreased reaction time
  • Potential issues with balance
  • Decreased cognition

    • Poor decision-making
    • Difficulty forming new memories
    • Decreased quality of thoughts
  • Feeling weak
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Suppression of breathing
  • Lethargy or even unconsciousness
  • Potential for physical dependence

    • Tolerance
    • Withdrawal syndrome when discontinued
  • Potential for abuse
  • Addiction potential if abused



Alcohol is also a central nervous system depressant. A central nervous system depressant is not necessarily a drug that makes you feel depressed, although that can certainly be one of the effects of its use; rather, these drugs result in slowing the activities of the central nervous system. The major action of alcohol is to facilitate the actions of neurotransmitters that inhibit the firing of neurons in the brain and to reduce the action of neurotransmitters that increase the firing of neurons in the brain.

The overall effects of alcohol include:

  • General feelings of wellbeing
  • At low levels, stimulation; at moderate to high levels, sedation
  • Relaxation
  • Decreased reaction time
  • Sedation
  • Clumsiness
  • Lethargy
  • Disinhibition
  • Reduced heart rate (although initially after the first drink or two, heart rate may increase for a short period)
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Reduced rate of breathing
  • Slurred speech
  • Poor judgment
  • Sleepiness
  • Unconsciousness
  • Potential for physical dependence
    • Tolerance
    • Withdrawal syndrome
  • Potential for abuse
  • Addiction potential if abused

The Dangers of Mixing Vicodin and Alcohol

Because both alcohol and Vicodin result in depression of the central nervous system, they share many similar effects, like sedation, lethargy, drowsiness, the potential for unconsciousness, and suppression of autonomic nervous system functions, such as heart rate, breathing, and temperature regulation. Moreover, both of these drugs share a significant potential for abuse, physical tolerance, and addiction.

Because it is a central nervous system depressant, alcohol can also be used as a pain reliever – the main therapeutic use of Vicodin. Individuals who abuse these substances often mix them together, taking Vicodin before downing several drinks. The effects of euphoria, sedation, and relaxation from both substances may occur much more quickly, be more intense, and last longer when the substances are combined.

The major danger of mixing alcohol and Vicodin together is that the effects of one drug become enhanced when combined with use of the other drug. Typically, these effects are significantly amplified beyond what would be expected by using each substance separately. The effects of combining both of these drugs include:

  • Loss of coordination
  • Dizziness
  • Extreme sedation
  • Slowed cognition

    • Decrease in thought production
    • Illogical thinking
    • Inability to form new memories
  • Marked decrease in reaction time
  • Disinhibition
  • Poor judgment that can lead to serious consequences
  • Drastically reduced autonomic nervous system functions

    • Suppressed heart rate
    • Suppressed blood pressure
    • Suppressed breathing
  • Unconsciousness
  • Coma
  • Brain damage and other organ damage due to oxygen loss as a result of suppressed breathing
  • Death

The result of cognitive changes that occur when mixing these two drugs can also lead to the potential for serious accidents, injury, issues with one’s personal relationships as a result of disinhibition, poor judgment, and emotional changes that occur when these two drugs are combined. In addition, potential legal issues, as a result of behavior under the influence of these two substances, may result.

Long-Term Effects of Combining Alcohol and Vicodin

Because combining these two substances leads to amplification of each substance’s effects, one can also expect more serious complications as a result of long-term abuse of the combination. In addition to the above, effects could include:

  • Increased potential for negative effects associated with the major areas of one’s functioning

    • Issues with work or school
    • Issues with personal relationships
    • Neglecting important activities, such as childcare or family functions
    • Other lifestyle issues, such as poor diet, general physical maintenance, etc.
  • Damage to the cardiovascular system
  • Liver damage
  • Brain damage
  • Damage to the kidneys and other organs
  • Exacerbation of psychological problems

    • Issues with depression
    • Increased issues with anxiety
    • Potential to develop psychotic-like behavior
  • Increased potential for physical dependence on both drugs
  • Increased potential for cross-addiction
  • Increased potential for overdose

Signs a Person May Be Abusing Both Alcohol and Vicodin

Because it is a standard recommendation to avoid alcohol use when taking Vicodin, one of the warning flags of abuse of both drugs is seeing a person who is taking prescribed Vicodin also drinking alcohol. That behavior alone should raise concern.

There are other signs that may indicate a person is habitually using these two substances together. These include:

  • The person often seems extremely intoxicated given the amount of alcohol ingested.
  • The person exhibits signs of using alcohol while taking Vicodin, such as smelling of alcohol use, going to the bar, etc.
  • The person exhibits withdrawal symptoms when without the substances of abuse. Withdrawal symptoms may include flu-like symptoms, nervousness, nausea and vomiting, cold sweats, and hallucinations and/or delusional behavior (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there, or strange and illogical beliefs).
  • The person takes more Vicodin than prescribed.
  • The person takes Vicodin more often than instructed.
  • An individual who was prescribed Vicodin is noted to be drinking fairly regularly.
  • The person visits multiple doctors to get multiple Vicodin prescriptions.
  • The person becomes socially withdrawn.
  • The person begins to neglect responsibilities due to Vicodin use or drinking.


Combining narcotic painkillers and alcohol is a popular choice among individuals who abuse these substances. Because both Vicodin and alcohol are central nervous system depressants, using them in combination enhances the “high” that either drug produces; however, using both together also results in a potentially dangerous combination.

There are several signs that can alert a person to the possibility that someone is abusing these substances at the same time. The abuse of Vicodin and alcohol together can lead to serious, and even potentially fatal, consequences.