Methamphetamine is a potent stimulant that produces both an addictive high and a slew of negative effects. When combined with alcohol, the effects may be even more harmful.
Meth is a fine, odorless, white powder that is typically smoked, snorted, or injected. Its desired effects include:
- Intense euphoric rush.
- Decreased appetite.
- Increased energy and attention.
Meth is typically used in a “binge and crash” manner, in which the user repeatedly uses more of the drug once the effects begin to wear off. This allows the individual to maintain the desired high associated with meth. As the binge period comes to an end, the user may find that taking more meth does not provide the same “high” as it did previously, and they may enter what many refer to as the “tweaking” stage. During this time, many users take a sedating or depressant substance like alcohol in an attempt to alleviate the intense discomfort associated with this phase.
As a central nervous system depressant, alcohol decreases the individual’s heart and respiratory rate. When mixed with methamphetamine, the effects of alcohol are harder to distinguish, because meth’s powerful stimulant effects can mask the intoxication associated with alcohol consumption. Alcohol and methamphetamine are both separately toxic to the cardiovascular system. When meth and alcohol are mixed together, an immense amount of strain to cardiac health can result, and the potential for fatal effects becomes quite pronounced.
Alcohol and Meth Facts
- Illicitly manufactured meth often includes many different harmful contaminant substances such as antifreeze, ammonia, hydrochloric acid, battery acid and lighter fluid.
- When methamphetamine and alcohol are mixed together, users may drink more than they typically would due to meth masking the alcohol intoxication. This significantly increases the potential for high quantity alcohol consumption, and the resultant risk of alcohol poisoning.
- Long-term meth use can cause changes in brain chemistry associated with impaired ability to listen and communicate, decreased motor skills, and emotional problems.
- Crystal meth users tend to engage in risky sexual practices, which can increase the risk of contracting HIV.
- About 1 in every 12 adults is dependent on or abuses alcohol, per the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD).
Signs and Symptoms
Recognizing a meth and alcohol habit early on can be key to stopping it. There are some recognizable signs and symptoms associated with concurrent alcohol and meth abuse:
- Slurred speech.
- Unsteady gait.
- Coordination problems.
- Memory problems.
- Uncontrolled eye movements.
- Weight loss and malnutrition.
- Increased heart and breathing rate.
- Dilated pupils.
- Chest pain.
- Irregular heartbeat.
- Sweating or chills.
- Muscle contractions.
- Muscular weakness.
- Suicidal ideation.
- Tooth decay and fractures, also referred to as “meth mouth”.
If you or a loved one exhibits any number of these signs or symptoms, substance abuse treatment can provide help—call 1-888-744-0069 to speak to a treatment support specialist about alcohol and meth addiction recovery programs.
Combined Effects of Using Alcohol with Meth
The combination of meth and alcohol is a particularly dangerous one. Meth conceals the user’s perception of drunkenness, so meth users who drink will often continue to do so far beyond the safe or normal amount. This can result in blood or alcohol poisoning, which can be deadly.
The presence of alcohol alongside meth also increases blood pressure more than when either is used on its own. This can precipitate a cardiac arrest or stroke. Chronic methamphetamine use can cause heart failure, while long-term alcohol consumption may cause irregular heart beats, high blood pressure, or heart muscle dysfunction.
There are many problems that can stem from using alcohol and meth together, including:
- High blood pressure.
- Brain damage.
- Violent behaviors.
- Chronic liver damage.
- Liver cancer.
- Fatty liver.
- Hypertrophic endocardium.
- Alcoholic hepatitis.
- Mouth and throat cancer.
- Breast cancer.
- Sudden death.
Treatment for Co-occurring Alcohol and Meth Addiction
There are a number of different treatment options for those suffering from a co-occurring addiction to alcohol and methamphetamine. There isn’t any one treatment that is considered the most effective; it all depends on your individual needs. Here are some questions to ask when considering treatment:
- How severe is your addiction?
- Do you want to live at home or at a rehab facility as you get treatment?
- Do you have responsibilities you can’t leave?
- Do you want to stay close to home or travel far away?
- Do you have insurance or the funds needed to pay for rehab?
- Do you want your family to be able to visit you?
- Do you want a 12-step program or an alternative approach?
Below are some types of treatment programs available:
- Inpatient treatment: You will live at the facility for either 30, 60, or 90 days, undergoing detoxification, individual therapy, group counseling, medical maintenance, and aftercare planning. Inpatient (or residential) recovery programs are often sought after for the treatment of severe addiction, for those addicted to multiple substances and for those with a dual diagnosis (i.e., concurrent substance abuse and mental health issues).
- Outpatient treatment: You will live at home while attending counseling/therapy/recovery program meetings around your daily schedule. This allows you to meet your school, home, or work obligations.
- Individual therapy: You will meet one-on-one with a therapist to develop and build coping skills to be utilized in stressful situations.
- Group counseling: For those who prefer a group situation, you will meet in a group with a mental health professional that will facilitate a therapy session in which patients share their experiences associated with substance abuse.
- 12-step programs: Fellowships – such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Crystal Meth Anonymous – are free to join and provide the recovering user with a supportive and encouraging environment.
- Non 12-step programs: These alternative recovery programs promote addiction recovery and work to empower members.
The Matrix Model is a commonly used addiction treatment program for those suffering from an addiction to a stimulant like methamphetamine. In this program, the therapist serves as both a coach and a teacher and focuses on fostering an empowering environment that increases self-esteem and dignity. Some elements of the program include:
- Drug education.
- Self-help program participation.
- Group and family therapy.
- Relapse prevention.
- Family education.
- Urine tests.
- Social support groups.
- Relapse analysis.
Statistics on Alcohol and Meth Use
Below are some eye-opening statistics associated with alcohol and methamphetamine use from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA):
- 440,000 individuals reported methamphetamine use in the past month.
- In 2012, the average age of a new meth user was just under 20 years old.
- Over 100,000 emergency department visits in 2011 were associated with methamphetamine use, which is a decrease since 2004.
- The majority of individuals entering addiction treatment for meth are white males.
- Men engage in binge drinking about twice as often as women.
- Over 28 million people were estimated to have driven a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol in 2013.
- About 32% of emergency room visits were associated with alcohol, either alone or mixed with other drugs.
Teen Drinking and Meth Abuse
Concurrent alcohol and meth use can be particularly dangerous for teens, as their brains are still developing. Mixing meth and alcohol can easily lead to alcohol poisoning since the stimulant masks the depressant effects of alcohol. While both substances can be dangerous and life-threatening when abused independently, the risk of overdose increases when they are combined.
Below are some statistics associated with teen drinking and meth abuse from NIDA:
- Studies have revealed that sophomores and seniors use methamphetamine less often than they did 5 years ago.
- Nearly 2% of adolescents from 8th to 12th grade have reported meth use in the past year.
- 64% of high school seniors have reported drinking alcohol in their lifetime.
- There were more than 75,000 alcohol-related emergency room visits for adolescents aged 12 to 17 in 2009.
Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control logs over 4,300 deaths per year from alcohol abuse by underage drinkers.
Resources, Articles and More Information
To learn more about alcohol and meth and the troubling effects of use, see the following:
If you or a loved one need help with alcohol and meth abuse, call 1-888-744-0069 .
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- Ravenel, M., & Salinas, C. (2012). Methamphetamine abuse and oral health: A pilot study of “meth mouth.” Quintessence International, 43(3), 229-237.
- Health Risks of Alcohol and Drug Use. (n.d.). Retrieved December 29, 2015, from http://www.darton.edu/current/stu_aff/pdfs/counseling/2010_HealthRisks-Alcohol_n_DrugUse.pdf
- Alcohol’s Effects on the Body. (n.d.). Retrieved December 29, 2015, from http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/alcohols-effects-body
- Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. (5th ed.). (2013). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.
- Mau, M. (2009). Risk factors associated with methamphetamine use and heart failure among Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Island peoples. VHRM Vascular Health and Risk Management, 5, 45-52.
- The Matrix Model (Stimulants). (2012, December). Retrieved January 25, 2016, from http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/evidence-based-approaches-to-drug-addiction-treatment/behavioral-3
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- Drug-Related Hospital Emergency Room Visits. (2011, May). Retrieved January 25, 2016, from http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/drug-related-hospital-emergency-room-visits
- Consumption of Alcoholic Beverages and Liquor Consumption by Michigan High School Students, 2011. (2015). Retrieved January 26, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2015/15_0290.htm
- Methamphetamine (Meth). (2016, January 15). Retrieved January 26, 2016, from https://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/methamphetamine