Mixing Drugs and Alcohol: Why It’s a Bad Idea

It might not seem like a big deal to drink alcohol while on prescription medication or with other drugs. But mixing drugs and alcohol can have devastating effects.

If you mix drugs and alcohol, you could be exposing yourself to unpredictable and dangerous consequences. About one-third of all drug-related visits to the emergency room are from drinking alcohol with other drugs, whether it’s prescription medication, marijuana, heroin, or other illicit drugs.

As the most commonly used intoxicant in the United States, alcohol is a highly reactive substance that affects each person differently. It can either amplify or negate the effects of other medication, often to a dangerous level.

You can help yourself, your friends, and your community by understanding the danger of mixing drugs and alcohol. If you’re properly informed, you can take steps to prevent some of the dangerous consequences.

Mixing Alcohol with Depressants

Since alcohol is a depressant, mixing it with other drugs with depressant effects is very dangerous. Alcohol can enhance the effect of the drugs–with the potential for lethal consequences.

Some examples of depressant drugs include Xanax, Valium, and heroin. These drugs have a synergistic effect, and symptoms of an overdose include the onset of dizziness, lack of coordination, stumbling, memory loss, and eventual unconsciousness.

Depressants can also cause breathing problems–so putting alcohol and other drugs together can make the effect more serious.

It can also increase your risk of an overdose. Drinking alcohol might lower your inhibitions and impair your judgment, which could lead to an overdose on drugs or alcohol poisoning.

Mixing Alcohol with Stimulants

While you might think that a stimulant would cancel out the depressant effects of alcohol, it can have unpredictable results. Stimulants can increase the effect of the drug or dull your ability to feel its effects–which can lead to an accidental overdose.
Some examples of stimulant drugs include Ritalin, Adderall, Concerta, cocaine, or strong caffeine.

With some stimulant drugs, combining them with alcohol can conceal the alcohol’s effects. This means that you’re less likely to be able to gauge your level of intoxication. This impairment of judgment can lead to eventual loss of coordination, difficulty thinking clearly, blacking out, and potential death.

Other results can be less predictable. You might experience worse effects from both drugs when they’re taken together.

For example, cocaine increases your metabolism, which causes alcohol to reach your brain much faster. So even if you’re not drinking a lot of alcohol, it can have a more severe effect. In serious cases, this could cause alcohol poisoning and death.

Mixing Alcohol with Prescription Drugs

Regardless of whether you have a prescription for a medication or not–mixing prescription drugs with alcohol can be extremely dangerous.

While the specific effects can vary, alcohol shouldn’t be mixed with most prescription medications. The combination can lead to severe side effects.

It’s important that you have a conversation with your doctor about if you can have alcohol with your prescription medication, and if so, whether you should limit your drinking to a certain time or amount.

If you don’t have a prescription, this can be even more dangerous. Abusing prescription medication along with alcohol only magnifies the risk of drug abuse.

Although you should always check with a doctor before drinking alcohol with medication, here are a few that you should keep in mind:

  • Painkillers (aspirin, acetaminophen)
  • Antihistamines
  • Antidepressants (Elavil, Sinequan)
  • Diabetes medication
  • Antibiotics
  • Sleep medication
  • Anxiety medication (Xanax)
  • ADHD medication (Adderall)

The danger of mixing prescription drugs comes mostly from the fact that the effects can vary depending on the type of drug and the amount prescribed. Here are just a few of the dangerous effects:

  • Headaches
  • Migraines
  • Dizziness
  • Losing consciousness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Respiratory problems
  • Loss of coordination
  • Internal bleeding
  • Organ failure
  • Seizures
  • Liver damage
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Heart failure

While some of these symptoms are temporary, others could cause long-term health conditions that could affect you over the course of your lifetime. Others could send you to the hospital–or even cause death.

What to Do If You’ve Mixed Drugs and Alcohol

If you’re worried you might be experiencing an overdose after mixing drugs and alcohol, go to the hospital immediately. Even if you feel fine, don’t wait for the substance to wear off.

Call emergency services or get someone to drive you to a hospital. Don’t make yourself throw up and try to avoid falling asleep. Once you get help, healthcare professionals can empty your stomach of the dangerous substances and help reduce the effect.

If your relationship with alcohol and prescription drugs is putting you in harm’s way, there are treatment options available.

Whether through addiction groups, treatment centers, or under a doctor’s care, medical detox will help you safely transition away from drugs and alcohol. This treatment is healthy, monitored, and gives you the tools to live life without dangerous substances.

You should always consult a doctor before drinking alcohol while using prescription medication. Even if it’s an over the counter medication or you don’t think it will have a negative effect–always check just to be safe.

The Dangers of Mixing Drugs and Alcohol

Because the interactions between substances can be so unpredictable, it’s important that you always consult a physician before mixing drugs and alcohol. This isn’t a conclusive list of all the drugs that might interact badly with alcohol–so always be aware of the potential consequences before drinking alcohol while taking medication.

Need help with drug or alcohol addiction? Check out our blog for more resources to get you or a loved one back on track.