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Mixing Alcohol With Drugs

Mixing alcohol with prescription drugs or illicit drugs (known as polysubstance use), can have dangerous health effects that many people may not realize. Since alcohol is such a commonly used substance, it’s even more important to understand how it reacts in the body and with other drugs in order to prevent potentially harmful health consequences.
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Dangers of Mixing Drugs and Alcohol

Whether intentional or not, mixing drugs and alcohol presents several health risks. This situation may be of particular concern given just how common drinking behavior is in the United States.3 In 2019, nearly 70% of Americans aged 18 or over reported having a drink in the previous year, and more than half reported drinking within the previous month.3 Just over a quarter reported binge drinking in the last month.3 Almost 15 million Americans aged 12 or over had an alcohol use disorder (AUD) in 2019.3

Since alcohol consumption is so common, there are more opportunities for polysubstance use or misuse. People who drink alcohol commonly use marijuana, opioids, cocaine, and other types of stimulants as well.4 Mixing alcohol with drugs like opioids and benzodiazepines—though it may seem to amplify the sought after effects—can lead to unnecessary health risks, even when therapeutic medication is otherwise used as prescribed.2 When alcohol is combined with drugs, it may increase the risk of potential side effects, overdose, and a range of other medical and mental health issues.1,4,5

Since alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, combining it with other drugs that depress certain physiological functions like breathing­—such as opioids and benzodiazepines—can intensify these potentially dangerous effects.1 Taking alcohol with stimulants, such as cocaine or methamphetamine, can mask some of the intoxicating effects. This puts a person at additional risk for overdose and other adverse health effects of this drug combination.6

alcohol and pills on table