Mixing drugs and alcohol is a very common practice that comes with serious risks.
The majority of overdose deaths involve multiple intoxicants, and alcohol is the most commonly abused substance in the US. Mixing intoxicants is typically done either to amplify the effects of either substance or to limit the negative side effects of one or more drugs. Drinking alcohol while taking drugs is very common; alcohol reduces inhibitions, meaning that drunk individuals are more likely to engage in drug abuse.
Mixing any intoxicants is dangerous. It can cause unpredictable effects, especially when illicit drugs are involved, and it can seriously increase the risk of overdose. Combining alcohol and cocaine, however, comes with its own special dangers.
When ethanol, the main component of alcohol, is present while the liver is processing cocaine, an entirely new drug is produced called cocaethylene. This intoxicant causes an even more intense high than cocaine, producing a more euphoric effect in addition to stimulant effects. It also stays in the system for much longer than cocaine, is particularly toxic to the liver, and has been linked to heart attacks even in young individuals with no previous cardiac issues.
Health officials have issued warnings about cocaethylene recently due to the increasing number of young people abusing cocaine at parties. These individuals are more likely than other users to mix the substance with alcohol due to its common presence at parties attended by young people. Overdoses involving cocaine have increased in recent years to the point that one person is admitted for this every 10 hours in the UK.
Not much is yet known about the long-term health effects of cocaethylene, but it has been found that it builds up in the liver over time and can stay there for many years. It may also be toxic to the heart and has been linked to an increase in social issues in young people who mix alcohol and cocaine.
Combining drugs almost always increases the risk of overdose on at least one of the substances. Individuals who regularly mix alcohol and cocaine report that they can keep drinking much longer than usual if they take cocaine during an alcohol binge due to the fact that the illicit stimulant keeps them awake and causes them to feel more sober. Due to this, there’s a greater risk of suffering from alcohol poisoning while also taking cocaine. Users also may have a hard time recognizing dampened overdose symptoms, increasing the risk of serious harm or even death.
Alcohol poisoning symptoms include:
- Mental confusion
- Inability to wake
- Slow or irregular breathing
- Pale or bluish skin
The risk of overdose is particularly high for young individuals who tend to have a lower body mass and may not have completely developed brains. This makes the increasing trend of young people mixing cocaine and alcohol even more disturbing. The fact that cocaine is an illicit drug creates further dangers as it can be difficult to tell how pure the substance is. Many drug dealers “cut” or mix white powder drugs like cocaine with fillers or other drugs like crushed prescription medications.
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Taking cocaine in any circumstances is dangerous, as is alcohol bingeing. Doing both at the same time compounds the risks and is inadvisable in all circumstances.