Concurrent Alcohol and Drug Use

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Mixing alcohol with prescription or illicit drugs can be harmful. For example, mixing alcohol with certain medications could lead to or worsen side effects such as nausea, drowsiness, fainting, or difficulty breathing 1.

A Dangerous Combination

Because alcohol is a depressant, it can make you sleepy or lightheaded. So when you combine alcohol with another drug—for example, a stimulant such as cocaine—your brain receives conflicting signals. The effects of each individual substance may be somewhat masked, leading to unchecked combined consumption that can quickly overwhelm the person.

If you combine alcohol with another depressant, such as heroin, the two substances work to intensify the depressant effects, putting your brain and your entire central nervous system at great risk for harmful side effects 1.

And mixing alcohol with opioids such as Vicodin, OxyContin, or Percocet can dangerously slow breathing—leading to coma or death 2.

The statistics bear out the dangers of mixing alcohol with various drugs 3,4,5:

  • In 2015, 26.9% of people ages 18 or older reported that they engaged in binge drinking in the past month.
  • In a study of undergraduate students, researchers found that the prevalence for using alcohol and prescription drugs was 12.1%.
  • One study found that 5% of current drinkers reported using drugs other than marijuana in the last 12 months. In this study, several factors were associated with concurrent alcohol and drug use, such as being younger, having less than a high school education, not having a regular partner, and heavier drinking patterns.

Concurrent Alcohol and Prescription Drug Use

Concurrent Alcohol and Illicit Drug Use

Getting Treatment for Concurrent Alcohol and Drug Use

If you are struggling with an addiction to drugs and alcohol, the best thing you can do is to seek professional treatment. Several treatment options are available, including the following:

  • Detox—Typically lasting 5-10 days, depending on your drugs of choice and length of use, detox programs are designed to safely and effectively rid your body of the drug. Detoxing in an inpatient or outpatient setting can help relieve your withdrawal symptoms and give your body time to adjust to no longer having the drug in its system. Supervision is especially important when detoxing from multiple substances at once. Depending on the drug, the facility, and your severity of addiction, the detox process may involve medication-assisted treatment. 
  • Inpatient Treatment—Inpatient treatment is more intensive than an outpatient setting because you live at the treatment center and receive constant medical and clinical supervision while you withdraw from a drug. Inpatient treatment can take place in a hospital setting, clinic, or residential treatment facility. The relatively intensive care made available in inpatient settings can be the right approach to simultaneously tackle more than one substance abuse issue at once. Because many inpatient treatment centers offer a more comprehensive and immersive treatment approach, they are often more expensive than outpatient options.
  • Outpatient Treatment—In an outpatient setting, you live at home and come into the treatment center for groups and individual therapy. There are varying levels of care available, including partial hospitalization programs (PHP), intensive outpatient programs (IOP), and standard outpatient programs. The primary differences in outpatient levels of treatment are how many days a week and how many hours per day you attend.
  • Support Groups—Before, during, or after treatment you can attend support groups, which are designed for people suffering from alcohol abuse, drug addiction, or both. Although these groups originated as in-person meetings, there are now resources online that you can access too. In the 12-step model, you follow specific recovery steps to help moveyourself through treatment and beyond.
  • AftercareAftercare is crucial to ensuring that you maintain a drug-free lifestyle after your treatment program. During treatment, your therapist will help you develop an aftercare plan to prepare you for common triggers or urges to use that you may face after treatment. Aftercare could include seeing a therapist regularly, attending a 12-step group, checking in with a sponsor, getting involved in your treatment program’s alumni program, or volunteering.


  1. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2014). Harmful Interactions.
  2. University of Michigan. (2017). The Effects of Combining Alcohol with Other Drugs.
  3. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2014). Alcohol Facts and Statistics.
  4. McCabe, S. E., Cranford J. A., Morales, M. & Young, A. (2006). Simultaneous and Concurrent Polydrug Use of Alcohol and Prescription Drugs: Prevalence, Correlates, and Consequences. Journal of Studies on Alcohol67(4), 529–537.
  5. Midanik, L. T., Tam, T. W. & Weisner, C. (2007). Concurrent and Simultaneous Drug and Alcohol Use: Results of the 2000 National Alcohol Survey. Drug and Alcohol Dependence90(1), 72–80.
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Lauren worked as a Web Content Writer at Recovery Brands. Before working at Recovery Brand, she served as the Program Director for a community-based HIV/AIDS and cancer non-profit in San Francisco.

Lauren holds a B.A. in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins University and a Master’s in Public Health from the University of California, Berkeley.

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