People who struggle with substance abuse are more likely to begin abusing multiple substances as a way to enhance the intoxicating effects of the drugs. Alcohol is one of the most addictive and commonly abused drugs in the world, and although it is legal for adults ages 21 and older, it is still often consumed too frequently or in quantities that are too great. People who struggle with alcohol use disorder may abuse prescription drugs to enhance their intoxication, or they could do so accidentally if they have received a legitimate prescription. Combining intoxicating substances can lead to serious, harmful side effects and increase the risk of overdose.
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Prescription Medications That Are Dangerous with Alcohol
- Prescription opioid painkillers
- Sedative-hypnotic medications
Although antibiotics are not addictive, they can cause serious side effects. People who binge drink, have problematic drinking patterns, or who struggle with alcohol use disorder may mix alcohol and antibiotics due to a compulsion to drink, which can lead to serious health concerns. Side effects of mixing antibiotics and alcohol include:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Changes in blood pressure
- Upset stomach or stomach cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
- Flushed face
- Liver damage
Doctors typically inform their patients to avoid alcohol while completing a course of antibiotics. It is important to follow doctors’ advice while taking any prescription drugs.
Antidepressants are also not considered addictive because brain chemistry changes take 1-4 weeks to take full effect. Psychiatric medications that lead to addiction typically induce immediate changes, leading to euphoria. However, mixing antidepressants and alcohol can cause antidepressants to stop working, which can lead to worsening depression or other mood disorders. Mixing antidepressant prescriptions with alcohol can also cause dizziness and drowsiness, so everyday activities like driving can become dangerous.
These central nervous system depressants are potent relaxers, and many people who received prescriptions for them at the height of their popularity developed addiction. They are still used as drugs of abuse, although they are not prescribed as often to treat anxiety or seizures.When mixed with alcohol, barbiturates can become very dangerous. People who combine alcohol and barbiturates may suffer overdose more rapidly; their breathing could slow down or become irregular, leading to hypoxia; or they could lose consciousness. Small amounts of barbiturates and alcohol together could still cause a loss of coordination that could cause accidents and physical harm.
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These anti-anxiety medications were developed as a replacement for barbiturates, but they have also led to an epidemic of addiction and substance abuse. Benzodiazepines like Valium, Klonopin, or Xanax affect the brain in a similar way as alcohol, so combining the two substances can lead to an overdose more rapidly and depress breathing to a dangerous level. Other side effects include:
- Loss of physical coordination
- Amnesia or memory problems
- Dizziness or drowsiness
Because of their potency, benzodiazepines are too often combined with other drugs, like alcohol or opioids, to enhance their intoxicating effects. This is a dangerous practice.
Prescription opioid painkillers
Opioid drugs, including prescription drugs like hydrocodone and oxycodone, are potent and can lead to addiction or abuse. Less strict prescribing practices since 2000 have led to an epidemic of narcotics addiction. Too many people have received a prescription for opioid medications, struggled with addiction or abuse, and increased their dose or switched to more dangerous narcotics like heroin or fentanyl.When combined with alcohol, the effects of narcotics become more intense and serious. The risk of overdose increases, and naloxone, the overdose-reversing medication used by emergency responders and doctors, will not be able to work as well.
Sleep medications like Ambien and Lunesta can have side effects like drowsiness or dizziness. They may lead to parasomnias – actions performed while the person is asleep, such as walking, eating, driving, talking, or having sex.Drinking alcohol while taking sleep medications can be dangerous. Some people may do this accidentally, by drinking alcohol then taking the medication as prescribed an hour or two later, and this can still cause the substances to interact in the body. However, some people intentionally drink alcohol with sleep medications in order to get high. This increases the risk of dangerous behaviors, parasomnias, and amnesia.
People with ADHD typically do not abuse their prescription medications, although Ritalin and Adderall are potent stimulant drugs related to amphetamines. However, these prescription medications are sold illicitly as drugs of abuse, and they can have dangerous effects that are similar to cocaine or amphetamines.Ingesting alcohol with illicit prescription stimulants can lead to dangerous changes in heart rate or blood pressure and cause physical impairment that could lead to accidents. Additionally, the risk of overdose increases because alcohol can enhance some of the dangerous side effects.
Help Is Needed to Overcome Polydrug Abuse
Combining intoxicating substances is polydrug abuse, which is a very risky practice. Fortunately, most rehabilitation programs are specifically designed to help people overcome this type of substance abuse. Detox, therapy, and other treatment available through these programs can help clients regain their health and maintain long-term sobriety.