Polydrug use is when more than one substance is used, misused, or abused at the same time. Polydrug use can result in battling physical or psychological dependencies on the substances used, the latter being known as addiction.
People who engage in this practice use prescription medications as well as illegal drugs. Though, past research has shown that alcohol is the main substance that is used along with other drugs.
Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) helps people who have alcohol use disorder (AUD) and opioid use disorder (OUD). It also helps people who have both disorders at the same time. MAT is offered at New Perspectives in West Palm Beach, Florida.
In the case of opioid and alcohol, both are used together at the same time than initially thought. According to one study, data suggest co-use of these two substances is common and likely contributes to opioid overdose-related deaths. The study also found, “Co-use of opioids and alcohol is related to worse outcomes in treatment for either substance.”
Drinking alcohol while taking oxycodone (OxyContin), Percocet, and other opioids raise the risk of overdosing. Side effects of this combination include:
- Breathing difficulties
- Impaired motor functioning
- Memory problems
Co-using alcohol and opioids just illustrates how dangerous it is to combine substances. This commonly happens when people use other substances with alcohol or other drugs or products together. Polysubstance use happens when people wish to enhance the effects of each substance they are using or counter the effects of one substance with another. The combinations of these drugs are endless but dangerous and deadly nonetheless. We highlight some popular alcohol-drug combinations and how users are affected when the two substances come together. Not one of these combinations is recommended.
Risks, Dangers of Mixing Alcohol and Stimulants
Adderall And Alcohol
Using Adderall and alcohol together is putting together two substances that are the opposite of each other. Adderall, a stimulant commonly prescribed to people with Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and alcohol a depressant. When both are in the body at the same time, they don’t cancel each other out. Instead, they compete. Drinking while using this medication is also dangerous because Adderall dulls the symptoms of intoxication. The inability to gauge when too much alcohol has been consumed can lead to alcohol poisoning, and that can be fatal. Drinkers are a danger to themselves and others when they have used Adderall and alcohol. Engaging in this also can worsen ADHD for the people who have it.
Cocaine And Alcohol
The stimulant cocaine is commonly used to enhance the effects of alcohol and create a longer-lasting high. However, when co-users do this, what they may not realize is that they are creating a new substance that can kill them. The new substance is known as cocaethylene or ethylbenzoylecgonine. The chemical is said to be more toxic than cocaine.
Cocaethylene can increase the depressive effects of alcohol. As a result, users may have stronger reactions to cocaine. Having cocaethylene in the system could result in users lashing out and exhibiting violent or aggressive behavior. This poisonous substance also doesn’t exit one’s system quickly either, making vital organs like the heart and liver are vulnerable. Users are also at a higher risk of overdosing when cocaine is mixed with alcohol and/or other drugs.
Ecstasy (MDMA) And Alcohol
Alcohol is often served at raves where ecstasy (MDMA, Molly) is used as well. This means people who use this stimulant are at risk of mixing both drugs, and they may not do it on purpose. Ecstasy increases thirst, so instead of reaching for water, some people will reach for an alcoholic beverage. They either don’t know or are not aware that alcohol is a diuretic; drinking it will only intensify their thirsts and make them lose water. Ecstasy use also commonly takes place at parties and raves where the room is warm, crowded, and high in room temperature. This is not a good scenario as ecstasy is known to make some users overheat. Add that to the fact that alcohol is a diuretic, and the combination means users can become even more dehydrated and are at greater risk of overheating. It’s an easy mistake to make that has its consequences. Using ecstasy with alcohol can impair brain function, make the liver and kidneys fail, and lead to coma or death.
Methamphetamines And Alcohol
When polysubstance users take meth while drinking alcohol, they could drink more than they planned to because methamphetamines and its illegal form, crystal methamphetamine, can mask signs of intoxication. Alcohol poisoning and death are real dangers when this happens. Cardiovascular health is also at risk of being compromised because the heart rate can rise to dangerous levels that could lead to a heart attack or a stroke. This drug combo can also alter mood and behavior, making users more violent or aggressive.
Dangers of Mixing Alcohol and Other Depressants
Co-use that involves alcohol and other kinds of depressants presents different risks than co-use that involves stimulants and depressants. We take a look at some of these below.
Heroin And Alcohol
When alcohol is taken with the illegal opiate street drug heroin, it is usually done to increase the effects of both drugs, which include euphoria, numbness, lightheadedness, and relaxation. This can be dangerous as both substances are central nervous system depressants. This combo can cause the following reactions:
- Coordination problems
- Loss of consciousness (also could indicate overdose)
- Shallow breathing
- Slowed or irregular heart rate
- Shaking (tremors)
Marijuana And Alcohol
Mixing marijuana and alcohol is creating a doubling up on the dose of depressants. Marijuana is often seen as a harmless substance or at least one that is less dangerous. However, this substance, which comes from the cannabis sativa plant, affects parts of the brain that are responsible for memories, concentration, pleasure response, and perception of time. Alcohol present in the bloodstream can cause the body to quickly absorb THC, which stands for the chemical tetrahydrocannabinol and is responsible for the highs experienced when the drug is used. People who co-use marijuana and alcohol may exhibit:
- Behavioral changes
- Emotional changes
- Impaired judgment
- Short attention span, decreased perception
- Decreased memory
Benzodiazepines And Alcohol
Central nervous system depressants (CNS), such as tranquilizers, sedatives, and hypnotics, all slow down brain activity, which is why they are commonly prescribed for anxiety disorders and sleep disorders along with other conditions. Using alcohol with benzodiazepine medications, such as Xanax or Vicodin, is extremely dangerous. These medications along with alcohol can lower the heartbeat and depress breathing, which can be fatal.
Substance Addiction: Know the Signs, Symptoms
How can one tell when recreational substance use has crossed over into dependence and addiction? While each situation will be unique according to the person involved, these are common warning signs:
- Strong, intense cravings for drugs and alcohol or other addictive substances
- Strong focus on obtaining addictive substances
- Strong need to use an addictive substance(s) daily or multiple times a day.
- Spending money on a substance habit that is unaffordable
- High tolerance for a substance. Tolerance is when more of the substance is used to achieve the same desired“high.”
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms once substance use has stopped or scaled back
- Turning to addictive substances to cope with life’s challenges or personal problems
- Exhibiting high-risk behaviors that threaten the safety of oneself or others when engaged while using or being under the influence of a substance
- Failing to stop substance use despite earlier attempts
- Continuing to use despite the negative results, such as losing a job, straining a relationship
If you or your loved one has exhibited any one of these symptoms, signs, or situations, addiction treatment is the recommended next step.
Once addiction has set it in, whether it’s from using multiple substances or not, or alcoholism, it can be difficult for the person to stop using. It also can be difficult to remain committed to not using if the person quits chronic use without the proper supports in place. Repeated, excessive use and abuse of drugs and alcohol have been shown to restructure the brain and change how it functions. This is why addicted individuals struggle with impaired judgment and decision-making, and have problems with learning and memory processes. In some cases, the likelihood that these conditions will become permanent if substance use continues.
How Multiple Substance Use is Treated
Addiction treatment is the route many people take when they want to stop seeking out and taking addictive substances that are harmful to them. Traditional drug and alcohol rehabilitation treatment is a diverse combination of different behavioral therapies and pharmacological approaches that have shown results over time. Many treatment centers use evidence-based practices, which means those practices have been put through rigorous tests and evaluated and made a significant difference in outcomes.
People can get help for just about any abused substance at a reputable treatment center. Programs run different time lengths and can be helpful in a variety of settings. The main thing to remember is that programs and services must address the individual’s physical, psychological, emotional, and social needs as they recover from substance abuse. Treatment should also address the specific addiction or substance use disorder and the kinds of drug that were abused. Proper addiction treatment begins with a medical detoxification process that lasts three to 10 days and involves professional healthcare and addiction specialists who help clients through the withdrawal process. If needed, a tapering schedule may be set to gradually allow the body adequate time to adjust to the substances being out of its system.
After clients have achieved medical stability and have finished with detox, they are evaluated to see which treatment program they will need to effectively address their addiction. Treatment programs are tailored to an individual’s needs and preferences, so this is the time to be truthful about any and all substance use. You want to ensure you get the right care you need.
Outpatient treatment, which is what New Perspectives offers, is one kind of rehabilitation setting. It is for people who may be in the early stages of their addiction or alcoholism have a mild case of it. Unlike residential or inpatient treatment, outpatient therapy allows clients to live at home so they can maintain personal schedules while still coming in to receive intensive addiction treatment. They still must attend structured sessions three to five times a week or more, depending on the situation.
Outpatient programs offer many of the same treatments and benefits as residential treatment setting. Among them are:
- Substance abuse education
- Cravings and triggers management
- Life skills
- Individual therapy
- Family therapy
- Group therapy
- Mental health treatment
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- 12-step programs
- Transitional living facility referrals (including sober living homes)
- Relapse prevention training
- Anger management
- Random drug testing
More on Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)
Some people in recovery may be prescribed medications as they are weaned off substances at the core of their addiction. Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) combines behavioral therapy and medications to treat substance use disorders. These medications are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and are used in evidence-based treatment. According to SAMHSA, a combination of these therapies and medicines can be effective and help people sustain their recovery after the addiction treatment process.
According to a 2016 report by the U.S. Surgeon General, medication-assisted treatment “is a highly effective treatment option for individuals with alcohol and opioid use disorders. Studies have repeatedly demonstrated the efficacy of MAT at reducing illicit drug use and overdose deaths, improving retention in treatment, and reducing HIV transmission.”
It is important to emphasize that MAT is not just about the medications used to help substance users overcome addiction and dependence. It’s also more than just taking medications during the weaning process. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reminds that the MAT approach is to be used along with counseling and behavioral therapies so clients in recover benefit from a whole-patient approach to the treatment of their substance use disorders.