Dangerous Alcohol and Drugs Interactions

Last Updated: June 12, 2020

Authored by Nena Messina, Ph.D.

Consuming unprescribed medications and illegal drugs can have serious repercussions on our physical and emotional health as well as on careers, studies, and relationships with those around us. Similarly, drinking too much causes a wide range of problems for our health and wellbeing from short-term consequences such as blackouts and hangovers to more serious issues like irreversible liver damage, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome; a type of permanent brain damage also known as ‘Wet Brain’ and a number of potentially fatal cancers. When we consume two or more intoxicating substances together, we run the risk of suffering any number of unpredictable consequences.

Addiction can Manifest in Many Ways

Many people who suffer from substance abuse issues find that their addiction takes on different faces. Often, instead of being addicted to one particular drug or to drinking alone, addictions can include drugs, alcohol and other behaviors. It is common for addicts to replace one addiction with another, moving from drinking heavily to taking drugs or mixing weed and alcohol with other drugs.

Getting the Correct Information

Urban myths may further confuse the issue, leading some users to ask is weed better than alcohol or are prescription drugs less harmful than illegal narcotics? A lot of misinformation circulates about using medications for alcohol withdrawal or to break the addiction to other substances. Much of this information is inaccurate, misleading, and potentially very dangerous. This comprehensive guide can help to find out the facts about drugs and alcohol and the risks involved in consuming both.

Drugs, Alcohol and Substance Abuse Fatalities

Along with other substances, addiction to and abuse of booze is one of the most common problems facing society today. It is a huge factor in increasing levels of heart disease, a variety of different cancers, cognitive dysfunction and cirrhosis of the liver. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, in the United States, every year, an estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes, and in people aged between 15 and 49, it is the leading risk factor for premature disability and death. These figures show that alcohol alone can cause severe health problems. When drugs are added to the mix, the risk of death, long-term illness, or disability increases significantly.

The Facts about Drinking and Drugs

Since drinking is legal, many people mistakenly believe that it is not as harmful as taking drugs, and there is little understanding of drugs and alcohol facts. Experts have studied the short and long-term effects of alcohol vs. drugs, and findings suggest that the consequences of drinking heavily are just as serious as those of drug use. To help to better understand the relationship with liquor, take an alcohol addiction self-assessment questionnaire. The answers are fully confidential and won’t be shared with anyone.

What Happens When Alcohol Is Mixed With Illegal Drugs and Other Substances?

The effects of drugs and alcohol can vary enormously from person to person, depending on the type of medicine and the quantity of drink consumed. Individual tolerance for booze and other substances can be influenced by lots of different factors, including our physical and mental health, tiredness, and any other medication, prescribed or illegal that we may be taking. Most people find that when they are feeling tired or suffering from a virus or infection, their liquor tolerance is reduced, and this is the same for other psychoactive substances. Our current emotional state can also have a severe impact on how we respond to drugs and alcohol.

Alcohol and Drug Misuse and Domestic Violence

Alcohol and Cocaine, PCP (Phencyclidine), and Crystal Meth (Methamphetamine) have been linked to violent behavior, and the US Government reports that drinking plays a part in 40% of all violent crimes. A study by the US National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence has shown that the children of substance abusers are three times as likely to be abused and four times as likely to be neglected than children whose parents do not abuse alcohol and drugs.

Regulation of Illegal Drugs Vs. Alcohol

Although the quality of commercially produced liquor, beer, spirits, and wine is regulated, it’s important to remember that this is not the case for illegal drugs. Since the production of these substances is controlled by criminal organizations, narcotics are regularly mixed with all kinds of other pharmaceutical or chemical products. Since there is no quality control or testing standards for illegal substances, the same quantity of a narcotic like cocaine or heroin can have completely different effects on the mind and body on separate occasions.

Illicit Drugs are Regularly Cut with Lethal Chemicals and Other Substances

On several occasions, police have tested confiscated drugs and found that they have been cut with rat poison, drain cleaner, and other toxic materials. In 2016, a study revealed that more than 60% of the cocaine seized by authorities in the US contained Levamisole, a potentially lethal chemical that has been linked to bladder cancer and can permanently damage the immune system and cause seizures and death. Drug labs may also cut expensive drugs like cocaine with cheaper substances such as amphetamines meaning that most of the time, drug users have no real idea about precisely what they are consuming.

The Risk Factors for Mixing Illegal Substances

Combining illegal drugs with drinking is a recipe for disaster. To begin with, consuming liquor affects our judgment, making us likely to make bad or unsafe decisions. Many people are more easily persuaded by members of their peer group to take drugs when they are drunk. Recovering drug addicts who find themselves back in rehab after detox often report that their relapse occurred after they had been drinking heavily and when their judgment and risk perception was poor.

Drinking and Taking Drugs Leads to Dangerous Behavior

As well as making people more likely to say yes to a dangerous substance, excessive drinking can lead to irresponsible behavior which exposes people to HIV and Hepatitis as well as STIs and unplanned pregnancy. Consuming weed or alcohol with other substances will alter the effects of most drugs upon the body. Some substances will work together, combining to compound or magnify the effects of that drug on the body. Others will fight against each other causing a struggle in the brain or internal organs as the body tries to counteract or suppress the effects of one or more substances.

What are the Effects of Mixing Heroin and Alcohol?

Booze and Heroin are both depressants, so each of the two substances will amplify the effects of the other. These two are a particularly dangerous combination because drinking with Heroin can cause the heart rate and respiratory system to slow down, increasing the chance of overdose and death. According to the British National Health Service, approximately 75% of deaths from heroin overdose also involve drinking. US statistics are similar. Drinking also plays a significant factor in the relapse of recovering heroin addicts as the consumption of liquor leads to impaired judgment and a higher degree of risk-taking.

The Physical Consequences of Drinking with Heroin

Drunk heroin users are more likely to take larger quantities of the drug, risking death from the overdose as well as placing an extra toxic load on the liver and other organs. Users who inject the drug place themselves at high risk of contracting HIV and Hepatitis from shared needles.  Additionally, damage to veins as a result of intravenous drug use can cause permanent disfigurement, paralysis, infection, serious circulatory problems and can even lead to the amputation of limbs. Overall, heroin has no medical use, and it is prohibited to deal with it anyhow.

What Happens When Someone Combines Cocaine with Alcohol?

Cocaine is known to be consumed in powdered form by inhalation or smoked as crack cocaine. Both types of this drug can have severe and detrimental effects. Mixing cocaine and alcohol is a potentially lethal cocktail that can place massive pressure on the body. Cocaine is a stimulant that works to speed up the brain and nervous system while liquor is a depressant with the opposite effect. When cocaine and alcohol are mixed, this causes an internal conflict in which one substance works against the other.

Cocaethylene and how it Affects the Mind and Body

Combining booze with cocaine causes the liver to produce a highly toxic byproduct called Cocaethylene. This substance magnifies the effects of drinking on our bodies and can cause erratic behavior and aggression. Cocaethylene remains in the body for longer than either drink or cocaine alone, increasing the risk of heart and liver damage, and it can be detected in routine drugs and alcohol testing more than 12 hours after consumption. This leads to extended pressure on the organs, which is already dangerous enough before we consider that the cocaine has almost certainly been cut with other toxic and psychoactive substances.

Alcohol and Crystal Meth

Crystal methamphetamine is a dangerous and highly addictive stimulant, synthesized from over the counter medications containing Pseudoephedrine and generally manufactured in home-made, unregulated laboratories. Heavy drinking and meth use often go together and many recovering addicts tell that they first tried meth after they had been drinking heavily. The drug stimulates the brain’s production of Dopamine, causing it to create large and unhealthy amounts of this neurotransmitter. After continued meth use, our natural ability to create this crucial chemical is eventually permanently destroyed.

What Happens When Alcohol and Crystal Meth Are Mixed?

Meth is a stimulant, and booze is a depressant; when taken together, the two substances can counteract each other leading to increased stress on the brain and other organs. Another dangerous factor is that the combination can trick the user into believing that they are not as intoxicated as they are. This increases the risk of alcohol poisoning, and overdose as users may take more meth or drink more. Drinking with crystal meth is associated with heart problems, paranoia, violent behavior, seizures and psychotic episodes.

Drinking and Smoking Weed

Combining marijuana and booze may not be considered to be as dangerous as other drugs, but mixing the two substances can cause complications and lead to serious physical and psychological consequences. The active ingredient in cannabis is Tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly known as THC. As most of the weed on the streets is illegally produced, there is no standardization or quality control and the THC content can vary widely from one product to another.

The Effects of Mixing Weed and Alcohol

Consuming alcohol and weed can make people much more sensitive to THC, leading to a whole range of unpleasant consequences. Mixing alcohol and weed will often lead to a much stronger reaction and can cause physical nausea and vomiting, along with panic, anxiety, and paranoia. The varieties of marijuana or cannabis, which have the highest concentrations of THC are those who will react most strongly when weed and alcohol mix.

Is it Safe to Drink with Xanax?

Some users mistakenly think that because Xanax is not an illegal drug, it is okay to combine it with alcohol. Xanax is a prescription medication, designed for the treatment of specific conditions. Doctors will only prescribe it to patients when they have examined them physically, identifying any pre-existing medical conditions to ensure that the drug will not cause any physical damage or interact with other prescribed medications. It is prohibited to take Xanax without prescription.

Dangers of Mixing Xanax and Alcohol

Xanax is a benzodiazepine and a central nervous system depressant. Booze, also a depressant, will compound the effects of the drug, particularly at high doses. At small doses, the Xanax Alcohol combination will make users feel relaxed and euphoric, but larger doses and heavy drinking can be problematic, leading to lightheadedness, fatigue, and confusion. Drinking with Xanax is also linked with irritability and aggression, and prolonged use of the two substances together can lead to severe cognitive issues, memory problems, and even permanent liver damage.

The Consequences of Mixing Valium and Alcohol

Liquor and Valium (Diazepam) is a potentially lethal combination, and that is why when prescribing this medication, doctors always warn patients to avoid drinking completely. The two substances work together to intensify sensations of intoxication. Valium can dramatically lower the body’s alcohol tolerance leading to impaired coordination, confusion, dizziness, and drowsiness. It has also been associated with aggression and violence. The combination of the two substances could lead to alcohol poisoning, drug overdose, and death.
Valium shouldn’t be consumed without a valid prescription and permission of a medical doctor.

What Happens When Someone Combines Alcohol with Paracetamol?

Mixing Paracetamol and alcohol should be done with extreme caution. Drinking a small amount with a low dose isn’t necessarily dangerous, but users should be aware of the risks. Although readily available as an over the counter medicine, paracetamol when overused can cause irreversible liver damage and death. Every year, there are hundreds of accidental deaths as a result of people losing track of how much paracetamol they have consumed. As drinking can affect cognitive function, especially memory, it is easy to forget having already taken a dose of paracetamol and accidentally taking a second dose.

How Alcohol Can Lead to Paracetamol Overdose?

Just 1000 mg of Paracetamol more than the maximum daily recommended dose of 4000 mg, can be enough to kill. Since drinking puts pressure on the liver, the combination of liquor with too much paracetamol makes it even more difficult for the body to process this extra toxic load. The chances of a paracetamol overdose leading to death are much higher when the patient has been drinking.

For more information on drug safety, visit the U.S Food & Drug Administration website. If there is concern about how much or how often a loved one is drinking, call the helpline number to talk to a professional, caring rehabilitation professional.  For more information on these and other drugs, check NHTSA Drugs and Human Performance Fact Sheets.

Page Sources

  1. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
  2. https://www.ncadd.org/about-addiction/alcohol-drugs-and-crime
  3. https://www.centeronaddiction.org/addiction-research/reports/no-safe-haven-children-substance-abusing-parents
  4. https://www.fda.gov/drugs/drug-safety-and-availability
  5. http://www.wsp.wa.gov/breathtest/docs/webdms/DRE_Forms/Publications/drug/Human_Performance_Drug_Fact_Sheets-NHTSA.pdf

Published on: March 9th, 2018

Updated on: June 12th, 2020

About Author

Nena Messina, Ph.D.

Nena Messina is a specialist in drug-related domestic violence. She devoted her life to the study of the connection between crime, mental health, and substance abuse. Apart from her work as management at addiction center, Nena regularly takes part in the educational program as a lecturer.


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