May 10, 2016

What happens when you mix drugs with alcohol?

Alcohol and drugsThe use of alcohol is extremely prevalent on college campuses worldwide, and has been for many years. Growing in number and severity, however, is the increased mixing of alcohol with various types of drugs (both prescribed and not prescribed) by many students. Students oftentimes do not understand, or even know, the risks that mixing alcohol and drugs may cause: below are several of the most common types of mixtures abused by students, as well as the dangers associated with each.

Tylenol and alcohol

According to a study documented on WebMD, consuming alcohol when using Tylenol (and other pain relievers that include acetaminophen) can more than double your risk for kidney disease. The lead researcher, Harrison Ndetan, stated that “alcohol can interfere with the gene that regulates how the body processes acetaminophen,” which is likely the most plausible explanation for the correlation result of the study. This is especially problematic since Tylenol is available over-the-counter, and many therefore mistakenly believe it to be completely safe. Though it does say on the warning label not to consume it with alcohol, Tylenol is a common at-home treatment for hangovers: though it would appear that, if your kidneys are in good health and you are not a regular drinker a little acetaminophen won’t necessarily harm you, but Dr. Martin Zand (medical director of the kidney and transplant programs at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York) recommends that you consider reaching for another painkiller to “err on the side of caution.”

Aspirin + alcohol

According to Drugs.com, the interaction between alcohol and aspirin is classified as moderate. Drinking alcohol while taking aspirin can increase your risk for stomach bleeding (which is already a risk associated with aspirin, though few actually know of it). Symptoms of stomach bleeding include black or bloody, tarry stools, coughing up blood, or vomit that looks like coffee grounds. Aspirin, similar to Tylenol, is a common over-the-counter medication that many mistakenly believe to be completely safe (though aspirin, like Tylenol, warns against drinking alcohol in conjunction with it on the label). If you experience any of the symptoms described previously, make sure to call your doctor, as stomach bleeding can be a life-threatening issue that requires treatment.

Adderall + alcohol

According to Drugs.com, the interaction between adderall and alcohol is considered to be moderate. Using the two together can increase the risk for cardiovascular issues such as increased heart rate, chest pain, and blood pressure changes. Symptoms to look out for include severe/frequent headaches, chest pain, or a fast pounding heartbeat, and if you experience any of these either while mixing alcohol and adderall or just while using adderall alone, it is important to call your doctor and seek treatment.

Alcohol + marijuana

According to the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, alcohol and marijuana is an extremely common drug mixture: getting high while drunk is known colloquially as being “crossed.” The mixture of drugs can result in unpredictable effects. Mixing can result in feelings of paranoia, panic, or anxiety, and may increase the risk of developing psychotic symptoms for those already vulnerable. People may also experience nausea and vomiting, and/or a phenomenon known as “greening out,” a situation in which people start to feel sick soon after smoking: they may become pale, sweaty, dizzy, feel nauseous and vomit. People who experience “greening out” often feel the need to lie down immediately. There is some evidence that alcohol in the blood leads to a faster THC absorption, which can make marijuana have a stronger effect.

Cocaine + alcohol*

According to AddictionBlog.org, mixing cocaine and alcohol is one of the more dangerous mixtures out there. Cocaine is a stimulant while alcohol is a stimulant, and many abusers of both have reported that alcohol can prolong the cocaine-induced sense of euphoria while at the same time inhibiting the negative side effects that occur when the high from cocaine wears off. Cocaine and alcohol can combine in the body to form a compound called “cocaethylene”: with a much longer half-life than just cocaine, cocaethylene can stay in the body up to five times longer and damages the liver, can compromise the immune system, causes seizures, and increases the chance of death. Cocaine, as a stimulant, may also mask levels of drunkenness and cause a person to underestimate their levels of intoxication: this can lead to their engaging in dangerous behaviors, including drinking more alcohol (to the point of alcohol toxicity or overdose) or driving drunk. It is also believed that doing cocaine while drunk (especially snorting cocaine) may cause more violent outbursts and/or thoughts than would otherwise occur from either drug on their own.
*Note: cocaine on its own is already extremely dangerous. It’s addictive from the first time you take it, and many die from cocaine alone due to cardiac arrest (without mixing it with any other drugs). It is not a drug to mess around with, and though it is present on USC’s campus we encourage you to abstain from trying it, and if you are using we encourage you to get help.

We hope that this list of typical reactions from mixing alcohol with various drugs has been edifying. With summer coming up many of you will be going to work at internships/going on vacation to exciting, exotic places and you’ll want to make the most of your time spent there: we just ask that you stay safe while still having fun, and consider the long-term health implications that fun may cost you. Happy summer, everyone, and we’ll see you in the fall!