The Dangers of Mixing Alcohol with Drugs
Drug abuse is continuing to rise throughout the country, and the sad truth is that we lost over 80,000 people in 2020 from overdoses.
One of the most dangerous choices someone with substance abuse disorder could ever make is mixing alcohol with drugs. The complications are serious, and it’s a more widespread problem than you might think.
Luckily, there are steps you can take to preventing and treating this problem. Let’s talk about mixing drugs and alcohol.
Why Do People Mix Alcohol with Drugs?
It doesn’t only have to be pills, but prescription medication is the most common type of drug to mix with alcohol. Taking a prescribed medicine is legal, as is alcohol, making the temptation widely available to many people.
Often, people are already addicted to alcohol and then receive a prescription for some medication, but don’t stop drinking when they take it.
Some people want to amplify the good feelings they get from prescription drugs and think alcohol is a safer solution to enjoy it, thinking: “I drink all the time, I’ll just wash my medicine down.” However, they’d be very wrong.
The Dangers of Mixing Alcohol With Drugs
Doctors do what they can to make sure they aren’t prescribing multiple medications that will interact with each other in a negative way, so if you are prescribed multiple medications by the same doctor, it should be safe.
The danger comes when people take the mixing into their own hands. This is most commonly with alcohol.
Mixing prescription drugs and alcohol is always a bad idea. This is especially true if someone is receiving benzodiazepines for anxiety or opioids for pain, as they are at the most serious risks of complications.
“Benzos” like Xanax, Valium, or Ativan, mixed with alcohol will create a synergistic effect that can make you pass out and stop breathing. Side effects of the combination will include drowsiness, memory loss, loss of consciousness, and death.
Opioids like Vicodin, Percocet, or Oxycontin will combine with alcohol to ultimately slow breathing. It is too easy to slow respiration to the point where breathing stops, making this combination extremely lethal.
That isn’t the only concern. When an extended dose is taken with alcohol, it can release the entire dose at once, which increases the risk of overdose dramatically.
It isn’t just benzos and opioids to be worried about. Sleeping pills and a whole host of other medications pose serious risks when taken with alcohol, and it’s best to avoid mixing any prescribed medication with it.
If you are using street drugs with alcohol, this is extremely dangerous. No matter what kind of drug, one of the biggest risks is it being laced with other substances. People may trust their dealer, but the amount of drugs being laced with fentanyl is on the rise, and that is one of the most serious risks out there, as overdosing becomes far too easy. Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin.
Mixing cocaine and alcohol may be something you’ve seen at parties, but it is far from safe. When the substances are combined, it creates a toxic byproduct called cocaethylene, which causes significant damage to the heart and liver. This is especially troublesome if they are addicted to cocaine, as this will likely prolong the exposure of cocaethylene in their body.
Ecstasy, or MDMA, mixed with alcohol can actually mask the effects of the alcohol. This is extremely dangerous because people may keep drinking in order to feel the effects, which can lead to overdose.
Always talk to your doctor openly about any substances you are taking, whether they were prescribed by another doctor or if they are taken recreationally. Your doctor will not call the police if you are taking illegal drugs, as that would be breaking the law.
If you went to the emergency room or a specialist and received a prescription for anything, your primary doctor was likely notified, but it’s best to tell them yourself, just in case.
It’s also important to tell them if you drink regularly. Even if you don’t consider yourself an alcoholic, if they are prescribing you drugs, tell them if you intend to drink.
If people are abusing drugs and alcohol at the same time, they are suffering from cross-addiction. If they don’t get treatment for it, the risks are very serious, and they only get worse over time. If you know somebody who is suffering from cross-addiction, they should do what they can to intervene immediately.
There is specific treatment for people suffering from multiple addictions at the same time, known as cross addiction treatment.
This isn’t necessarily the right fit for everybody who happens to be consistently mixing drugs with alcohol. They could just be addicted to alcohol and taking the pills as prescribed, or they could be using alcohol recreationally and be addicted to the other substance. Either way, treatment is necessary.
If you or someone you know is mixing drugs and alcohol, it’s time to get treatment. The longer this is put off, the longer they are exposed to the risk of overdose and death. Taking the first step of intervening or acknowledging the problem is where they should start. It could save a life.
Get Help Today
It should be clear by now that mixing alcohol with drugs is something to be avoided altogether. Take care to prevent it from happening and reach out for help if you’re currently struggling.
If you attend inpatient therapy, find out how your social life might change after, but don’t worry. It’s for the better!
Medically Reviewed: June 5, 2021
Medical Reviewer | CWC Recovery Staff
All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.