Alcohol by itself is a dangerous and highly addictive substance. The World Health Organization reports that more than 3 million people die worldwide due to alcohol. When mixed with other drugs, alcohol can cause a toxic and even lethal combination. This interaction guide serves to explain the risks of mixing alcohol with other drugs.
Understanding Alcohol as a Drug – What it is and How it Works
Alcohol is a drug. Period. Because we live in a society where alcohol is legal and even socially acceptable in most circles, many people typically downplay the negative effects of alcohol. What’s more; most people do not classify alcohol as a drug. But make no mistake about it – wine, beer, and liquor are, in fact, drugs.
When most people think of the word “drug,” they associate it with cocaine, marijuana, heroin, or methamphetamines. Generally speaking, most people place alcohol in a different category. This is largely because we live in a society that promotes alcohol use. We equate alcohol with celebrations, recreational events, and social activities. This is unfortunate because the acceptance of alcohol as “one of life’s little pleasures” has misled us to believe it should not be considered dangerous.
Drugs reduce a person’s ability to think clearly and they distort the user’s judgment. They affect the brain and body in strange and mysterious ways. According to Dictionary.com, by definition, a drug is “any substance which has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced into the body.” Yes, indeed, alcohol is a drug. When learning about alcohol and how it affects the person who drinks it, making this distinction is important. Perhaps if more people understood that alcohol is a drug, alcohol abuse wouldn’t be so prevalent.
Alcohol contains ethanol, an intoxicating ingredient produced by the fermentation of yeast, sugars, and starches. Alcohol can be made by fermenting bread, certain vegetables, and certain fruits over an extended period of time. It is safe to say that if most people really knew what is actually involved in producing alcohol, they might reconsider drinking the stuff. When you understand how alcohol is made, you come to realize it is actually quite gross. Would you drink liquid rotten bread? Probably not. It’s no wonder alcohol affects the body the way it does. It works on the human system very much in the same day poison does.
Although many people mistakenly believe alcohol is a stimulant and that it affects the body like marijuana does, this is simply not true. Alcohol is a depressant. It impacts the body’s central nervous system and slows the brain and body down. Alcohol is a toxin. The body works overtime to flush it out, breaking down almost every major organ in the human body in the process. Excessive alcohol use, over time, essentially toxifies the body to such a degree that every major system in the body is impacted.
How Alcohol Affects the Brain and Body
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, drinking too much alcohol can take a serious toll on the drinker’s health.
Here is a quick rundown of how alcohol affects the brain and a few parts of the body:
The Brain: Alcohol interferes with the brain’s neural pathways, which cause the drinker to experience the sensation of “a buzz.” Keep in mind, though, this buzz comes at a cost. Alcohol disrupts the drinker’s perception, behavior, cognition, coordination, reasoning ability, and the capacity to effectively communicate. Slurred speech, blurred vision, and the ability to walk a straight line are caused by the damaging effects of alcohol, indicating the brain is not operating the way it should. In no uncertain terms, alcohol disrupts the brain’s ability to function normally. In many ways, being under the influence of alcohol is like experiencing a temporary state of mental illness. Over time, excessive alcohol consumption can cause brain damage or stroke. This should come as no surprise.
The Heart/ Circulatory System/ Cardiovascular System: Although moderate and occasional drinking will most likely not cause heart damage, alcohol abuse can cause severe heart problems and disrupt the regulation of the circulatory and cardiovascular systems. Alcohol-related heart damage can be caused by excessive alcohol consumption over time, or by regular episodes of binge drinking. Alcohol can lead to cardiomyopathy (stretching of the heart muscle), arrhythmia (irregular heart beat), high blood pressure, and heart attack. Although recent medical reports suggest that moderate doses of alcohol (like a glass of red wine a day) can be good for the heart, this is not true of alcohol abuse.
The Liver: Most people know that alcohol abuse can lead to liver problems. Alcohol is notorious for causing liver damage. When the body is consumed with alcohol, the liver works overtime. The liver is a major organ that removes the toxins alcohol floods the body with. It acts as a kind of toilet, flushing alcohol out of the body’s system. Cirrhosis of the liver, liver inflammation, steatosis (fatty liver), alcohol-related hepatitis, and fibrosis are just a few conditions of the liver caused by alcohol addiction.
The Pancreas: When the body processes too much alcohol, pancreatitis can occur. This is an excruciatingly painful condition that results from swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas. Pancreatitis prevents proper digestion and causes the pancreas to produce enzymes that are toxic to the body. To be sure, pancreatitis leads to a slow and agonizing death.
The Immune System: Too much alcohol in the body weakens the immune system by starving the body of certain nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. This causes the body to become more susceptible to non-alcohol related illnesses. People who consume too much alcohol are more prone to common colds, the flu, viral infections, pneumonia, tuberculosis, and other sicknesses than those who do not abuse alcohol.
These are just a few parts of the body negatively affected by alcohol. It stands to reason that if alcohol abuse alone can cause this much damage, mixing alcohol with other drugs can lead to even greater complications.
Alcohol and Opiates Might Lead to Respiratory Failure
Many people who abuse opiates often mix their pills with alcohol because combining the two drugs intensifies the effect of both substances. This can be a deadly mistake. Mixing alcohol and opiates is dangerous business. A recent study revealed that taking just one Oxycodone (a powerful and popular opiate) with even a small amount of alcohol can lead to respiratory depression.
Respiratory depression causes the breathing to become extremely shallow and depressed. This acute condition can slow breathing to the point that breathing actually stops, causing premature and unintended death. When most people mix alcohol and opiates, they do not do so with the intention of causing their own death. However; it is important to realize that the tragic event of accidental overdose can occur when mixing these two substances. Accidental drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States.
Alcohol and opiates are both depressants. They depress the body’s normal functioning. By themselves, each of these drugs causes the body to slow down. When mixed, alcohol and opiates cause the body to depress double-time.
Typically, respiratory failure happens once a person who has mixed alcohol and opiates goes to sleep. Sleep causes the breathing to slow down naturally. Because respiratory depression causes a chemically-induced slowing of the breath, the respiratory system will slow to the point that it stops completely. Many people who have mixed alcohol and opiates go to bed and never wake up. Let this serve as a cautionary tale – it could also happen to you.
FYI – heroin works on the body the same way opiates do. In fact, many addiction professionals argue that legal opiates should be classified in the same drug category as heroin. Heroin is a depressant that causes euphoria. Combined with alcohol, this effect is intensified. Like alcohol and opiates, mixing heroin and alcohol can cause respiratory depression, which can cause the body to stop breathing.
Mixing Alcohol and Cocaine Can Cause Heart Failure
It is not uncommon for cocaine users to mix alcohol and cocaine. Those who abuse cocaine say that mixing it with alcohol takes the edge off the drug, allowing the user to better manage the cocaine high. Alcohol helps ease the symptoms of the paranoia, jitters, racing heart, and delusional thinking caused by cocaine.
Also, cocaine users will use alcohol to manage the terrible crash and come down that happens once the cocaine begins to wear off. Drinking alcohol can bring temporary relief for those who are coming off cocaine. Unfortunately, those who mix alcohol and cocaine are likely unaware of how dangerous this concoction can be.
Alcohol is a depressant. Cocaine is a stimulant. The depressive nature of alcohol curbs the stimulant reaction of the cocaine high. So, basically, when you mix cocaine and alcohol, you are causing confusion in the body. The body doesn’t know whether it is supposed to go high with the cocaine, or come low with the alcohol. Mixing cocaine and alcohol can cause heart attack and even heart failure. It can also cause brain damage, stroke, or paralysis.
Mixing Methamphetamines and Alcohol Can Lead to Even Riskier Behaviors
Meth and alcohol both lower a user’s inhibitions and cause extremely poor judgment. When someone mixes alcohol and meth, he or she is much more likely to engage in risky behavior. Many people who use meth administer the drug by shooting it up with a needle. People who are under the influence of meth and alcohol are much more likely to use dirty needles. They also have an increased likelihood in engaging in unprotected high-risk sex.
Like cocaine, many people mix methamphetamines (meth) with alcohol to reduce the negative side of the stimulant drug. The effects of mixing meth and alcohol are very much the same as mixing cocaine and alcohol. The combination of these two drugs can cause heart failure, stroke, and other frightening health implications. Also, mixing alcohol and meth can cause violent behavior, psychosis, extreme paranoia, and disturbing delusions.
The problem with mixing meth and alcohol is that people will consume larger quantities of alcohol when they use meth. This is because meth does not allow a user to feel the effects of the alcohol, so they will continue to drink and drink more alcohol. When a person goes on a meth-fueled binge that lasts several days, he or she can consume an incredibly large, toxic amount of alcohol without even realizing it. This can lead to alcohol poisoning, which can result in death.
If You’re Going to Use, Don’t Mix
Of course, the ideal solution to drug addiction is recovery. It is recommended that anyone who has a problem with drugs or alcohol (or drugs AND alcohol) get treatment right away. Freedom from addiction is possible and it is within reach. Help is available. If you want to stop using drugs or alcohol, today can be the first day of the rest of your life. However; we recognize that not everyone who has a problem with addiction is ready to get help for their problem.
That being said, this article has outlined the life-threatening problems that can arise from mixing alcohol and other drugs. Whether you are mixing alcohol and opiates or heroin, alcohol and meth, or alcohol and cocaine, stop this practice immediately. Although all drugs are dangerous and can lead to accidental overdose and death, mixing alcohol with other drugs greatly increases the likelihood that you will have a heart attack, stroke, or premature death.
If you’re going to use, be as safe and responsible as you possibly can. DON’T mix alcohol and other drugs. Mixing alcohol with other substances greatly increases the likelihood that you will experience unforeseen health complications.
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