The Dangers of Mixing Alcohol with Common Drugs
The Dangers of Mixing Alcohol with Common Drugs
Table of Contents
People have struggled for years with mixing alcohol and other substances. This habit can accidentally form over time. Alcohol has both depressant and stimulant qualities, making it a dangerous partner with any drug. Mixing the two can lead to intense side effects and become potentially become fatal.
Is Alcohol A Drug?
According to the Foundation for A Drug-Free World, alcohol “is best understood as a drug that reduces a person’s ability to think rationally and distorts his or her judgment.”1
Is Alcohol a Depressant?
Alcohol is a depressant that primarily affects the central nervous system. Depressants slow down messages that go between the brain and the body, thereby slowing vital functions.2 Depressants cause:
- Slurred speech
- Disturbed perceptions
- Unsteady movements
- Slower reaction times
- Reduced arousal
- Reduced stimulation
Depressants can alter someone’s ability to concentrate or coordinate thoughts or actions. When taken in small doses, depressants can help a person feel more relaxed.2 However, if a person takes depressants in large doses, it can lead to vomiting, drowsiness, unconsciousness, and potentially death.
Is Alcohol a Stimulant?
Although alcohol is primarily a depressant, it does have some similar effects to a stimulant. This factor mainly depends on one’s body chemistry, the amount of alcohol consumed in one sitting, and the person’s alcohol tolerance.3 Stimulants affect the central nervous system but have the opposite effect of a depressant.
Stimulants can increase blood pressure, increase heart rate, and give someone more energy. In high doses, stimulants can cause jitters, impulsiveness, and insomnia. When a person consumes alcohol, the brain releases a chemical called dopamine, causing the individual to be happy, energized, and stimulated. According to SaVanna Shoemaker, “Stimulant effects occur when your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) approaches 0.05 mg/l but are replaced by more depressant effects once your BAC reaches 0.08 mg/l.”3 However, the effect alcohol has can vary greatly between people.
General Dangers of Mixing Alcohol with Other Substances
Because alcohol is both a stimulant and a depressant, it should not be mixed with drugs. There could be severe and potentially fatal side effects. Some of those side effects include:
Although there is the chance of alcohol negating the side effects of medications, there are other cases of it making the drug harmful or toxic to the body. This situation can lead to an overdose.
During an overdose, bodily functions and heart rates begin to slow down, putting the person at risk of permanent brain damage or death. Mixing alcohol with drugs increases the chance of a potential overdose. The main signs of a potential overdose include:
- Slurred speech
- Irregular breathing
- Being unresponsive
Many medications and drugs have extreme side effects when mixed with alcohol. Even a small amount of alcohol can greatly increase someone’s chance of getting into an accident.
Alcohol may intensify medications’ side effects such as sleepiness, drowsiness, or light-headedness. These side effects interfere with one’s ability to concentrate and operate heavy machinery such as a vehicle, making it extremely dangerous if the impaired person gets behind the wheel.4
It is best to make sure that you avoid mixing alcohol with drugs. If you or a friend starts displaying some of these symptoms, call a cab, ride service, or a sober friend to provide transportation.
Specific Dangers According to Class of Drug
Alcohol will have different side effects and dangers depending on what drug class it is being mixed with.
According to the University of Michigan’s Health Services, depressant drugs mixed with alcohol can “have a synergistic effect, with potential for dangerous and even lethal consequences, with rapid onset of dizziness, stumbling, loss of sphincter control, memory loss, and potential death.”5
Xanax is a drug used to treat anxiety and panic disorders. It slows down central nervous system activity. Some of the more serious side effects of Xanax are issues with memory, seizures, and a loss of coordination. Consuming Xanax and alcohol intensifies both substances’ side effects.6 Mixing the two substances may also increase someone’s risk of a blackout, leading the individual to dangerous situations without any memory of what brought them there.
Like Xanax, mixing alcohol with Ativan – a depressant used for anxiety – can lead to very serious side effects. In general, people who have consumed both substances increase the risk of enhanced sedation, mood and behavioral changes, memory impairment, and physical side effects.6 Combining these two substances increases the chance of a fatal overdose.
Klonopin is a drug used to treat seizures and anxiety. It can have similar effects as Xanax and Ativan. However, because Klonopin is used to treat seizures, mixing it with alcohol could potentially have the opposite effect and make the medication ineffective if a seizure occurs. A person is at greater risk of a blackout, liver damage, mood and behavioral changes, decreased heart rate, and enhanced sedation.6
Stimulants can conceal alcohol’s effects and make it more difficult for one to gauge their level of intoxication. Some of the side effects of overconsumption include blacking out, passing out, significant impairment of coordination and judgment, and potential death.
Adderall is a stimulant drug that manages ADHD. Combining alcohol and Adderall can lead to severe effects. An individual is more likely to suffer from alcohol poisoning, heart problems, and behavioral issues when mixing these stimulants. They can raise one’s body temperature, increase the heart rate, increase blood pressure, and cause an irregular heart rate.7
Cocaine is a stimulant that typically makes one more energetic, more talkative, and more reactive. It can also cause nausea, moodiness, shakiness, heart problems, anxiety, paranoia, and panic attacks.8 When combining alcohol and cocaine, a person creates new elements such as cocaethylene, which increases toxicity to the heart, liver, and other organs.8 This mixture stays longer in the body and increases the risk of stroke or severe heart problems.
Daily drinkers are five times more likely to struggle with meth use disorder. People tend to mix the two to counteract the depressant effects of alcohol while maintaining the euphoric effect of meth. Mixing these substances leads to increased heart rate and blood pressure, feelings of euphoria, psychomotor impairment, fewer sleep disruptions, and upset stomachs.9 Studies have also shown this mixture leads to patterns of aggression and hostility.
Fentanyl is prescribed in cases of chronic pain that comes from cancer, nerve damage, back injuries, major trauma, or major surgeries. Some side effects of fentanyl include pain relief, nausea, constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, drowsiness, headaches, slurred speech, impaired balance, and slow pulse and blood pressure.10 Mixing Fentanyl with alcohol can increase these effects and increase the likelihood of respiratory depression.
Heroin is a very addictive and dangerous opioid, and it can be fatal when mixed with alcohol. Some possible side effects are dizziness, loss of consciousness, impaired coordination, shallow breathing, slowed heart rate, and serious tremors. Heroin causes the body to absorb alcohol faster, drastically increasing one’s risk of alcohol poisoning or overdosing.
PainkillersPainkillers tend to be over-the-counter prescription drugs used to alleviate pain in the body, whether from infection, injury, or chronic disorder. Painkillers and alcohol are a deadly mixture.
Tramadol is typically used for short-term periods because consistent use may lead to addiction. Like other opiates, mixing Tramadol with alcohol can lead to lethal effects on breathing rate, coordination, and liver function. Both substances depress the central nervous system, and when mixed, they increase the chance of an overdose.
Dangers of Drugs that Treat Medical Conditions
For many people, mixing drugs and alcohol is done unintentionally. For example, someone with chronic pain or insomnia might not realize that their medication could have fatal side effects if mixed with alcohol.
Many times, doctors will prescribe people medication to help with chronic pain. These drugs tend to be depressants that synchronize with alcohol, amplifying the effects they have on the body. A person must speak to their healthcare professional if they still want to consume alcohol. They might be able to find a medication that will not have harmful effects when mixed with alcohol.
Mixing sleep pills and alcohol is extremely dangerous. Sleeping pills specialize in sedating a person. They are the ultimate depressant drug. When mixed with alcohol, another depressant, there can be fatal effects. Mixing alcohol and sleeping pills can make someone stop breathing and stop their heart rate, leading to death.12
Dangers of Drugs that Treat Mental Conditions
Many people take medication daily to help cope with mental disorders, but these medications may not mix well with alcohol.
People with anxiety tend to use benzodiazepines, which act as depressants. Some examples include Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, and Ativan. When mixed with alcohol, these drugs can have severe side effects that could lead to fatality or overdose. Many times, this will be due to a slowed heart rate or shallow breathing.
Although medications can vary for people with bipolar disorder, many doctors will prescribe mood stabilizers. These are medicines that prevent highs (mania) and lows (depression).13 Many times, “alcohol can undermine your therapy and increase your risk of drug toxicity, side effects, and even suicide.”14 Talk to your doctor to see what side effects could occur if you consume alcohol while on medication for bipolar disorder.
Borderline Personality Disorder
There are no specific drugs associated with a borderline personality disorder. Many times, doctors will prescribe multiple medications, often a combination of anti-depressants, mood stabilizers, and anti-anxiety medications.15 All three can have very severe consequences when mixed with alcohol. Therefore, it is very important to you abstain from consuming alcohol while taking multiple medications.
Mixing antidepressants and alcohol can worsen symptoms of depression. Often, alcohol will negate the positive effects of antidepressants. Some potential side effects include feeling drowsy, anxiety, impaired thinking, and potential overdose. Do not stop taking medication to drink, since stopping and starting medication can worsen depression. Overall, it is best to not mix alcohol with any other substances.
Like depression, most PTSD medications are meant to target parts of the brain related to fear and anxiety. However, doctors may prescribe several different types of drugs including antidepressants, MAOIs, antipsychotics, beta-blockers, or benzodiazepines.16 Overall, mixing alcohol with these substances can have numerous effects. These drugs can enhance the negative symptoms of alcohol and lead to impairment, fatigue, and overdose.
Treating Addiction to Alcohol and Other Substances
Residential treatment facilities are a great place to start treatment. You may spend time living inside of the facility to start the recovery process. These facilities will have licensed therapists and doctors to help you through the process.
Finally, a strong community is essential to a successful recovery. Joining groups such as AA or Substance Abuse Recovery groups are key to lasting success. You can find a community of other people that have gone through the same hardships. Recovery is difficult but being surrounded by loved ones and a group of understanding people is the best way to ensure success.