The Dangers of Mixing Alcohol and Drugs

Table of Contents

  1. Is Mixing Alcohol and Drugs Dangerous?
  2. General Dangers of Mixing Alcohol and Other Substances
  3. Dangers by Drug Class
  4. Dangers by Medical Condition
  5. Dangers by Mental Health Condition
  6. Treatment for Mixing Alcohol and Other Substances

Is Mixing Alcohol and Drugs Dangerous?

Yes. This article starts by discussing the general and specific dangers of mixing alcohol with other popular drugs like benzodiazepines and opioids. Next, we discuss mixing alcohol with drugs to treat common mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. We end the article by exploring addiction treatment options for alcohol use disorders.

Is Alcohol a Drug?

Yes. Alcohol is a drug that affects the central nervous system (CNS). It has a proven ability to temporarily diminish mental capacity and create uncoordinated movement.

Is Alcohol a Depressant?

Yes. Alcohol is a depressant when drank in excess. It works by blocking certain receptors in the brain. The result is slowed cognitive function.

Is Alcohol a Stimulant?

No. Alcohol is not a stimulant. However, the first few drinks of alcohol cause dopamine (the happy chemical) to be released by the brain. This results in powerful feelings of euphoria and short-term stimulation.

General Dangers of Mixing Alcohol and Other Substances

Because alcohol is the most widely available mind-altering substance, it is frequently mixed with other drugs. However, mixing alcohol with other drugs can be dangerous.

Overdose

The risk of overdosing while intoxicated is increased greatly when mixing with alcohol. Alcohol tends to worsen the negative effects of other drugs or reduce their effectiveness. Common causes for overdose include liver failure, severe depression of the central nervous system, blood poisoning, heart failure, and asphyxiation.

Accidents

Alcohol affects decision making, reaction time, and the senses. Because of this, alcohol-impaired drivers cause almost 30 accidents per day. In fact, alcohol causes nearly 28% of all fatal traffic accidents. A majority of drunk driving accidents occur on the weekends or near holidays. The fine for a DUI can cost up to $6,000.00 in some states and can also result in being charged with a felony. Mixing alcohol, even when not operating a vehicle, can lead to accidental bodily harm caused by uncoordinated movement and lowered senses.

Specific Dangers by Class of Drug

Depressants and Alcohol

Depressants and alcohol have compounding effects. Alcohol as a depressant works in conjunction with other depressants to severely slow the CNS. This can result in:  
  • Labored breathing
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Poor memory
  • Delirium
  • Hallucinations
  • Liver failure
  • Seizures
  • Long-term dependency
  We’ve listed a few of the most commonly abused depressants  
  • Xanax (alprazolam)
  • Ativan (lorazepam)
  • Klonopin (clonazepam)
  Depressants and alcohol cause a number of negative effects in the body. The most profound effect they have is on memory. Depressants and alcohol can cause extreme memory loss. This happens due to a breakdown between short and long-term memory more commonly known as a blackout.

Stimulants and Alcohol

There’s a misconception that mixing alcohol with a stimulant can cancel out the effects of both. In actuality, alcohol and stimulates effect completely different parts of the body. This means they’re not so much canceling out but instead are working independently. However, the misconception that stimulants and alcohol cancel out can lead to further abuse of both drugs. The increased chemical intake of mixing alcohol can put massive stress on the liver. The resulting liver failure causes unfiltered toxins to be released back into the body. We’ve listed a few of the commonly abused stimulants:  
  • Adderall
  • Cocaine
  • Meth
  The main concern when mixing alcohol and stimulants, or even taking stimulants alone, is heart issues. In excess, stimulants and alcohol cause a dramatically increased heart rate, high blood pressure, and confusion. The main causes of death are heart attack, stroke, arrhythmia, and seizure. Long-term abuse of stimulants and alcohol can lead to a permanently weakened heart. This is due to prolonged rapid heartbeats and small, unnoticed heart attacks.

Opiates/Opioids and Alcohol

Opioids vary between prescription medication and controlled substances. Opiates and alcohol have a synergetic effect on the CNS. The side effects of opiates and alcohol are:  
  • Drowsiness
  • Sensory disruption
  • Hallucination
  • Manic behavior
  • Paranoia
  • Depressed breathing
  Here is a list of common opiates and opioids:  
  • Fentanyl
  • OxyContin
  • Methadone
  • Heroin
  The greatest risk of mixing alcohol and opioids is hypoxia. Hypoxia occurs when insufficient air reaches the muscles and brain. Opiates and alcohol increase the risk of hypoxia by disrupting the CNS. Hypoxia can be fatal within minutes without help.

Painkillers and Alcohol

Tramadol is a name brand opioid that shares the same risk as other opioids. This includes drowsiness, confusion, and hypoxia. Using Tramadol and alcohol increases these risks. Any mixture of painkillers and alcohol can severe side effects. Furthermore, painkillers are often prescribed after surgery or injury. However, alcohol lowers the immune system and slows down the healing process. As such, mixing painkillers and alcohol is as counter-intuitive as it is dangerous. Painkillers and alcohol also put a severe strain on the liver.

Specific Dangers from Drugs That Treat Medical Conditions

Chronic Pain

Generally, chronic pain medication is a prescription to OxyContin or other opioids. This means they share all of the following side effects:  
  • Drowsiness
  • Sensory disruption
  • Hallucination
  • Manic behavior
  • Paranoia
  • Depressed breathing

Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorder medication and alcohol can be especially dangerous. During sleep, the heart rate is lowered along with breathing. Adding a chemical cocktail of depressants can lead to an accidental overdose. Common sleep disorder medications include:  
  • Restoril
  • Valium
  • Ambien
  The combination of sleep medicine and alcohol can lead to hypoxia, brain damage from lack of oxygen, comas, and severe lethargy. Long-term mild use of sleep medication and alcohol can prolong insomnia and sleep-related illness. This is due to alcohol’s effect on REM sleep.

Antibiotics and Alcohol

Some antibiotics should be avoided when drinking alcohol. Metronidazole or tinidazole and alcohol can cause the following symptoms:  
  • Feeling sick
  • Hot Flashes
  • Stomach pain
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  Combining linezolid and alcohol can cause dangerous increases in blood pressure. While mixing doxycycline and alcohol will reduce the effectiveness of the antibiotic.

Dangers from Drugs that Treat Mental Health Conditions

Anxiety

Despite any short-term euphoria, mixing alcohol and anxiety can have negative effects. Alcohol can lessen the amount of serotonin (the other happy chemical) and wreak havoc on communication between parts of the brain. Alcohol and anxiety both disrupt logical thought which can make negative thoughts all the stronger. Typically, benzodiazepines are prescribed for anxiety. These drugs include:  
  • Xanax
  • Ativan
  • Klonopin
  • Valium
  The main shared danger between these drugs is depressed breathing that borders on hypoxia. There is also a high chance of acute liver failure.

Bipolar Disorder

Studies have shown a link between bipolar disorder and alcohol. Alcohol affects mood and chemical balances in the brain. A person with a bipolar disorder may already be dealing with issues regarding brain chemistry. This means alcohol runs the risk of furthering these issues. Alcohol can also induce a manic state in someone with a bipolar disorder. A manic state is characterized by a rush of euphoria, rapid speech, and a shorter attention span. Common medications for bipolar disorder include:  
  • Equetro
  • Depakote
  • Lithobid
  • Lamictal
  Mixing mood stabilizers and alcohol can cause negative effects because alcohol and most mood stabilizers have similar side effects. This includes drowsiness, irritability, and confusion.

Borderline Personality Disorder

Unlike bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder changes can occur instantly and disappear within hours. In contrast, changes from bipolar disorder can last months. There isn’t a shared consensus as to what causes borderline personality disorder. However, brain chemistry is assumed to be a major factor. This means mixing alcohol with borderline personality disorder can intensify the effects of the disorder. Borderline personality disorders can be treated with the same drugs as bipolar disorder.   It’s worth noting that treatment for this condition can be a combination of medication for antipsychotic, anti-depressant, and anti-anxiety. However, the biggest threat in this case is the harm to natural brain chemistry. Mixing a borderline personality disorder with alcohol can cause severe synaptic misfiring, worsening depression, and more frequent mood shifts.

Depression

Having depression and an alcohol use disorder is a common occurrence. Depression affects millions of people every year. It is one of the most prevalent mental health issues. Depression and alcohol abuse can cause dependency and worsened depression. Alcohol lowers levels of serotonin and dopamine resulting in increased risk or symptoms of depression.   Depression could be caused by genetics, environment, brain chemistry, or any combination of the 3. However, it is generally characterized by negative thoughts and moods. Alcohol can not only increase the likelihood of negative thought but also lower cognitive function. This results in negative thoughts that can seem inescapable. Depression medication can include:  
  • Zoloft
  • Prozac
  • Lexapro
  • Celexa
  For the most part, depression medication and alcohol have compounding effects. This means one of the biggest risks when mixing is an overdose from acute liver failure.

PTSD

PTSD is characterized by negative thoughts, uncontrollable mood swings, altered brain chemistry, and hallucinations. Alcohol and PTSD are a volatile combination. Alcohol can counteract PTSD medication and increase the severity of the symptoms. PTSD medication can include:  
  • Zoloft
  • Minipress
  • Propranolol
  • Prozac
  Mixing these drugs with alcohol can cause heart issues, liver failure, stroke, and high blood pressure. However, the biggest concern is the increased risk of suicide.

Treating Addiction to Alcohol and Other Substances

Getting treatment for alcohol addiction is better done sooner than later. This is especially true when there are underlying illnesses and other substance use. Addiction rewires the brain and relapse can occur because of emotional triggers, environmental changes, and more.   Professional help for addiction will typically include the following.

Therapy

Therapy can help discover the cause of addiction. It can also provide coping mechanisms for dealing with emotional triggers. Therapy also provides a safe space to work through issues. Lastly, therapy can help smooth the transition from addiction to a stable and thriving life.

Medicine

Medicine can help ease the physical symptoms of withdrawal. Addiction can cause a number of life-long illnesses including reduced liver capacity, high blood pressure, heart disease, and compromised immune systems. Medicine helps abate these symptoms.

Support System

Finding a healthy support system is a key step toward recovery. Recovery is a lifelong process and involves a community. Without a support system, the chance of relapse is increased. Lastly, a support system can help separate someone with a dependency from harmful influences.

Resources

  1. http://www.stritch.luc.edu/depts/injprev/transprt/tran1-06.htm#Alcohol%20Crash%20Facts
  2. https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-6685/ativan-oral/details/list-interaction-details/dmid1374/dmtitle-benzodiazepines-ethyl-alcohol/intrtype-drug
  3. https://www.alcohol.org/mixing-with/stimulants/
  4. https://www.healthline.com/health/adhd/adderall-and-alcohol#alcohol-and-adhd

If you or a loved one needs help, please call us at (888) 744-9969 and our team at Blueprints For Recovery in Arizona will help.

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