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Alcohol/Drug Interactions: Which Drugs and Prescriptions Should NOT be Mixed with Ethanol?

It’s very important to understand the way alcohol interacts with various drugs. If you’re someone who is using either prescribed medications, or illicit drugs, this is information you need. Honestly, when it comes right down to what’s OK to mix with ethanol and what’s not, the answer is simple. Nothing. You should never mix any drug with alcohol. This will help to ensure that you’re safe.

The perception is that alcohol is relatively safe. People who take prescription drugs may ignore any warning labels that indicate that they shouldn’t drink. Also, those who use illegal drugs will regularly drink to enhance that drug’s effects. Both scenarios are very dangerous.

Regardless of what situation you’re in right now, you need to know the truth. Mixing drinking with any other substance is likely to have dangerous consequences. It’s a risk that no one should take.

Drug Synergism

What is the Result of Mixing Alcohol With Other Drugs Called?

This is what is referred to as drug synergism. It refers to the interaction that takes place between two or more substances. The result is that the total effect of both drugs is more extreme than the effect of each drug. Doctors regularly rely on synergism to work in their favor when they’re treating patients. However, it is a phenomenon that can also lead to harm.

Alcohol will have a synergistic effect on various drugs and medications. For many, it will cause the effects of the original drug to be multiplied. Of course, drinking also has certain effects of its own. These can also be enhanced when combined with other substances.

Short-Term Effects of Ethanol
What are Some of the Short-Term Effects of Ethanol?

Ethanol is a depressant drug that starts working almost as soon as you take your first sip. It can have a tremendous impact on you in the short-term, which many people don’t realize. This drug will affect your:

  • Ability to make good decisions
  • Vision
  • Coordination
  • Reaction time
  • Judgment

You’re likely to feel sleepy if you drink in excess because ethanol has a relaxation effect. It works by slowing down your brain activity. You may slur your speech, and your body temperature may drop significantly. If you drink in higher doses, you’re likely to suffer from alcohol poisoning. It’s even possible for you to pass out and slip into a coma.

Alcohol poisoning can lead to death. Also, if you drink too much and then fall asleep, you may vomit in your sleep. This can lead to aspiration, which can be fatal as well.

Ethanol tends to have a reputation of being one of the safer substances out there. As you can see, this just isn’t true. It is very dangerous, and it takes lives every single day. When it is combined with other substances, the effects of it become even more serious.

Alcohol in Combination With Prescribed Medications

When you use ethanol in combination with prescribed medications, it can be very dangerous. Of course, ever prescription is different. It’s important to know what can happen if you drink while using the one your doctor prescribed for you.

Alcohol and Opioids

Whenever there is a concern regarding mixing a medication with alcohol, the pharmacy will include a warning label. Unfortunately, people often ignore them. Others might not care about the warning because they’re only drinking to increase the euphoria of the medications. If you are ever unsure about drug interactions with alcohol, you should always check the warning label.

Below, we’ve covered some of the more commonly used prescribed medications and how they interact with alcohol. You may see the drug you’re taking mentioned here.

The opioid epidemic in the United States has risen to astronomical proportions. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has even referred to it as being an epidemic. Statistically, in 2016:

  • There were 116 people who died every day from an overdose related to opioids.
  • 5 million people misused prescription painkillers.
  • More than 42,000 people died because of overdosing on pain pills.
  • 1 million people were diagnosed with an opioid use disorder.
  • More than 2 million people misused prescribed opioid medications for the first time.

Unfortunately, many people who misuse opiates will also drink at the same time. Research has shown that even drinking a small amount of alcohol while taking opioids could be life threatening. According to Science Daily, a growing number of overdose reports indicate that many of these cases involved alcohol.

Opioids are among the most over-prescribed drugs in the U.S. Some of the more common types include:

  • Oxycodone
  • Vicodin
  • Percocet
  • Dilaudid
  • Norco 

Taking these and other opioids along with alcohol can result in respiratory depression. This occurs when your breathing rates become very shallow. In some cases, breathing may stop completely.

You may wonder if you can mix alcohol with blood pressure medication. Many people do, and your prescription may or may not have a label on the bottle. The opinions on this are mixed.

For someone who isn’t on blood pressure medicine, drinking can lead to an increase in blood pressure. However, for someone who is, drinking can cause it to drop significantly. Some experts indicate that moderate drinking shouldn’t be a problem for someone who is taking this type of medicine. However, it’s always best to ere on the side of caution.

If you’re ever in doubt, discuss the situation with your doctor or your pharmacist. They should be able to advise you regarding what’s appropriate for you.

According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, as many as 41% of alcoholics also abuse benzodiazepines. Most who do this are seeking a better high from combining the two. Others may be drinking as a way to prevent withdrawal symptoms.

Like with other drugs, when benzos are combined with alcohol, the effects of both are increased. Alcohol makes benzodiazepines much stronger, and their toxic effects are enhanced. It’s not uncommon for people to suffer from fatal overdoses after mixing them together.

Both benzodiazepines and alcohol work on the same receptors in the brain. This means that you are likely to experience:

  • Memory problems
  • Anti-social behaviors
  • Hostility toward others
  • Aggressive behaviors
  • Irritability and anger

Interestingly enough, benzodiazepines are often given to those who are going through alcohol withdrawal. If these individuals drink while using them, it can be very dangerous. Unfortunately, this happens far too often.

Prescription stimulants are medications that are usually used to treat the symptoms of ADHD. They can be given to both adults and children. Adderall is one of the more commonly prescribed stimulants today. Others include:

  • Ritalin
  • Strattera
  • Concerta
  • Focalin
  • Vyvanse 

These medications are extremely helpful when they’re taken by those who need them. However, they’re frequently used and abused by people without a prescription. This commonly occurs on college campuses. Students will borrow stimulant drugs from their friends because they claim they help them focus. It’s typical to see college students using stimulants to help themselves stay up and study for exams.

When alcohol is combined with drugs like Adderall or other stimulants, the results are dangerous. For one, the two drugs do very different things. However, that doesn’t mean that the effects will cancel each other out. Instead, they work against each other in the body, which can cause a lot of issues. 

If you drink and use stimulants you may experience:

  • Alcohol poisoning because the stimulant medication can make you unaware of the amount you’ve consumed
  • Heart problems, such as an increase in your heart rate
  • An increase in your body temperature
  • Lowered inhibitions and poor decisions
  • Aggressive behaviors

People take antidepressants to help alleviate the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Alcohol is also a depressant, and experts indicate that the two should never be mixed. Even so, people often do combine the two because they enjoy the brief effects of drinking. 

When you drink alcohol, this can lead to a temporary boost of serotonin. This chemical makes you feel good, and it raises your spirits. For someone who deals with depression, this feeling can come as a relief. Likewise, the depressing qualities of drinking can calm anxiety. 

The problem is that when you’re already on an antidepressant, alcohol can lead to too much serotonin. When this occurs, you may develop serotonin syndrome. You might experience symptoms such as: 

  • Feeling restless
  • Severe agitation
  • High blood pressure
  • Bouts of diarrhea
  • Muscle twitching in the body 

Sometimes serotonin syndrome becomes severe, and when it does, it can be life threatening. You may become unconscious, have a high fever, or even develop seizures.

Eventually, if you continue to drink alcohol while on an antidepressant, your depression or anxiety can worsen. This is due to the way long-term ethanol consumption can lead to depleted serotonin levels.

The answer to this medication will vary, depending on what medication you’re using. It’s always best to talk with your doctor or pharmacist to find out for certain. However, you should keep in mind that there are some medications that are never safe with alcohol.

For example, if you’re taking a drug that is in extended release form, you shouldn’t drink alcohol at all. This is because small amounts of the medicine are released in your body over time. You could potentially have a reaction even if you took the medication hours ago.

Alcohol and Illegal Drugs

Alcohol in Combination With Illegal Drugs

Prescription drugs are not the only ones that people typically combine with alcohol. They also regularly mix illegal ones with alcoholic beverages to enhance their effects. This may be done because people develop a tolerance, which is the most common reason.

For many people who use pot, it’s not enough for them to get high. They want to get drunk and high. If this is something you’re considering, but you haven’t tried it yet, you need to know the effects to expect.

According to MedicalDaily, using weed and marijuana at the same time is called cross fading. This type of substance abuse produces a unique high that’s quite different from other drugs. However, regular users indicate that there is a preferred order for the drugs to be used in.

For people who drink alcohol and then smoke pot, they may become pale and dizzy. They may start vomiting and sweating. This is why this method is generally not recommended. As the saying goes, “Smoking grass before beer, you’re in the clear.” Still, you’re never really in the clear when combining pot and alcohol.

When you drink and use marijuana together, you’re likely to overdo it with both substances. You could develop alcohol poisoning if you consume too much. Weed has an anti-nausea effect that can keep you from vomiting out the excess. This puts your body in grave danger.

Using cocaine and drinking can lead to serious heart problems when the two are done separately. These issues are compounded when you combine them. When you mix cocaine and alcohol, studies show that a third chemical is created in the body. This chemical is known as cocaethylene. It builds up in the liver over time as people use these drugs simultaneously.

People typically mix cocaine and alcohol because one intensifies the effects of the other. The details of cocaethylene were not discovered until 1979. Today, people in their 40s are reeling from the effects of decisions they made when they were younger.

Most people who use cocaine and alcohol together admit that they do it so they can drink more. They indicate that doing a line or two of cocaine acts as a way to sober them up. The result is that people are suffering from heart attacks at very young ages.

The use of cocaine is increasing in the United States, and many people are combining it with alcohol. One survey even indicates that about 5 million people admit to using cocaine while drinking each month.

Alcohol and heroin are a deadly combination. Both of these drugs work by depressing the part of the brain that controls the main life functions. For example, blood pressure, breathing, body temperature and reflexes are both impacted. Using only one of these drugs can have a devastating effect on the body. Drug synergism is in play when they’re used together.

When you use heroin, the drug rapidly floods the brain to reach the opioid receptors. This is what gives you that euphoric rush. Ethanol is a chemical that is capable of going anywhere in the body very quickly. It can reach the brain within one minute. After as few as two or three drinks, your judgment can become radically impaired. This can lead to you using too large a dose of heroin, and this can be fatal.

Using heroin and alcohol together can cause the main body functions to shut down. It may become impossible for you to breathe, and other functions can be affected as well.

As we’ve previously discussed, there are a lot of dangers involved with mixing a stimulant with alcohol. The same is true when you drink and use meth. Most people would never consider combining the two together. However, there are those who do it. One study even indicated that people who drink daily are five times more likely to smoke meth.

When people drink and use methamphetamine, they’re usually trying to control their high. Their goal is often to try and counteract the depressant effects of alcohol, while still experiencing the euphoria. You’re likely to find that using them together results in:

  • Less cognitive impairment from the alcohol
  • Feeling less drunk
  • Improved sleep
  • An increase of heart problems
  • A quick tolerance
  • An upset stomach

As with other drugs, the risk of alcohol poisoning is increased when you also smoke meth. You’re likely to underestimate how intoxicated you are, which could put you or others at risk.

Should Using OTC Drugs and Alcohol be Avoided?

Quite often, people never think twice about combining alcohol with over the counter drugs. This is the case even though most OTC drugs clearly indicate that you shouldn’t drink on the label. You may be curious about how dangerous this combination really can be for you.

Let’s take a look at some of the more commonly used over the counter drugs and the effects of alcohol. You might be surprised about what you find.

Many people don’t realize it, but there are a lot of cough medicines on the market that contain alcohol. According to the National Institute Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, some may contain up to 10% alcohol. If you are unaware of this, and you take it and then drink, you could become highly intoxicated. It’s even possible to suffer from alcohol poisoning as a result. Robitussin, one of the most popular brands of cough medicine contains as much as 7% alcohol.

What’s even more concerning is that kids will use cough medicine as a drug to get high. Codeine cough medicine is often combined with soda and jolly ranchers to create a drug called Lean. It’s very common for them to use it in combination with alcohol. This combination can be deadly, and it can easily result in alcohol poisoning.

You may not think that you’d have to worry about a drug as benign as Ibuprofen. In some cases, you would be correct. Experts agree that there isn’t much harm in taking a normal dose and having one serving of alcohol. However, when people use too much of one or the other, that is when problems can arise.

Alcohol can intensify the effects of Ibuprofen. According to HealthLine, this can lead to:

  • An increase in your risk for gastrointestinal bleeding
  • An increased risk of kidney damage
  • A decrease in your alertness
  • A decrease in fatigue
  • Breathing problems

Taking Ibuprofen has been shown to irritate the lining of the stomach. When you drink, this can cause an intestinal perforation, which can be deadly. Elderly individuals and women are specifically at risk.

Questions You May Have About Combining Alcohol and Drugs or Medications

We’ve gone over a lot of information regarding mixing ethanol with other drugs. However, it’s possible that you still have some questions you’d like to have answered. Some of the more commonly asked ones are as follows.

Alcohol/Drug Interaction Information

You may have heard that drinking red wine is supposed to be good for the heart. According to The American Heart Association, this is a myth. Alcohol consumption is very taxing on the heart, and it can cause blood pressure levels to increase dramatically.

Some experts believe that alcohol-induced hypertension occurs because the body is in a constant state of withdrawal. If you’re an alcoholic, you start to feel the effects of ethanol leaving your body as soon as you stop drinking. When your blood pressure increases, your heart has to work harder to pump your blood. Eventually, this can even lead to a heart attack.

You are likely to suffer from serious mental side effects if you drink and use other drugs. For some, this might mean that they have symptoms of depression or anxiety. It’s possible to develop panic or anxiety attacks as a result of some alcohol/drug combinations. For others, the results may be a bit more severe.

There are certain types of drugs that typically lead to paranoia. For example, people who use cocaine or meth are prone to experiencing this mental state. When you combine them with alcohol, the risk of paranoia is increased. Bouts of psychosis may remain for as long as the person is intoxicated, or they could last longer.

Combining alcohol with other drugs is going to have a devastating effect on you in so many ways. It’s important to remember that they can impact you mentally as well as physically.

The answer to this question is that it really depends on a few different factors. Sometimes the effects can be reversed, and sometimes they can’t. If you develop kidney disease, for example, you can be treated, but it may stay with you forever. If you begin suffer from chronic headaches, they may stop once you start to improve.

It’s wiser not to take the risk. Too many people experiment with drugs and alcohol thinking that doctors can fix whatever goes wrong. Unfortunately, that’s not always true.

Yes, it is possible to die when you mix ethanol with any other substance. Most drugs will cause you to not feel the effects of alcohol as much. This means that you could die from poisoning if you drink too much. Also, you need to remember that the situation could even become fatal after just one use.

Sometimes people wrongly assume that mixing drugs and alcohol is only dangerous when done long-term. While there are risks involved with long-term use, short-term use is just as dangerous. At any moment, you may use too much heroin, drink too much alcohol, or take too many pain pills. In many ways, you’re even more at risk if you’re doing it for the first time.

Using Alcohol and Other Drugs, Get the Help You Need Right Away

One of the more common signs of addiction is feeling the need to combine two different drugs. People do this all the time when they’ve developed a tolerance to one drug or to alcohol. The fact is that drinking will enhance the effects of any other substance. However, we want to argue that the resulting risks and complications are not worth the high.

At Northpoint Recovery, we can tell you that many of the addictions we treat involve more than one drug. It’s very common for people to come to us with addictions to alcohol and another type of substance. Fortunately, these individuals are able to get the help they need because they acted quickly.

There’s no reason for you to continue to suffer with your addiction. It’s possible that you haven’t yet tried using alcohol at the same time as your drug of choice. Or, perhaps you’ve been doing so for years. Either way, the time for you to stop using completely has come.

We can assist you with getting the tools and knowledge you need to recover from addiction. With our help, we’re confident that you’ll see the value in embracing a life of being clean and sober.

Do you need to know more about mixing alcohol with other drugs and the interactions that can result? We’re happy to answer any of your questions. Please contact us right away.

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