Dangers Of Mixing Drugs and Alcohol
Mixing Drugs and Alcohol?
Mixing drugs and alcohol is a common practice in today’s party culture. Be it pop culture music festivals, college parties, a night out with the friends, drug users (of every sort) default to mixing substances. It is rare, in these settings, that the two are divided. Although somewhat of a ‘standard,’ this phenomenon is terrifying. Given that alcohol pairs horribly with most alternate substances—particularly prescription drugs or illicit substances—whenever this occurs the problems that ensue can prove fatal.
In the last three decades alone, death due to alcohol abuse and a coupled substance has risen by 300%. The reality is this: alcohol abuse and other substance abuse are dangerous by design and can yield fatal effects taken in solitude. Mix the two together and this risk is amplified.
Alcohol is a depressant. When it enters the bloodstream, drinking alcohol works to slow the functionality of our brain and bodies. This is why, when someone is severely intoxicated, they will slur their speech, lose motor function, and—if enough alcohol was consumed—lose consciousness completely. Depending on how much is consumed, alcohol can have a major effect on the brain and its regular functioning. Both the respiratory and cardiovascular system is affected by alcohol consumption, suppressing them to work slower, less efficiently, and in a sedated state.
You could imagine, then, that combining alcohol with another depressant could maximize these effects. Believe it or not, while it is never encouraged to mix alcohol and other drugs, mixing them with stimulants is thought to be less dangerous than depressants. The science checks out; although the system goes haywire when you introduce both a stimulant and a depressant, it does not have the same effect of doubling down on a substance which wanes the body’s functionality.
The most severe side effects of mixing alcohol with drugs include:
- Heart Attack
- Impaired Breathing
- Internal Bleeding
- Live damage
- Respiratory System Failure
- Cardiovascular System Failure
- Xanax & Alcohol
We reference the Xanax and Alcohol combination first because it is thought to be the most dangerous. Xanax, or Alprazolam (it’s generic name), is a Benzodiazepine commonly used to treat patients with a severe panic disorder. It stimulates the neurotransmitter GABA, which is an inhibitory chemical, shifting the brain into a state of serenity, bliss, and calmness. It works on the same pathogens as alcohol, slowing down the brain’s processing components—which also affects the internal organs.
When both Xanax and alcohol are paired together, they compete for the metabolizing enzymes in the liver (cytochrome P450 to be specific), which decreases the livers performance—allowing these substances to linger in the bloodstream at higher concentrations than normal. Additionally, they both inhibit the CNS (Central Nervous System) which lowers heart rate, reduces breathing, and wanes the natural processes of the body.
Fire feeds fire. In this case, it’s ever so apparent. When these two drugs interact with each other, they can suppress the CNS to a point where it no longer communicates with the cardiovascular or respiratory system, causing death or overdose by tragically shutting the body down. At the least, these two impair memory and cause a loss of consciousness—meaning these amplified effects if they do not cause overdose, can create problems due to a user’s actions while under the influence.
It’s also important to note that Xanax, on its own, is quite difficult to overdose from. An extremely large concentration is needed to beat the body down into its nonfunctional state. With Alcohol, however, a single .5mg pill can cause an extreme reaction.
Alcohol & Stimulants (cocaine)
Unfortunately, in today’s party culture mixing alcohol and cocaine is all too common. Cocaine is often regarded as a drug that helps ‘sober up’ the person that’s intoxicated, and many users will only partake in cocaine use if alcohol is in the picture. Truth be told, this combination is hit or miss. On one hand, they can (although not at a biological level) seem to counteract each other. The user will feel less of their alcohol-induced intoxication when using cocaine and will feel less of the cocaine’s ‘high’ when drinking.
On the other hand, being that cocaine is a stimulant and alcohol is a depressant, they both work to drive forth different reactions from the cardiovascular system. Alcohol says ‘slow down,’ and cocaine says ‘speed up.’ The middle ground isn’t pretty. Heart problems can ensue in the midst of two opposing substances, as the body reacts beneath the different influences.
Furthermore, when alcohol and cocaine meet in the liver, a substance called cocaethylene is created. This substance is difficult for the liver to metabolize and is thought to be more dangerous than cocaine itself. Studies show that this chemical contains toxicity levels nearly 30% higher than cocaine independently, and stays in the liver longer. Usually, heavy buildups of cocaethylene occur when alcohol and cocaine are used regularly. They can, however, begin to form from only one occurrence.
The risks of cocaethylene:
- Toxic Effects
- Cardiovascular Issues
- Risk of Stroke
- Amplified Effects of Both Substances
- Increase Alcohol Consumption
- Heart Attack
Alcohol & Depressants
It shouldn’t be any surprise that—in the wake of the opioid epidemic—those who suffer from overdoses have usually mixed alcohol with the drug. Again, alcohol slows your body down. Adding in painkillers, also known as depressants, the mixture beats the body down to a crawl. Outside of benzodiazepines, what other drugs are considered depressants?
Muscle Relaxants & Sleeping Pills
The mixture of sleeping pills and alcohol have reaped many lives. While muscle relaxants do not necessarily fall within the same danger, if mixed at high levels they can result in the same adverse effect. Commonly mixed drugs are Ambien (zolpidem) and Flexeril (cyclobenzaprine) which are FDA approved depressants that work to induce sleep.
From OxyContin, Vicodin, to Morphine, each opioid or opiate currently responsible for today’s epidemic works to suppress the central nervous system. They do so with tremendous efficacy, and these effects are amplified when paired with alcohol. More often than not, opioids are not the sole cause of overdose or fatalities—it is the combination of an opioid and another substance.
Similar to Xanax and alcohol, the body’s functionality wanes, heart rate decreases, and the respiratory system is inhibited. In an oversimplification: the effects of both alcohol and the depressant are amplified. Taking too much of any depressant is dangerous but often mixing them with alcohol yields the same effects.
From liver failure, decreased response times, to reducing the functioning of life-sustaining brain processes, the negative effects of combining two potent depressants are endless. The user is throttling their system with substances that wane natural processes. As morbid as it may sound, it is not absurd to consider mixing depressants and alcohol as taking a cocktail which works slowly to deactivate the brain and body—rendering the communication between the two to a halt. Some of the side effects include:
- Cardiovascular Damage
- Respiratory Suppression (to the point of a full failure)
- Liver Failure
- Heart Attack
- Emotional Functioning Impairment
Marijuana and Alcohol
Alas, we come to a mixture that does not necessarily pose life-threatening side effects. When mixing alcohol and marijuana, the problem normally concerns feelings of nausea—rather than serious health concerns like alcohol and depressants. Often, being that marijuana and alcohol both influence pathogens in the stomach, when the two mix, the user will vomit, succumb to dizziness, and lose consciousness.
More so, it is the way in which the user acts beneath the influence of both substances, rather than how it affects bodily processes, the brain, or how the two interact with each other. It is not advised to mix the two but rarely is this mixture the vehicle driving forth overdose or hospital visits. Potential risks include:
- Decreased Motor Function
- Lack of Concentration
Alcohol & Amphetamines
Amphetamines are the most extreme type of stimulants, working to push the body and brain into overdrive. From an increase in heart rate, an excess of dopamine, to a spike in blood pressure, amphetamines foster extreme levels of energy, euphoria, and dehydration. When paired with alcohol, the body is further dehydrated, the functionality of the liver is inhibited, and the cardiovascular system can enter a state of shock, unable to respond (this is due to the fact that alcohol’s depressive nature and amphetamines natural stimulation counteract each other).
Outside of physical repercussions, one of the scariest facets of alcohol and amphetamine combination is that alcohol—as it works to slow down motor function and impair judgment—typically makes it harder for a user to act on their current impulses. Amphetamines rectify this issue by providing a surplus of energy. You could imagine how dangerous it might be for that user, in their intoxicated state, to act upon their impulses beneath the guise of false energy provided by the amphetamines.
Risks of the alcohol and amphetamine mixture include:
- Liver Failure
- Heart Attack
- Extreme Dehydration
- Loss of Consciousness
Alcohol & Ecstasy
The lifeblood of today’s festival culture, alcohol and ecstasy are one of the most common combinations used by addicts and partiers alike. Often believed to increase the effects of each substance, users pair the two to maximize their experience. Unfortunately, every year new deaths occur at the hands of this mixture—and it’s usually due to seizures, poorly regulated body temperature, and heart failure.
Ecstasy works to increase body temperature and elevate heart rate. When paired with alcohol, the user’s body temperature can shift into unsafe levels, their heart can beat abnormally, and beneath these effects certain organs can fail; kidney, liver, and cardiovascular system failure are among the most common types of death spurred by mixing alcohol and ecstasy.
Additionally, ecstasy can mask the sensation of alcohol although it’s still interacting with the body in the same, depressant fashion it naturally does. This prompts the user to drink more, unaware that they’re on a slippery slope—one directly over to an overdose. The risks posed by mixing ecstasy and alcohol include:
- Abnormal Heart Rate
- Loss of Consciousness
- Improper Body Temperature
- Alcohol Poisoning
- Heart Failure
- Liver Failure
- Kidney Failure
An Honest Note
It’s commonly believed that the reason users continue to combine alcohol with other drugs is because they rarely experience repercussions. They use cocaine, ecstasy, and marijuana in tandem with alcohol because that’s just the norm and everyone is doing it. The truth is that, while inherently dangerous, abusing alcohol and other drugs simultaneously does not mean instant death, nor does it necessarily mean anything will happen.
Typically, a large volume of either substance must be consumed to cause adverse reactions and potentially fatal side effects. It can also relate to predispositions, as the mixture will activate a heart condition otherwise dormant. Being that alcohol consumption mixed with other drugs is such a common occurrence when fatalities occur it is reasonable to consider them isolated incidents.
With that being said, there are two exceptions:
- The Xanax and alcohol mixture is a killer. Be it certain properties within alprazolam, or the way in which it works instantly, these two do not mix.
- At times, it is merely circumstances. A user could take ecstasy and drink alcohol a thousand times over, and one night, the mixture produces a different outcome. For many who have overdosed by combining alcohol with other substances, it was not their first time doing so.
That’s why, when it comes to mixing alcohol with other drugs, it’s best to avoid doing so entirely. You never know how your body is going to react to a certain substance—let alone pairing it with a secondary depressant.
Avoid Mixing at All Costs
Mixing alcohol with any substance can prove dangerous—there’s a reason why most medications come with a big black box that state it should not be paired with alcohol. Simply put: alcohol, by its nature, does not pair well with other substances. No matter how many times someone has mixed certain substances, it only takes one misuse to send a user reeling into an overdose.
Know your facts. Stay educated. And spread the word to those in your network. Mixing alcohol with other drugs can quickly become a deadly combination. Don’t do it. If you or a loved one is suffering from a drug addiction, please call Peaks Recovery today.