People who suffer from a substance use disorder frequently take both alcohol and drugs, according to a study published in Alcohol Research Current Reviews. Also known as polysubstance use, co-occurring drug use disorder (DUD) and alcohol use disorder (AUD) affected 12.6 million American adults in 2007.
If people abuse both alcohol and drugs, they are engaging in alcohol and other drug (AOD) use. The general term is co-morbidity or a dual diagnosis. People with comorbidities may be dependent on both alcohol and drugs or have two or more psychological disorders.
There are two types of co-morbidity:
- Homotypic: This refers to the co-occurrence of disorders that are in a similar diagnostic group, such as the co-occurrence of alcohol and drug use disorders.
- Heterotypic: This refers to disorders that occur at the same time but are in different diagnostic groupings, like the occurrence of a drug use disorder with a mood disorder.
Mixing Alcohol and Other Substances
What happens when you mix alcohol and pills? Combining two substances may intensify the effects of each substance in a phenomenon called synergism. A synergistic interaction happens when the combined effects of drugs or alcohol are greater than their individual effects. When substances taken by a person have synergistic effects, it may either be beneficial or harmful.
But what happens when you mix alcohol, pills, injectables, or drugs? When people mix alcohol with other substances, they are exposed to more potential dangers. The mixture may worsen side effects that may lead to complications. Mixing medications with alcohol may produce many undesirable effects for one’s physical and mental health.
Even if people drink moderate amounts of alcohol, people who use alcohol with a medication or illicit drug may experience headaches, nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, and a loss of coordination. Worse, the combination of alcohol with drugs may lead to difficulties in breathing, heart problems, and even internal bleeding.
There are two types of interactions that occur when drugs mix with alcohol. The first type is called pharmacokinetic interactions, where alcohol disrupts the body’s metabolism of drugs. The second type is called pharmacodynamic interactions, where alcohol enhances the effects of drugs, particularly in the central nervous system (CNS).
Substances Commonly Mixed with Alcohol
The danger of drugs mixed with alcohol differ in effects and intensity depending on the type of drug used and the amount of alcohol and drug consumed. A stronger drug combined with a strong type of alcohol may lead to greater intoxication. Here are some commonly used drugs and their side effects when mixed with alcohol.
Side Effects of Mixing Alcohol and Adderall
Adderall is a type of amphetamine that acts as a stimulant on the central nervous system. When taken alone, Adderall may give users the feeling of concentration and euphoria by increasing the activity of the brain chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine. Meanwhile, alcohol acts as a central nervous system depressant. Using alcohol with Adderall could lead to conflicts in the body. That is because Adderall stimulates the heart, while alcohol slows it down. This may cause arrhythmia, a heartbeat that is too fast, too slow, or irregular, a condition that may lead to death. It may also cause paranoia, psychosis, tremors, and convulsions.
Side Effects of Mixing Alcohol and Antibiotics
Antibiotics help the body fight infections and bacteria. But people using antibiotics such as metronidazole and tinidazole with alcohol may experience serious reactions. Combining the substances may produce reactions that include headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, stomach aches, heat flushes, and irregular heartbeats. Using alcohol and antibiotics together also increases the risk of developing certain kinds of liver disease.
Side Effects of Mixing Alcohol and Antidepressants
While all types of antidepressants have some sedative and stimulating effects, antidepressant medications differ in how they affect brain chemicals. When combined with alcohol, tricyclic antidepressants, which have a higher ratio of sedative-to-stimulant activity, may have an increased sedative effect. Therefore, it is not a good idea to combine alcohol and depressants. People using both substances may feel more depressed and more anxious.
Side Effects of Mixing Alcohol and Antihistamines
Taking antihistamines and alcohol together may produce adverse effects. Combining antihistamines and alcohol may cause a lack of coordination due to increased drowsiness and sedation and/or lower blood pressure. Even if manufacturers claim that their antihistamines do not cause drowsiness, taking antihistamines with alcohol is still not advisable due to the risk of hypotension (low blood pressure) and falls. Antihistamines, alcohol, pills, and other drugs should always be taken with caution.
Side Effects of Mixing Alcohol and Cocaine
Some people who use cocaine want to reduce the anxiety the drug produces. They attempt to reduce this anxiety by using substances such as alcohol that are depressants. Doing this may produce harmful effects. When alcohol and cocaine metabolize in the liver, a substance called cocaethylene is produced. Cocaethylene may harm major organs such as the liver, brain, and heart. It may lead to intracranial hemorrhage, heart disease, heart attacks, and brain damage.
Side Effects of Mixing Alcohol and Energy Drinks/Caffeine
According to a study published in 2013, combining alcohol with energy drinks may cause nausea, energy fluctuations, racing heart, and insomnia. Those who drank alcohol with energy drinks also reported experiencing fatigue and visual disturbances after a day or two of drinking the combination. Consuming stimulants such as caffeine with alcohol may hide the depressant effects of alcohol. This practice may lead to increased alcohol intake, which could be harmful to the liver.