Concurrent Alcohol and Heroin Abuse
Dangers of Abusing Alcohol and Heroin
The dangerous combination of alcohol and heroin gets widespread publicity every year from tragedies that remind the public how alcohol amplifies the already powerful effects of heroin on the central nervous system.
The reason why this partnership is particularly lethal is that heroin is a depressant, as is alcohol. When the body takes on a double-depressant:
- One’s heart rate can slow to a dangerously low level and even stop, or you can also simply stop breathing.
- Less oxygen-rich blood gets pumped to the brain, which can cause cells there to become depleted and even die within just minutes.
The combination of heroin and alcohol creates a synergistic effect. Overdoses of heroin and alcohol can put the user in a coma, cause brain damage and even lead to death.
Heroin, which is synthesized from morphine that is extracted from the opium poppy plant, comes either in white or brown powder form or as a black and sticky substance. Unregulated in any way, it can sometimes contain other substances like fentanyl, which can present a number of risks. Known as “smack,” “junk,” “black tar,” “ska” and “horse” on the street, heroin causes a tragic number of overdoses and deaths.
Law enforcement officials and others are concerned about a recent uptick in heroin usage in the US. As the abuse of prescription painkillers is targeted by many agencies, those who used such drugs often turn to heroin. A 2012 study in the New England Journal of Medicine confirmed this troubling trend.
Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol With Heroin
If you suspect someone in your life of abusing alcohol and heroin, look for these signs of concurrent alcohol and heroin abuse:
- Lack of motivation.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Sudden itching of the arms.
Combined Effects of Heroin and Alcohol
Despite the feeling of euphoria that heroin can give the user, the number of negative concurrent alcohol and heroin abuse effects is many, and this can lead to extreme dangers.
Here are a few of the very real problems that concurrent heroin and alcohol abuse can bring to the user while high:
- Numbness and impaired coordination, making any task difficult (e.g. driving).
- Lightheadedness that can lead to dizziness and loss of consciousness.
- Shallow breathing to no breathing, as the brain slows down and doesn’t tell the lungs to function.
- Slowed heart rate that can lead to no heartbeat as the brain is deprived of oxygen.
Treatment for Co-occurring Alcohol and Heroin Addiction
Because heroin is so addictive and breaking free from the grip of alcohol and heroin addiction can be so difficult, getting help in a residential setting is often preferred by those struggling with this addiction. It is extremely difficult to kick this habit without help.
Methadone may be used in the treatment of heroin addiction. Methadone dosages must be very carefully regulated by trained and certified professionals. If alcohol remains in the user’s system, other forms of detoxification might be attempted. Subutex (buprenorphine) or Suboxone (buprenophrine + naloxone) may alternatively be used as part of recovery from heroin.
Any quality rehab center will ensure that the abuser receives intensive counseling and follow-up monitoring after a period in a residential or inpatient rehab center. All research shows that withdrawal from heroin is extremely difficult during the first 12 months of abstinence. This is actually when many overdoses occur, as users crave the drug and eventually succumb to that desire by taking an excess amount.
Statistics on Alcohol and Heroin
For reasons of price or availability, heroin use has been climbing in the US over the past several years. A 2011 survey showed that 4.2 million Americans aged 12 and older had tried heroin at some point in their lives.
The statistic that is truly troubling is that which indicates that a full 23% of those who try heroin get hooked on it. The drug is a major problem, particularly among middle- and upper-class teens and people who had previously used prescription painkillers to get high.
Teen Drinking and Heroin Abuse
In smaller, less-developed bodies such as those inhabited by teens, the double whammy of alcohol and heroin can be particularly deadly.
Teens who drink alcohol and take heroin also become severely impaired in their coordination, making driving an ill-advised gamble whenever these two substances are used together. Total rates of teens taking heroin with or without alcohol are still relatively low, but they are climbing slightly, and this combination can be far more deadly than that of other drugs.
Resources, Articles and More Information
To learn more, visit the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s website or see the following articles:
- Why Is Heroin So Addictive?
- Heroin History and Statistics
- Heroin Use Increasing Across New Demographics
If you want to break loose from alcohol and heroin addictions before they take over your life, call for free at to get help determining your treatment options and resources. You can also find support today by visiting our community forum and sharing your story.