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Can you drink alcohol while taking Suboxone?

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It's not illegal to drink alcohol while taking Suboxone, but it's also not smart. Combining two sedating substances (like buprenorphine and alcohol) can overwhelm your body's delicate systems. You may stop breathing. 

If you're tempted to drink alcohol while undergoing Medication for Addiction Treatment (MAT), step back. Are you drinking one small glass as part of a celebration, like a wedding? Or are you drinking daily to substitute your opioids for alcohol?

Keep reading to find out why some people drink alcohol while taking Suboxone and why you should make a different choice. 

Is It Okay to Drink Alcohol While Going Through MAT?

When you fill your Suboxone prescription, your pharmacist will tell you about drug interactions. One of them involves alcohol. 

Both buprenorphine (an ingredient in Suboxone) and alcohol are sedating substances. Take them together, and their strength combines. You could feel much more intoxicated than you would if drinking without Suboxone. 

While some experts believe large doses of buprenorphine could help some people stop drinking, that connection hasn't been proven yet.[1] Instead, experts do know that people get into trouble by mixing the substances. 

Of overdose deaths attributed to buprenorphine, 41% also involved alcohol.[2] Each time you mix alcohol and buprenorphine, you could be taking a risk that costs your life. 

Is It Common for People to Drink While Using Suboxone?

While mixing alcohol and Suboxone isn't smart, it's unfortunately common. People have many reasons to drink. 

New Target of Addiction

While opioids and alcohol work on slightly different parts of your brain and deliver different results, some people with substance use disorders (SUD) can swap one substance for another. If you're tempted to drink while using Suboxone, you could be developing an alcohol misuse issue.

About a third of people using MAT also have an alcohol use disorder.[3] And some drink more while in MAT than they did before. 

If you're using alcohol while in MAT, it's possible that you're developing an addiction to alcohol.

Worsening of Addiction

Some people misuse buprenorphine and alcohol at the same time to stimulate respiratory depression and the feeling of being "high." If you're drinking to keep your substance use disorder alive, you're not benefitting from MAT.

You could relapse to opioid use, and it's a real risk among people who drink while using a medication like Suboxone.[4] If you truly want to manage your substance use disorder, you should have a sober mind. 

What Does Alcohol Use Disorder Look Like?

Are you drinking as a form of addiction? Spotting problem drinking isn't always easy, especially for people who spend a lot of time in social situations (such as weddings) where drinking is common. 

People with alcohol use disorder tend to have hallmark signs, such as these:[5]

  • Loss of control: You drink more than you intend to. You want to stop drinking, but you can't. 
  • Alcohol at the center: You think about alcohol to the exclusion of other things. You risk your family, friends, and job to drink. You spend most of your time thinking about, getting, or using alcohol. 
  • Rising impact: Your continued drinking causes problems with your relationships, your health, or both. You keep drinking, even though it causes you problems. 
  • Physical changes: When your drink wears off, you feel sick or shaky. You need to drink more to feel the same effect. 

If these signs seem familiar to you, it’s a sign that drinking is a problem for you. No matter whether you're using MAT or not, your relationship with alcohol isn't healthy. 

If you’ve been drinking heavily for a while, consult a physician before you suddenly stop drinking. If you stop suddenly on your own, you could develop life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. A doctor can help you to stop drinking safely.

What Do Bicycle Doctors Advise? 

At Bicycle, we want to see people thrive. For our patients using MAT, drinking is rarely wise. We can't recommend regular drinking to anyone who wants to get and stay sober for a lifetime. 

Technically, you can drink alcohol while taking Suboxone, but in moderation. Drinking heavily while also on Suboxone or other sedating medications is probably more dangerous and is inadvisable. 

Combining multiple medications that can cause sedation or a decrease in the respiratory drive is also inadvisable. If you decide to drink while on chronic Suboxone, speak to your doctor beforehand and minimize alcohol consumption to as little as possible. A glass of wine at a wedding is generally okay.

If you're wondering what you can and can't use while taking Suboxone, talk with your doctor. Together, you can determine what's best for you and your situation. 

SOURCES

  1. Buprenorphine Reduces Alcohol Drinking Through Activation of the Nociceptin/Orphanin FQ-NOP Receptor System. Biological Psychiatry. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3035814/. February 2011. Accessed July 2022. 
  2. Concomitant Drugs with Buprenorphine User Deaths. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S037687162030510X. January 2021. Accessed July 2022. 
  3. Alcohol Use Disorders in Opioid Maintenance Therapy: Prevalence, Clinical Correlates, and Treatment. Karger. https://www.karger.com/Article/Fulltext/363232. 2015. Accessed July 2022. 
  4. Alcohol Use in Opioid Agonist Treatment. Addiction Science and Clinical Practice. https://ascpjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13722-016-0065-6. December 2016. Accessed July 2022. 
  5. What Are the Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)? National Institutes of Health. https://www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/How-much-is-too-much/whats-the-harm/what-Are-Symptoms-Of-alcohol-Use-Disorder.aspx. Accessed July 2022.

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