Mixing Drugs And Alcohol Increases The Risk Of Overdose

Dangers Of Polydrug Use - Family First InterventionPolydrug (mixing drugs and alcohol) use is the consumption of more than one drug at a time. Many people across the United States – particularly young adults – are consuming alcohol to heighten the effects of their drug use.

Mixing these substances can intensify the reaction of any one drug and make it much more dangerous. For example, alcohol will boost the “good mood” feeling of painkillers. This combination also makes it far more likely that the individual will stop breathing entirely.

The Dangers Of Mixing Drugs and Alcohol

The risks of mixing drugs and alcohol depend on the substances combined. As mentioned, the interaction will boost the positive effects of the drugs in question – but it will also amplify the negative aspects. Cocaine and ecstasy, for example, are stimulants. Adding them to alcohol could potentially increase the user’s risk of a heart attack.

Other life-threatening results are likely to occur when people mix and misuse these substances. Such effects include:

  • Brain damage
  • Seizures
  • Heatstroke
  • Coma
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Stomach bleeding
  • Heart problems
  • Liver damage
  • Respiratory failure
  • With illicit drug use, these hazards often greatly increase simply because there’s no way to be certain about what a person is taking. Drugs from the street may be cut with cheaper drugs, toxic chemicals, or even sugar and caffeine. It’s impossible to predict which reactions will take place – and that can be deadly.

    Marijuana And Alcohol

    Alcohol and cannabis make up one of the most common drug mixtures. Teenagers and young adults, in particular, often begin experimenting with this combination. The alcohol causes the active ingredient in pot to be absorbed much faster.

    This chemical, called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), will enter the bloodstream in a higher concentration and greatly strengthen marijuana’s effects. This can be especially disorienting for inexperienced users, since it comes with some unpleasant side effects. Contrary to popular belief, it’s possible to overdose this way and experience remarkably strong side effects.

    The increased THC levels can cause nausea, dizziness and vomiting. It’s also more likely to result in panic, paranoia, general anxiety and even strong hallucinations. Over a long period, the user will also see a higher risk of cancer.

    Since people smoke marijuana with tobacco sometimes, the alcohol works with the two substances to deteriorate cells in the body, thereby multiplying the damage. The presence of alcohol also thins the blood and makes it easier for tissues in the mouth and throat to absorb carcinogenic chemicals.

    Cocaine And Alcohol

    Cocaine is a more serious drug – and so are the risks. Alcohol and cocaine react with one another and produce cocaethylene, a highly toxic substance, in the liver. This chemical stays in your system much longer than either original substance. The liver must flush it over time, and it can be fatal up to 12 hours after the drugs are mixed.

    Cocaethylene makes people much more aggressive when it’s circling through their systems. It places immense stress on the heart and liver, leading to fits, heart attacks and sudden death when the body is overwhelmed. This type of overdose is particularly dangerous, as it could potentially happen several hours after the fact.

    Ecstasy And Alcohol

    The interaction between ecstasy and alcohol is interesting. It’s quite possible that the user will actually feel less high with this polydrug mixture than either substance on its own. This is due to the fact alcohol is a depressant. Once users come down within the next day or so, however, the crash will be far worse. Severe hangovers, nausea and vomiting are among the mildest side effects.

    Using ecstasy and alcohol together can be fatal. Both substances dehydrate the body quickly because they are diuretics. This means that they cause liquid to flush out of your body in the form of urine and sweat. Combining the two multiplies the effect and puts the user at risk for severe dehydration and overheating. In fact, heatstroke is the cause of many ecstasy-related deaths. Some individuals mix the drug with alcohol and spend hours on a dance floor without replacing the fluids that they’ve lost.

    Since the kidneys and liver are working overtime to produce urine, they’re under increased stress each time an individual mixes alcohol and ecstasy. Long-term use can even cause irreparable damage to or complete failure of the organs.

    Opiates And Alcohol

    Unfortunately, this combination is one of the most popular. Prescription painkillers and street drugs like heroin are all derivatives of opium. They offer a sense of relaxation in the same way that alcohol does – by depressing the body’s systems. Mixing alcohol and opioids intensifies the sedative effects of each.

    The biggest danger with this blend is that many users experience unconsciousness followed by respiratory failure. Overdosing like this is often fatal, since the user can’t call for help. This is especially true if he or she is using the drugs somewhere private without anyone else to check in.

    Amphetamines And Alcohol

    These drugs, commonly known as speed, mimic an adrenaline rush. When mixed with alcohol, the contrasting signals they send significantly strain a person’s heart. Amphetamines increase the user’s blood pressure, heart rate and breathing speed. Alcohol works in the opposite manner, which stresses these vital systems by fighting against the effects of the drug.

    Speed can intensify emotions, increase one’s body temperature and cause dehydration. Since alcohol does has these effects as well, physical and mental conditions can quickly get out of hand. Users can experience aggression, paranoia and anxiety.

    Because the two substances have the opposite effects, it can be hard for individuals to gauge how drunk they are. It’s easy for them to reach fatal blood alcohol levels unknowingly.

    The Takeaway

    It’s never a good idea to abuse drugs, but adding alcohol to the mix is more than just a bad idea. It could be a deadly mistake.

    Mike Loverde

    As a Certified Intervention Professional (CIP), member of NAATP, NAADAC, and accredited by the Pennsylvania Certification Board, Mike Loverde knows first-hand what it’s like to live life with addiction. By overcoming it, he had a calling to work with others who struggle with drug and alcohol addictions—the people who use and the families who feel helpless watching them decay.

    With thousands of interventions across the United States done and many more to come, Loverde continues to own the intervention space, since 2005, by working with medical doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists and others who need expert assistance for their patients who need intervention. To further his impact on behavioral health and maximize intervention effectiveness, Loverde is near completion of a Masters in Addiction Studies (MHS) accreditation, as well as a Licensed Independent Substance Abuse Counselor (LISAC), and is committed to attaining the designation of a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC).

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