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.
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.
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.
Which of these three people is doing something risky?
Is it the one who takes their cholesterol medication with grapefruit juice?
The one who takes Acetaminophen pain relievers
for a sore ankle before going out for drinks?
Or the one who’s on a blood-thinning medication
and takes an aspirin for a headache?
Actually, all of them are.
Each has inadvertently created a drug interaction that could, in extreme cases,
lead to kidney failure; liver damage;
or internal bleeding.
Drug interactions happen
when the combination of a drug with another substance
causes different effects than either would individually.
Foods, herbal supplements, legal drugs, and illicit substances
can all cause drug interactions.
Most drug interactions fall into two categories.
Some take place when two substances’ effects influence each other directly.
In other cases, one substance effects how the body processes another,
like how it is absorbed, metabolized, or transported around the body.
Blood thinners and aspirin, for example,
have similar effects that become dangerous when combined.
Both prevent blood clots from forming—
blood thinners by preventing the formation of the clotting factors
that hold clots together,
and aspirin by preventing blood cells from clumping into groups
that become clots.
Individually, these effects are usually safe,
but taken together, they can prevent blood clotting to a dangerous extent,
possibly causing internal bleeding.
While blood thinners and aspirin are generally harmless
when taken individually,
interactions where one substance exacerbates the effects of another
can also take place between drugs that are independently harmful.
Cocaine and heroin are each dangerous,
and those dangers compound when the two drugs are combined—
even though their behavioral effects may feel like they cancel each other out.
Cocaine is a stimulant, and many of its effects, like increased heart rate,
cause the body to need more oxygen.
But heroin, a depressant, slows breathing—
reducing the body’s oxygen supply just when it needs more.
This combination strains the organs and can cause respiratory failure and death.
The interaction between grapefruit juice and certain medications
in class of cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins,
has to do with drug metabolism.
The liver produces enzymes, molecules that facilitate the breakdown of substances
that enter the body.
Enzymes can both activate drugs,
by breaking them down into their therapeutic ingredients
from more complex molecules, and deactivate them,
by breaking harmful compounds down into harmless metabolites.
There are many, many different enzymes,
each of which has a binding site that fits a specific molecule.
Grapefruit binds to the same enzyme as statins,
making less of that enzyme available to break down statins.
So combining the two means that a greater concentration of the drug
stays in the bloodstream for a longer period of time,
potentially causing kidney failure.
Alcohol can also alter the function of the enzyme that breaks down Acetaminophen,
the active ingredient in pain relievers like Tylenol and paracetamol.
When someone takes Acetaminophen, some of it is converted into a toxic substance.
At the recommended dose,
there isn’t usually enough of this toxic byproduct to cause harm.
But heavy drinking can alter enzyme activity
so more of that byproduct is produced,
potentially causing liver damage
even with what’s usually a safe dose of acetominophen.
Meanwhile, the herbal remedy Saint John’s Wort increases the liver’s production
of a particular enzyme.
That means the drugs this enzyme is responsible for breaking down
get metabolized faster—
sometimes too fast, before they can have their therapeutic effects.
In spite of the dizzying number of possible interactions,
most of the dangerous interactions with commonly used drugs are well known.
And new developments in science are helping us keep better track
of drug interactions than ever.
Some researchers are developing AI programs that can predict the side effects
of drug interactions before they occur,
using information about the landscape of protein interactions within your body.
For the new drugs that are being developed all the time,
supercomputers are being used to find potential interactions
while those drugs are still in development.
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:
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:
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:
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:
Here is a list of common opiates and opioids:
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.
we know that excessive alcohol
consumption spells bad news for our
health we also know that drinking in
moderation is usually okay for adults
that is but less familiar is the fact
that alcohol can interact dangerously
with many prescription medications
over-the-counter drugs and even herbal
remedies there are two types of negative
interaction between alcohol and medicine
first alcohol can diminish the effect of
the medicine sometimes cancelling it out
altogether second alcohol and medicine
can combine in the body to form new
chemicals that are harmful to the body
it may seem like the second category is
more serious but think about that first
one again alcohol can cancel out the
effect of some drugs what if those drugs
were controlling your blood pressure or
a serious heart problem or diabetes the
truth is any interaction between alcohol
and medication is potentially dangerous
when you start a course of medication
ask your doctor or pharmacist if it's
safe to take with alcohol failing that
check the warning label on the box
failing that don't risk it don't have a
drink until you're 100% sure that
there's no danger let's take a few
examples anticoagulants that thin the
blood can cause internal bleeding with
combined with alcohol
anti-inflammatories like aspirin and
ibuprofen can increase your risk of
ulcers severe liver damage is regularly
caused by an interaction between alcohol
and plain old acetaminophen the most
popular painkiller in the world and even
seemingly benign herbal compounds like
chamomile and valerian can cause trouble
when mixed with alcohol
bottom line unless you're positive that
it's safe combining alcohol and
medication it's not worth the risk
sure it can be tough to forego that
precious after work beer or that glass
of wine with dinner but bear in mind
that the medication is there to make you
healthier combining it with alcohol
could slow down or even reverse that
process isn't it worth waiting a while
and then enjoying that beer or wine in
perfect health for more information
consult your doctor or pharmacist
Specific Dangers From Drugs That Treat Medical Conditions
Generally, chronic pain medication is a prescription to OxyContin or other opioids. This means they share all of the following side effects:
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:
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:
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
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:
The main shared danger between these drugs is depressed breathing that borders on hypoxia. There is also a high chance of acute liver failure.
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:
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.
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:
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 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:
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 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 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.
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.