Lantana Recovery
A modern, community-based approach to addiction treatment for Men and Women in Charleston, SC

Alcohol vs Opioids | Differences, Similarities, Side Effects, and more!

Jump to Section

Alcohol and opioids are both substances that are commonly used and abused. They are both capable of producing feelings of pleasure and relaxation, and they can also have harmful effects on the body and mind. 

In this article, we will compare alcohol and opioids, including their differences, similarities, side effects, and more. Understanding the differences and similarities between these substances can help individuals make informed decisions about their use.

What is Alcohol?

Alcohol is a drug that affects the central nervous system and has serious impacts on an individual’s physical and emotional well-being. It can be consumed in various forms, including beer, wine, hard liquor, and even some food items. 

Alcohol can be beneficial in small doses as it can act as a social lubricant and help reduce nervousness if consumed responsibly. However, alcohol abuse can lead to dangerous consequences such as addiction, liver damage, and depression.

Chemical Composition of Alcohol

Alcohol, or ethanol, is a chemical compound with the chemical formula C2H6O. It is a clear, colorless liquid that is commonly found in alcoholic beverages, such as beer, wine, and spirits. 

What are Opioids? 

Opioids are a class of drugs most commonly used to treat pain. However, they can also be used in cases of varying levels of distress such as coughing, diarrhea, and various forms of discomfort. 

Opioids work by altering the communication between the brain and the body, providing a sense of relaxation and euphoria. Unfortunately, long-term use or abuse can lead to tolerance, increasing the likelihood that opioid users may develop an addiction. 

Chemical Composition of Opioids

Morphine (C17H19NO3) is most commonly and abundantly found in most opioids.

Alcohol vs. Opioids: Fact Sheet




Generic Name Alcohol Opioids
Drug Type CNS Depressant Analgesic
Active Ingredients  Ethanol Morphine
Used as treatment for: Killing germs Chronic pain
Available Form(s) Liquid Pills and Injections
Available Strengths  15-200 mg
Is it a controlled substance? No Yes, 
Legal Status Unscheduled Schedule II drug
Risk of Withdrawal Effects Yes Yes
Risk of Addiction Yes Yes


Opioids Dosage and Side Effects:

The recommended dosage of opioids depends on a variety of factors, including the specific medication, the patient’s age, weight, and medical history, and the severity of their pain. In general, it is important to start with the lowest effective dose and to titrate (adjust) the dose based on the patient’s response.

However, the average recommended dodge for opioids ranges anywhere between 5-20 mg per day. But it can be increased based on the medical condition being treated. It’s important not to exceed the recommended dose or take more than directed. Taking too much can lead to serious side effects and overdose.

While using opioids for pain management, be sure to keep an eye out for side effects such as drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, constipation, dry mouth, and confusion. In some cases, long-term use has been linked with an increased risk of addiction, depression, respiratory depression, hormonal imbalances, liver damage, and impaired cognitive functioning leading to potential impairment in decision-making abilities.

Alcohol Dosage and Side Effects:

Alcohol is produced through the fermentation of sugars by yeast or through the distillation of grains, fruits, or vegetables. It is classified as a central nervous system depressant, which means that it slows down the function of the brain and body. The effects of alcohol can vary depending on the amount consumed and the individual’s tolerance.

Some of the most commonly reported side effects of excessive alcohol consumption include lightheadedness, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, reduced coordination and reaction time, and increased risk of injury due to impaired judgment or balance. 

In severe cases of intoxication coma and even death can occur due to complications such as respiratory depression and organ failure from high levels of ethanol concentration in the bloodstream.

Long-term effects from alcohol abuse may include physical health problems such as cirrhosis of the liver or alcohol poisoning (alcoholic ketoacidosis). Psychological issues can also result from heavy drinking such as depression or anxiety disorders. 

However, one can avoid these serious health risks by consuming alcohol in moderation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), men should not exceed four drinks in any one day or 14 drinks per week while women should not exceed three drinks in any one day or seven drinks per week.

At these recommended levels of consumption, alcohol is generally considered safe for most healthy adults. However, if large amounts of alcohol are consumed in a single sitting, or consumed very frequently, side effects may occur. 

Opioids vs. Alcohol: Can You Withdrawal for Either? 

The answer is yes, you can experience withdrawal symptoms with both opioids and alcohol. Withdrawal occurs when your body becomes used to either of these substances, then suddenly stops consuming them. Each substance has its own unique withdrawal symptoms that a person may experience if they suddenly stop taking it. 

When it comes to opioid withdrawal, the symptoms can range from mild to severe. Some of the most common symptoms associated with opioid withdrawal include nausea and vomiting, abdominal cramps, sweating, anxiety, depression, and irritability. 

More serious withdrawal symptoms include physical pain such as muscle aches and joint pain as well as intense cravings for the drug. These withdrawal effects typically begin within 12–24 hours after the last dose and can last between three days to several weeks depending on the type of opioid being used. 

Alcohol withdrawal is often more severe than opioid withdrawal and has multiple stages that start within 6-12 hours after someone has stopped drinking alcohol. Early stages usually involve mild symptoms such as shakiness, increased heart rate, sweating, insomnia, and anxiety. 

As time progresses the symptoms can become more serious such as delirium tremens or DTs which involve seizures and hallucinations as well as confusion or disorientation. In extreme cases, DTs can even lead to death if left untreated by medical professionals. 

Both opioid and alcohol withdrawals have the potential to be dangerous so it’s important to seek professional help if you are trying to come off either substance in order to mitigate any potential risks associated with going through sudden withdrawals without proper medical care and supervision. 

Alcohol vs Opioids: Prevalence in the United States

In the United States, alcohol and opioid use is an increasingly prevalent problem. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) estimates that approximately 15 million Americans have an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). An AUD is a medical condition characterized by an inability to regulate alcohol consumption despite adverse consequences such as health, work, or legal issues. 

Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that over 130 people die from opioid-related overdoses every day in America. Opioids are highly addictive drugs used to treat pain but can be diverted and abused due to their euphoric effects.

The misuse of both alcohol and opioids has far-reaching implications for public health, particularly among young adults aged 18-24 years old who are at higher risk of developing substance use disorders than any other age group. 

Studies have shown that 1 in 4 college students report having misused prescription opioids at some point during their time in school, while more than 25% of college students surveyed nationally reported binge drinking in the past month. 

Furthermore, research has shown that individuals with AUDs are twice as likely to misuse opioids compared to those without AUDs, and individuals who misuse opioids are three times as likely to develop an AUD compared to those who do not misuse. 

This suggests both a strong association between alcohol/opioid abuse and dependence as well as a need for integrated treatment approaches for those suffering from co-occurring disorders. 

It is clear that there need to be greater prevention efforts directed towards reducing the prevalence of alcohol/opioid abuse among young adults in order to reduce the potential negative long-term impacts on public health. 

Strategies such as increasing access to evidence-based treatments, implementing educational programs targeting students at high risk, strengthening screening processes within healthcare settings, and providing support services can all be effective interventions in addressing this growing issue.

Bottom Line: Alcohol versus Opioids

Both alcohol and opioids have been around for centuries with humans finding ways to utilize these substances for pleasure or medical reasons alike. However, it’s important to understand their differences since they can have serious consequences when misused or abused over time leading to addiction or even death in extreme cases. 

It is important that individuals understand the risks associated with each substance before making any decisions regarding their usage so that they can make informed choices regarding their health and well-being moving forward. With understanding comes responsibility, so make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into before trying either substance out!

FAQs on Opioids and Alcohol 

Can alcohol increase the risk of cancer?

Yes, alcohol can increase the risk of cancer including cancers of the mouth and throat, liver, breast (in women), and colon, as supported by scientific evidence.

Can we use Ketamine for treating alcohol addiction?

Ketamine has been found to reduce cravings and decrease the risk of relapse in people with alcohol abuse disorder. 

Which is more addictive: Alcohol vs Opioids?

It is difficult to compare the addictiveness of alcohol and opioids directly, as they affect the body in different ways and the potential for addiction can vary among individuals. However, both substances can be addictive and it is important to use caution when using them and to seek help if you think you may have a problem with substance abuse.


Warren Phillips

Warren is a Licensed Master Social Worker, who specializes in substance abuse and mental health treatment. Clinically, Warren has developed a therapeutic skillset that utilizes a strengths-based perspective, Twelve Step philosophies, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Motivational Interviewing.

Related Articles
Addiction Treatment
Contact Form
We’re here to help you or your loved one on their path to sobriety

Chat with us.

Reach out now and join our supportive community

Charleston South Carolina

Charleston South Carolina

Located on the historic peninsula of Charleston, South Carolina, Lantana Recovery takes a modern approach to Substance Use Disorder treatment, offering intensive clinical care while also immersing our clients in local Charleston culture.