Alcohol is one of the most widely used substances in the country. According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), more than 86 percent of people aged 18 and over reported having drunk alcohol at some time during their lives. More than 70 percent of people drank alcohol in the past year, and more than 56 percent of people drank alcohol in the past month.
Of greater concern than the number of people who reported having had any alcohol was the prevalence of people who reported binge drinking or heavy alcohol use. Almost 27 percent of adults who responded to the 2015 NSDUH reported binge drinking in the past month. Seven percent of people had engaged in heavy alcohol use in the past month.
One of the reasons alcohol is used so widely is because it can produce many desirable effects on the body. The effects any single person experiences will vary depending on many factors, such as the type of alcohol consumed, the amount consumed, and personal metabolism and body weight.
Many effects of alcohol use, which can range from minor to severe, include:
Side Effects of Alcohol
The above effects of alcohol use are related to short-term alcohol use, or what might be experienced during one night of drinking. Heavy drinking, however, over a long period can cause serious long-term effects on one’s health. Permanent damage to the brain, liver, heart, pancreas, and bones as well as the chance of developing certain cancers are all risks of long-term alcohol abuse.
According to the Center for Substance Abuse Research, mixing alcohol with other drugs greatly increases your chances of experiencing adverse effects from drinking. The side effects of combining alcohol with other substances depend on the substances used. Depressants and stimulants will create very different effects on the body when mixed with alcohol.
Mixing alcohol with depressant drugs, for example, benzodiazepines such as Valium and Xanax, or opioids such as heroin, can dangerously increase the depressant effects on your central nervous system. Alcohol is also a depressant, so when it is used in combination with other depressant drugs, the risk of experiencing a fatal overdose greatly increases. When an unsafe amount of depressant substances are in your system, you run the risk of experiencing a dangerously low breathing rate and heart rate. Such effects can lead to respiratory failure, coma, and death.
Mixing alcohol with stimulant drugs also comes with many risks. Stimulant drugs, such as methamphetamine and cocaine, are referred to as “uppers” because they increase alertness and energy. They are sometimes taken concurrently with alcohol in an attempt to mask the sedative effects of alcohol. This is a risky combination, however, because people are more likely to consume a greater amount of alcohol since they won’t be able to feel its effects as well. This puts them at a much higher risk of alcohol poisoning.
Mixing alcohol and cocaine, as with most other drugs, is a particularly risky practice, as the consequences can be fatal. Alcohol is a depressant, and cocaine is a stimulant so the drugs can mask the true impact of each other on the body. Sometimes, people drink alcohol to reduce some of the adverse side effects of cocaine, such as anxiety and muscle twitching.
Additional short-term effects of cocaine include:
Short-Term Effects of Cocaine
Like alcohol, there are many serious and long-term effects associated with cocaine use. Irregular heartbeat, heart attack, seizure, stroke, and coma are just some of the major risks.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) warns that mixing cocaine and alcohol can be especially dangerous. The two substances can mix together and produce a chemical, known as cocaethylene, that is toxic to the heart and can lead to heart failure.
People combining alcohol and cocaine may be trying to control the side effects produced by one drug or the other while being unaware of the toxic effects the combination has on their bodies. It is tough to regulate the side effects of any particular substance because they are difficult to anticipate, and the effects of each drug can wear off at different rates.
In general, polydrug use, or mixing multiple substances at the same time, is never a safe practice. The substances react to one another and cause different effects on the body than when they are consumed individually. Combining alcohol with other substances is one of the most common forms of polydrug use, and it can have a significant impact on the experience of the other substance.
When alcohol is combined with cocaine, it increases the amount of cocaine in your blood by roughly 30 percent. Likewise, cocaine can enhance the effects of alcohol, making you feel even drunker than if you had only consumed alcohol. Because alcohol and cocaine enhance each other’s intoxicating effects, it is highly risky to mix any amount of the two drugs.
If you feel you must mix alcohol and cocaine, doses should be minimal. The safest thing to do, however, is not to consume any alcohol while using other drugs, including prescription medications. Alcohol can lead to unintended side effects of other drugs, including fatal overdose.
Despite the many risks associated with mixing alcohol and cocaine, many people consume the substances at the same time. According to the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), cocaine use and episodes of heavy drinking are often associated with one another. Studies have also found that more than half of people in treatment for a cocaine addiction were also struggling with an alcohol use disorder.
The risks of combining alcohol and cocaine range from short-term intoxicating effects to long-term health problems. Additionally, polydrug use tends to cause people to consume more of each substance than they would if the substances were used individually. This behavior increases the chances of developing a substance use disorder.
Because of the unpredictable and often unforeseen consequences of mixing alcohol and cocaine, medical experts and substance abuse professionals do not recommend mixing these substances. Harm reduction techniques can be used to slightly lower the risks of mixing such substances although the safety of polydrug use can never be guaranteed.
(October 2018). Alcohol. Center for Substance Abuse Research. from http://www.cesar.umd.edu/cesar/drugs/alcohol.asp
(August 2018). Alcohol Facts and Statistics. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
(November 2011). Cocaine and Alcohol. European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction. from http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/online/annual-report/2011/boxes/p67
Poly Drug Use. Release Legal Emergency & Drugs Service. from https://www.release.org.uk/poly-drug-use
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