Mixing painkillers with alcohol can cause organ failure, death

Mixing painkillers with alcohol can lead to unpredictable and unwanted outcomes, among them organ failure, or even death, medical experts have warned.

Referencing studies carried out in some tertiary hospitals in Nigeria, they noted that their findings showed that reckless use of painkillers was among the reasons given for the rise in cases of kidney failures recorded across the country.

According to them, it is wrong and unacceptable to medications (prescribed or unprescribed) with alcohol, as it can cause internal bleeding in ulcer patients.


Speaking exclusively with PUNCH Healthwise, the senior health professionals urged those indulging in such a dangerous combination to desist from it before they come down with irreversible organ damage.


The immediate past Chairman of the Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria, Rivers State chapter, Agbomma Esom-Ibe, told our correspondent that mixing painkillers with alcohol would enhance the side effects of the painkillers, leading to poor treatment outcomes.

The pharmacist, who is a Fellow of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, said, “It is wrong by all standards to mix painkillers with alcohol. Drugs, especially painkillers are meant to be taken with only water and not with any other substance.


“Research has shown that painkillers on their own affect the kidneys negatively. They are not supposed to be taken randomly by anybody.

“They have very heavy side effects, especially on the kidneys. Alcohol is also not good for the kidneys, especially when taken in excess. You enhance the side effects of the painkiller when you add alcohol.”


The World Health Organisation says alcohol causes over three million deaths worldwide annually and contributes to more than five per cent of the global burden of diseases.


Meanwhile, researchers say painkillers and alcohol use are likely to complicate the treatment of chronic pain.


Speaking further on the negative effects of such an act, the pharmacist stressed that it should not happen in the first place, warning that the combination kills slowly.

Esom-Ibe disclosed that the dangerous combination would have more devastating effects on those with underlying health conditions, especially, ulcer patients.

“Ulcer patients are not supposed to take aspirin because it can cause internal bleeding. So when taking alcohol and aspirin, there is a likelihood to have internal bleeding.

“The bad thing about internal bleeding is that you can’t see it. The person would be dying gradually but will not know because the bleeding is taking place inside the body.

“And then paracetamol is known to be heavy on the liver. Now, when taken together with alcohol, it will destroy the liver. A lot of people don’t know that these organs will begin to deteriorate gradually as these things happen.

“So, alcohol in combination with paracetamol will attack the liver. And because of the way painkillers are used recklessly in society, there has been an increase in kidney failure. That is why we hear about it more often now”, she said.


The pharmacists also said mixing opioids containing painkillers like tramadol with alcohol could lead to death.

Esom-Ibe, who is the Managing Director of AB Pharmacy Limited, Port Harcourt, Rivers State further said, “Research carried out in some tertiary hospitals in Nigeria have shown that reckless use of painkillers at high doses is among the many reasons why kidneys are failing.


“Opioids containing painkillers like tramadol, when taken with alcohol, will cause difficulty in breathing, and can even lead to coma and eventually, death. Sometimes, when you see someone collapse suddenly, you don’t know what the person has taken.

“So, it is a very dangerous trend to mix alcohol with painkillers. It shouldn’t happen at all. It is like paying for death insurance and killing yourself piecemeal.”


According to the American Addiction Centers, a major rehabilitation centre in the United States, alcohol and opioid painkillers depress the central nervous and respiratory systems, with potential catastrophic interplay.

“Prescription opioids produce a number of harmful effects when abused or misused. This potential is worsened when opioids are combined with alcohol.

“Combining the opioid effects of painkillers with alcohol’s depressant properties is very dangerous and can potentially be life-threatening.

“With prolonged use, both alcohol and painkillers build tolerance and have addictive potential”, the centre stated.


In the same vein, a Consultant Pathologist, Dr. Wale Ajala, said many Nigerian youths risk chronic kidney disease and end-stage renal disease because they take such a mixture.

The Chief Executive Officer of Help Diagnostics and Checkup Services, Lagos, said the trend and its attendant health consequences have assumed a worrisome dimension.

Advising people to be mindful of their lifestyle, particularly what they consume, the pathologist said, “It is horrible the way we are seeing the markers of kidney diseases these days. The youth are largely affected, based on what we are seeing.


“Kidney failure is increasing by the day in Nigeria and renal dialysis is so expensive. The increase is coming from indiscriminate consumption of alcoholic drinks mixed with painkillers.

“And, so far, I have not seen any benefit from their claim, except the destruction of their liver, kidneys, and heart.”


In a 2018 article published in an online journal, PubMed Central, the authors said alcohol misuse and alcohol use disorder is a highly prevalent public health problem associated with considerable individual and at societal costs.

“Alcohol alone can have several harmful effects on the liver as well, so when it is combined with prescription opioids, the risk of liver damage increases significantly.

“The liver isn’t the only organ that is negatively impacted by excessive alcohol and painkiller abuse.

“The brain, heart, and pancreas are additional organs affected”, the authors said.

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