Polysubstance Abuse: Mixing Meth and Alcohol
Polysubstance use refers to the use of two or more substances either in the same period or at the same time.1 Polysubstance use can increase the effects of either drug or create drug interactions that can lead to unsafe outcomes.1
Although mixing any drugs is dangerous regardless of if it is done intentionally or not, in some cases, it can be fatal. This article will focus on the polysubstance use of methamphetamine and alcohol and what the risks of this combination are, what the effects on the body can be, and how you or a loved one can seek help for this type of misuse.
What Is Methamphetamine?
Methamphetamine is a central nervous system stimulant.2 It is also known by the street names “crank,” “crystal,” and “speed,” and can look different depending on its form, as it may come as a pill, powder, or as glass-like fragments or shiny rocks (referred to as crystal meth).2,3
Methamphetamine exerts its effects by increasing levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine (and serotonin to a lesser extent), resulting in an intensely pleasurable feeling and increased alertness.4 Increased dopamine and serotonin levels, two neurotransmitters that affect reward and motivation, contribute to reinforcing meth use and potentially aid in the onset of meth addiction.2
Meth, which is also known by the street names “crank,” “crystal,” and “speed,” can look different depending on its form, as it may come as a pill, powder, or as glass-like fragments or shiny rocks (referred to as crystal meth).2,3
People might use meth by swallowing, smoking, snorting, or dissolving it in liquid for intravenous injection.2,3 The effects of meth and their time of onset and duration can vary depending on how it’s administered.3
Effects of Meth on the Body
The misuse of meth can produce several effects, both in the short- and long-term. Some of meth’s effects can include:2,3
- Irregular heartbeat.
- Increased blood pressure.
- Increased body temperature.
- Decreased appetite.
- Dental problems.
- Damage to skin from scratching.
- Structural and functional changes in the brain.
- Tolerance, dependence, and addiction.
Those who use meth are at an increased risk of sexual risk-taking. This increases the risk of developing infectious diseases like HIV or hepatitis, and those who inject meth are at even higher risk of bloodborne infectious diseases.4 Additionally, there also exists the potential for overdose, which can be fatal.4
Overdose Risk of Meth
A drug overdose occurs when too high of a dose is consumed, resulting in seriously harmful symptoms or possibly even death.2 A meth overdose may cause a variety of complications, including the following:4
- Significant mood changes
- Hallucinations and psychosis
- Cardiac arrhythmias
- High blood pressure
The potential for meth overdose is high due to several factors, one of which being the varying or unknown purity of meth.2,4 Similar to heroin, trends show that methamphetamine is also being contaminated with fentanyl, which can be highly dangerous.5 In fact, approximately half of methamphetamine overdose deaths in 2017 involved an opioid and the other half involved fentanyl specifically.2
Another factor in the risk of overdose on meth includes simultaneously using it with other substances, such as alcohol or other central nervous system depressants. When this type of polysubstance use occurs, several outcomes are possible. For instance, alcohol can increase the absorption of meth in the body, which can compound toxic effects and increase the risk of cardiovascular issues associated with a meth overdose. Also, if meth is cut with a powerful depressant like fentanyl, drinking alcohol at the same time can trigger a life-threatening overdose as a result of the combined effects of respiratory depression.6
Alcohol Use & Risks
Alcohol is one of the most widely used substances in the United States, and although legal, it is possible to misuse it and/or develop an addiction to it. Alcohol misuse, or consuming alcohol in a way that causes harm to oneself or others, is dangerous and can be deadly.7
Effects of Alcohol on the Body
Regardless of if alcohol is used once or over time, there are several ways that it can affect the body. Some of these effects can include, but are not limited to:8
- Disrupting brain communication which can lead to changes in mood, behaviors, and thinking ability.
- Heart problems including irregular heartbeat, increased blood pressure, and stretching of the heart muscle.
- Liver problems, including fatty liver disease, cirrhosis of the liver, and alcoholic hepatitis.
- Increased risk for certain types of cancer, such as head, neck, liver, esophageal, breast, and colorectal cancer.
- A weakened immune system.
When combined with other substances, however, alcohol can contribute to unpredictable and potentially dangerous effects.1
Mixing Meth With Alcohol
Some people may believe that because alcohol is a depressant and meth is a stimulant, their effects cancel each other out, but this is not the case.1 Instead, they can mask the effects of the other, which can ultimately lead to increased consumption of both, which can increase the risk of overdose toxicity.1
Those who mix meth with alcohol may do so to experience an increased sense of euphoria; however, alcohol can also change how the body metabolizes meth, leading to increased absorption of meth in the body.6 This can prolong meth’s effects on the brain and heart.6
Treatment Options for Polydrug Addiction
Given the worsened consequences that can result from polysubstance use, professional treatment for polysubstance use and/or co-occurring substance use disorders may be beneficial. Treatment that is geared towards the many needs of the individual is most effective.9
Desert Hope is here to help you learn more about the different ways to treat addiction, including medical detox and inpatient treatment options. Our team is available 24/7 with information on the treatment admissions process, types of addiction treatment, insurance coverage, and other payment options. When you are ready, call or text Desert Hope staff at to start the process.
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