Drinking and Drugs
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Combining Alcohol and Drugs
Alcoholism increases the likelihood of developing co-occurring conditions such as a substance use disorder. Mixing alcohol and other drugs together can lead to serious physical, behavioral and health complications. Not only can drinking and drugs increase the effects of each substance, it can also trigger dangerous interactions.
Individuals who abuse alcohol are also more likely to abuse other substances, like prescription or illicit drugs. Illicit drugs – cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and marijuana – can cause severe bodily injury and life-threatening side effects. Drinking and taking drugs can quickly spiral out of control, leaving you at risk for potentially permanent health complications.
Disorders surrounding alcohol or substance abuse should not be self-treated. A specialized drug and alcohol treatment center will be able to help you through every step of the recovery process, giving you the greatest chance for lasting recovery. Contact a treatment expert now to find top-rated rehab facilities nearby and get started on your journey to recovery today.
Substance abuse involves the chronic use of alcohol and drugs. A person who abuses alcohol has a greater risk of using at least one other substance, such as marijuana, cocaine and heroin. Prolonged consumption of drugs and alcohol increases your tolerance, therefore requiring more of the substance to achieve the same desirable effects.
Alcohol and substance abuse can start out as a mild problem and gradually turn into more severe problems. For example, a person may mix small amounts of alcohol with a drug. Over time, their body becomes dependent on the chemicals released by each substance and begins craving more. After you’ve built a tolerance to both substances, you may increase the amount consumed in order to avoid experiencing uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. In these cases, some individuals may turn to more addictive substances – heroin, cocaine and ecstasy – to experience an intensified high.
Recognizing the warning signs of of alcohol and substance abuse is key to getting help early. If left untreated over a long period of time, problems with drinking and drugs can escalate and become life-threatening.
Recognizing a Drug and Alcohol Problem
While some symptoms of alcohol and drug abuse are noticeable and can be caught early on, others may not be as recognizable. Warning signs sometimes go unnoticed when an individual hides their drinking and drug problem. Due to the stigma and negative connotations associated with alcohol and drug abuse, many people may deny they have a problem at all. In these circumstances, it can be difficult for close friends and family members to prepare an intervention and get their loved one the help they deserve.
Here are several questions to identify whether you or a loved one may be suffering from alcohol and drug abuse:
- Have you felt irritated by the concern or criticism of your alcohol or drug use by those around you, like family members, friends, a colleague or teacher?
- Have you ever thought of reducing your drinking or drug intake?
- Have you felt guilt over your drug and alcohol consumption?
- Do you find yourself craving a drink and other substances periodically throughout the day?
- In the last year, have you failed to meet an obligation because of drinking and drugs?
- Have you or someone else been injured due to your alcohol and drug abuse?
If you answered “yes” to one or several of these questions, you should seek help from a medical professional. These answers should not be considered an official diagnosis; however, they can warn you of potential substance abuse factors and motivate you to get help.
Alcohol and drug use increases the risks of unsafe sex, such as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), HIV and unwanted pregnancies. Roughly 24 percent of individuals with HIV are in need of substance abuse treatment.
Of the 2.1 million drug-related ED visits in 2009, an estimated 14 percent involved alcohol in combination with other drugs.
Many people struggling with alcoholism will meet the criteria for a drug use disorder at some point in their lifetime.
The Dangers of Drug and Alcohol Abuse
Depending on the amount of alcohol and type of drug consumed, you can experience an array of harmful side effects. Since alcohol is a depressant, mixing it with another drug can be detrimental for your health.
Here are the most common drug and alcohol combinations, as well as their specific dangers:
Cocaine and Alcohol
Cocaine and alcohol use is one of the most common combinations among drug users because of the powerful high that both substances produce. Cocaine is a stimulant that increases your blood pressure, heart rate and alertness. This helps alcohol reach the brain quicker. Mixing cocaine and alcohol causes cocaethylene, which produces intense feelings of pleasure. Other risk factors of combining cocaine and alcohol include heart attack, overdose or death.
Heroin and Alcohol
Both heroin and alcohol are depressants which can cause similar side effects. One of the most dangerous risks of depressants is slowed breathing. When you consume heroin with alcohol, these breathing problems can be even more serious and life-threatening. Heroin is a highly addictive drug, so it can prove difficult to quit. The consumption of both heroin and alcohol can also lead to an extremely slow heart rate and overdosing.
Ecstasy and Alcohol
Ecstasy is a stimulant that can cause severe adverse reactions when consumed with other substances, including alcohol. The powerful high experienced while taking ecstasy influences you to drink large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time. This can trigger extreme dehydration, among other side effects such as diarrhea, excessive sweating, heat stroke, nausea and vomiting.
Marijuana and Alcohol
Because both drugs are depressants, combining marijuana and alcohol increases the likelihood of an overdose. Both substances can cause dizziness, nausea, vomiting, high anxiety and paranoia. However, since marijuana reduces symptoms of nausea, it may prevent your body from throwing up alcohol. This can cause alcohol to remain in your system and potentially lead to alcohol poisoning.
Painkillers and Alcohol
Painkillers like Vicodin, Xanax and OxyContin are heavily prescribed in the United States to treat moderate to severe pain. When used with alcohol, these drugs can produce dangerous health conditions. Taken separately, painkillers and alcohol may cause liver damage. However, when the substances are combined, you significantly increase your risk for developing liver problems and possibly liver disease.
Antidepressants and Alcohol
Individuals with a mental health condition are typically prescribed an antidepressant such as Zoloft or Prozac. Mixing an antidepressant with alcohol can worsen the side effects of each – a potentially deadly combination. One of the biggest risk factors of consuming alcohol and antidepressants is feeling more depressed or anxious. This can lead to irritability, an inability to sleep and impaired judgment.
Sleeping Pills and Alcohol
There are various risks to taking sleeping pills on their own. However, when combined with alcohol use, the effects of sleeping pills can be life-threatening. Drinking even a small amount of alcohol while taking sleeping pills can increase its sedative effects. When mixed with alcoholic beverages, a sleeping medication can produce dizziness, confusion and faintness.
Alcohol and Drug Use Side Effects
Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol and drugs over the course of days, weeks or years can take a toll on your body. Some effects may be minor and only last temporarily. Other effects may last much longer and can cause permanent damage. Generally, the amount of alcohol consumed and type of drug involved influence health consequences. For example, alcohol mixed with heroin has more severe consequences than a less dangerous drug like tobacco.
Several short-term alcohol and drug use side effects are:
- Increased or decreased heart rate
- Muscle control difficulties
- Lowering inhibitions
- Short-term memory loss
- Heightened emotions of sadness, anxiety or fear
- Lack of concentration
- Respiratory problems
Along with the temporary side effects of alcohol and drug abuse, there are complications that can be long-lasting. Some of these conditions can put you at a greater risk of developing additional health issues later on in life.
The long-term effects of alcohol and drug abuse include:
- Damage to internal organs
- Muscle and bone breakdown
- Long-term memory impairment
- Lack of coordination skills
- Problems coping on the job or in school
- Poor nutrition
- Nasal perforation (in cocaine abuse)
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Treating Drug and Alcohol Abuse
Drinking and drugs can destroy your relationships with family and friends, your career and your health. While you may feel as though there’s no end in sight, help is available. Alcohol and substance abuse are treatable conditions that can be overcome with the help of treatment specialists. Unfortunately, these conditions are often under-treated due to a lack of knowledge about recovery programs available.
What Are You Waiting For?
It’s time to turn the page and start a new chapter – your journey to lasting recovery. There are many treatment options available, including inpatient rehab, government facilities, counseling and support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and AI-Anon. Find out more.
- Author — Last Edited: May 15, 2019
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National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015). Drug and Alcohol Use – A Significant Risk Factor for HIV. November 2016. https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/infographics/drug-alcohol-use-significant-risk-factor-hiv
Allison, Lynn. (2016). 8 Medicines That Don’t Mix with Alcohol. November 2016. http://www.newsmax.com/Health/Health-News/drugs-alcohol-deadly-mix/2016/09/08/id/747359/