Does Binge Drinking Increase Chances Of Opioid Misuse?

By Kelly Burch 06/21/19

A new study examined the possible connection between binge drinking and opioid misuse. 

Man who is binge drinking

Binge drinking and opioid misuse are closely related, according to a new study examining drinking patterns and prescription pill misuse. 

The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, aimed to examine the connection between drinking and using opioids. It drew on information from more than 160,000 people who provided information on their substance use as part of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) from 2012-2014 as well as socioeconomic information. Researchers found that binge drinking increased the chances that people misused opioids.

“More than half of the 4.2 million people who misused prescription opioids during 2012–2014 were binge drinkers, and binge drinkers had nearly twice the odds of misusing prescription opioids, compared with nondrinkers,” study authors wrote. 

This is especially alarming since opioids and alcohol are a dangerous combination physically.

“Binge drinkers who misuse prescription opioids are likely to be at substantially increased risk of overdose because of the combined effect of high blood alcohol levels and prescription opioids on the central nervous system,” they wrote. “The high prevalence, frequency, and intensity of binge drinking among adults and adolescents in the U.S., along with the heightened prevalence of prescription opioid misuse among binge drinkers, emphasizes the importance of adopting a comprehensive and coordinated approach to addressing both binge drinking and prescription opioid misuse to reduce the risk of opioid overdoses.”

The study found that opioid misuse was most common among men, people with an annual family income of $20,000 or less, and people ages 18-34. Binge drinking was also most common among men in that age bracket, although it was also associated with people with some college education, according to The American Academy of Family Physicians.

About two-thirds of people who misused opioids and binge drank were older than 26. However, among younger adults the connection between binge drinking and opioid misuse was especially strong: 8.1% of teenage binge drinkers misused opioids, compared with just 1% of nondrinkers and 3.6% of people who used alcohol but did not binge drink. 

Since family medical providers are often on the front lines of dealing with patients with problematic drinking, they could also help interrupt this pattern of opioid misuse, said Dr. Roger Zoorob.

"Family physicians are well-positioned to identify and address binge drinking and opioid misuse,” he said. 

Sometimes that can be as easy as pointing out that a patient’s drinking habits are veering toward unhealthy. 

"Many times, patients are unaware that their drinking patterns are harmful, and a simple, brief intervention by the family physician has been shown to reduce unhealthy alcohol use in the primary care population," Zoorob said.

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.