According to statistics compiled by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), roughly 25 percent of substance-related emergency room admissions involve a combination of both drugs and alcohol.
Although heavily abusing “just alcohol” or “only drugs” is hazardous, the combination of the two can be a recipe for disaster. In short, combining drugs and alcohol either masks effects, which increases the risk of consuming too much, or the combination causes a “double-whammy” effect on the same cognitive and physical function.
Alcohol and Benzodiazepines
A symptom of rampant prescription drug abuse, benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax and Ativan) are the most common drugs mixed with alcohol. Unfortunately, this combination is also one of the most lethal. Both alcohol and benzodiazepines slow down the central nervous system. When combined, the central nervous is affected twice as hard, which can lead to severe loss of coordination, coma and significantly increase the risk of overdose and death.
Alcohol and Opiates
Alcohol and opiates also make for a particularly lethal combination, since each one enhances the sedative effects of the other. Much like benzodiazepines, illegal opiates like heroin and prescription opioids (OxyContin, Vicodin, hydrocodone) seriously depress the central nervous system. Both alcohol and opiates slow down breathing in different physical ways. Along with this one-two punch to breathing, both substances inhibit coughing reflexes. Not surprisingly, respiratory arrest is particularly common with this combination.
Alcohol and Stimulants
Unlike alcohol/benzodiazepines or alcohol/opiate combinations, the combination of alcohol and stimulants counteracts each substance’s effects to an extent. In other words, stimulants (cocaine, speed, meth, Ritalin, Adderall) mask the depressive effects of alcohol, while alcohol dulls the “edge” of stimulants. This significantly increases the risk of taking more than your body can handle. Also, when you mix cocaine and alcohol, your body creates a byproduct called cocaethylene in the liver, a dangerous chemical compound that increases the chances of overdose.
Like a game of Russian roulette, mixing alcohol and drugs commonly produces tragic results, especially after spinning the cylinder a number of times. Regardless of a person’s tolerance, the human body cannot handle the powerful effects of certain combinations. Although mixing any alcohol and drug combination is dangerous, no one should pull the trigger on these three combinations.
Additional Reading: Mars vs. Venus: How Does Gender Affect Prescription Drugs?
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