Did you know that thousands of people die every year of unintentional overdose death from mixing prescription medications with alcohol? And while many of us are aware that alcohol can have negative side effects when mixed with medication, only a fraction of people take those concerns seriously.
In truth, you should never mix alcohol with medication. Medications change the chemical makeup of our body. Alcohol, another chemical solution, further affects this internal “cocktail”. The results can be dire if not deadly. Even “over the counter” medications can have significant side effects, often overlooked by most.
At Lumiere Healing Centers of Ohio, we treat many individuals who have a history of mixing alcohol with drugs and/or medication. They almost always require a medically-monitored detoxification to prevent any serious complications such as seizures and even death. What follows is a long road ahead to then heal the mind, helping pave a pathway toward long-term recovery.
If you are curious to know about the interactions and consequences of mixing alcohol with medication, please read on.
Opioids are a class of drug that suppress the central nervous system, blocking pain receptors to the brain. They can be an excellent solution for people who are dealing with temporary or long-term pain. Long-term users who suffer from chronic pain are prescribed a very specific regiment from their doctor. However, because this class of drug is highly addictive, the individual can easily overuse their prescription. Also, tolerance built through extended use can prevent the user from cessation, as it causes agonizing withdrawal symptoms.
Varieties of Opioids include heroin, morphine, methadone, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and codeine. Mixing these drugs with alcohol increases their relaxing, drowsy effects and radically increases the risk of overdose. The user can unintentionally fall into cardiac arrest and perish. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 91 people die on average every day because of an opioid overdose.
Benzos or benzodiazepines relieve the feelings of anxiety and insomnia, while preventing panic attacks and even seizures. Some common brand names for benzos are Valium, Xanax, Librium and Ativan. Benzos are considered to be the most widely prescribed class of drug in the United States – and thus are widely available.
Benzodiazepines are central nervous system depressants – like alcohol – and they target the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA. Because benzodiazepines and alcohol act on similar areas of the brain, people who abuse alcohol may take benzodiazepines to enhance the effects of alcohol, or vice versa. This is an extremely dangerous practice that can lead to poisoning, overdose, and death.
Stimulants accelerate the neurons firing from the brain to the spinal cord, and increase the activity of the central nervous system. In comparison to alcohol, they essentially do the opposite from one another. Some recognizable stimulants include Ritalin, Adderall, and Vyvanse, which are schedule 2 prescription medications. Illicit stimulants include cocaine, amphetamine and methamphetamine, to name a few.
Stimulants are widely used and prescribed, and are commonly used by teens and college-aged students, used as “study drugs” or commonly mixed with alcohol.
Stimulants can be dangerous when combined with alcohol as they counteract one another, and can easily lead to overdose. This can result in alcohol poisoning and liver damage. In addition, overuse of stimulants and combining them with alcohol can result in increased heart rate, irregular heart rate (arrythmia), body temperature increase and increased blood pressure. In serious cases, combining stimulants with alcohol can result in heart attack or alcohol poisoning.
Antidepressants aim to correct chemical imbalances of neurotransmitters in the brain, relieving depression and anxiety, improving mood and behavior. The CDC predicts that about 15% of people over the age of 12 in the United States use some form of antidepressant medication. Luckily, many classes of antidepressants exist and offer less negative side effects when combined with alcohol than MAOIs (Monoamine oxidase inhibitors). For our purposes, we will focus on MAOIs which do have significant implications when mixed with alcohol.
MAOIs can cause damage to the heart when mixed with alcohol. High blood pressure, increased risk of blood clots, and heart attack can all lead to lasting harm or death. Side effects of mixing any antidepressant with alcohol can become dangerous and may include dizziness and drowsiness, increased risk of overdose or poisoning, increased feelings of depression, hopelessness, suicidal ideation, impaired motor control and liver damage.
Women + Older Individuals
Due to physiological characteristics, women and older individuals are at the highest risk of accidental overdose from mixing mediation with alcohol. For women, their body composition means they are more likely to metabolize alcohol at different rates than men, increasing their potential for negative side effects with less of the drug in their system. For older individuals, they also metabolize drugs and alcohol at a different rate because of their age – a result of organ deterioration. This difference in physiological composition (like weight and fat content) and metabolic rates means that their potential for overdose from mixing medications with alcohol is higher.
If you have been mixing medication with alcohol, or other medications in a manner other than prescribed by your doctor, and you fear you are addicted, please call our team of personnel at Lumiere Healing Centers of Ohio to find out if a medically-monitored detox is the right path for you. It can be difficult if not impossible to quit using medication or alcohol on one’s own, and cessation can cause severe complications or even death. To speak to someone now, please call (513) 909-2225.