Mixing Alcohol and Drugs

Illegal drugs are always unpredictable, and can often result in a myriad of health issues. Combining illegal drugs and alcohol can result in a potentially disastrous and lethal cocktail.

The effects of mixing alcohol and drugs can range from anything simple, such as nausea, to deadly health issues like heart failure. The best advice when using drugs is to steer clear of alcohol.


The Biological Interaction of Alcohol and Drugs

For a drug to produce the desired effect, it must flow through the bloodstream to its active site, or tissue/organ. Here, the drug is metabolised by the tissue enzymes, and with time, its effect is diminished as it is removed from the body.

Similarly, alcohol uses the same principle, where it travels to the brain and is metabolised to cause intoxication. With time, its effects diminish until it's removed from the body by the liver.

The time frame in which a drug acts on its target site, is known as availability. Alcohol disrupts the effects of the drug - by tampering with its availability.


How Alcohol Interacts with Drugs

There are two major ways in which alcohol disrupts the availability of the drug:

First, it may inhibit the metabolism of the drug, therefore resulting in a prolonged and enhanced drug availability. This means the drug stays in your bloodstream for longer. In effect, it exposes the patient to harmful side effects for much longer.

A typical example of the above scenario is combining alcohol with a stimulant such as cocaine. Alcohol itself is a depressant, and when you combine it with cocaine, the two will compete with each other for the same enzyme that metabolises them. 

Alcohol will try slowing the nervous system down, whilst the cocaine will try to speed it up, ultimately putting your nervous system under intense pressure, and your body in a potentially dangerous situation.

Another example is when you combine alcohol with another depressant such as heroin. The effect that the two depressants can have, is to slow your nervous system too much, sometimes to the point of shutting down your body altogether.


Dangers of Mixing Alcohol with Common Prescription Drugs

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The above list of the common prescription drugs is by no means conclusive. 

However, it’s evident that combining alcohol with the drugs does more harm to your body. In any case, the general advice is to keep away from alcohol when on any medications.


Side Effects of Mixing Alcohol with Drugs

Abusing drugs with alcohol can result in a range of both long-term and short-term effects on your body.


Short-Term Effects of Mixing Drugs and Alcohol

The short-term effects are manifested fast, with some occurring instantly.

Here are common signs and symptoms:

  • Drowsiness

  • Intense headaches

  • Profuse sweating

  • Slurred speech

  • Increased heart rate

  • Vomiting

  • Nausea

  • Mood swings

  • Inattention


Long-Term Effects of Mixing Drugs and Alcohol

Though both the short and long-term effects are harmful, the long-term effects are lethal, and pose more harm.

Unlike the short-term effects, the long-term effects take a while before they appear. In any case, they are harboured inside your body. Although you may not notice them, they are actually doing more damage to your health from the inside.

Over time, your body can no longer host the cumulative effects and can result in: 

  • Cardiovascular issues including cardiac arrest

  • Respiratory problems

  • Coma

  • Stroke

  • Insomnia

  • Acute chest pains

  • Hallucination

  • Suicidal thoughts

  • Death

Again, this is not a comprehensive list, but rather some of the most common side effects.


Strictly No-Alcohol Drugs

Whilst not all drugs will negatively interact with alcohol, there are, however, the strictly the no-alcohol drugs. Mixing some of these drugs with alcohol is very dangerous. In most cases, you will see the drugs labeled with a "do not mix with alcohol" label. This is not a suggestion, but has been placed there due to the very serious health repercussions. 

Some of the drugs in the strictly no-alcohol list include:

  • Painkillers

  • Amphetamines

  • Anxiety drugs

  • Muscle relaxers

  • Diabetes medication

  • Arthritis medications

  • Sleep Aids

  • Anti-depressants

  • Mood stabilisers

  • Blood pressure medication

  • Heartburn Medication

In any case, mixing drugs with alcohol can result in severe health complications such as:

  • Tremors

  • Dizziness

  • Lethargy

  • Respiratory depression

  • Headache

  • Hemorrhage

  • Ulcers

  • Liver damage

Besides the conventional medicines, alcohol will similarly result in adverse health effects when mixed with other illegal drugs such as cocaine, opiates, heroin, or cannabis.


Are there Any Drugs You Can Safely Mix with Alcohol?

The answer to this is a definitive NO.

Alcohol metabolism happens in the liver, as does the metabolism of most drugs. In which case, there is a very high chance that the two will interact with each other. Therefore, it’s always best that you keep away from the bottle when taking any type of drug. 

Danielle Robinson