Why Mixing Prescription Drugs With Alcohol Can Be Dangerous

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Abusing multiple substances, such as mixing prescription drugs with alcohol, can be dangerous and even deadly because of multiple different factors. In 2019 alone, drug overdoses were responsible for more than 70,000 deaths in the United States. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly half of these overdose deaths were the result of polydrug abuse

What is Polydrug Abuse?

The term polydrug abuse refers to the misuse of two or more mind-altering substances. This behavior is sometimes also known as polysubstance abuse. 

Some people who engage in polydrug abuse do so as a means of intensifying the recreational effects of the substances they are taking. In other cases, people may use one drug to counteract the impact of the other. One example of the latter would be using cocaine or another stimulant to boost one’s energy level after taking a sedative or depressant.

Polydrug abuse can involve both legal substances (such as alcohol and prescription pills) and illegal ones (such as cocaine and heroin). 

Alcohol is often, but by no means always, one of the substances that are involved in polydrug abuse. There are many reasons for this, including the fact that alcohol is easily accessible and relatively inexpensive. Also, many people mistakenly believe that alcohol is not a dangerous drug.

Similarly, incorrect assumptions about the safety of medications that are prescribed by a doctor can lead to the extremely unsafe behavior of mixing prescription drugs with alcohol or other substances. 

Mixing Prescription Drugs With Alcohol Can Be Dangerous Because:

Abusing any drug can put a person at risk for both immediate and long-term harm. Adding another substance may only magnify the potential danger. 

Mixing prescription drugs with alcohol can be dangerous because the combined effects of these substances can quickly become overwhelming. 

The degree of danger a person may find themselves in when they combine alcohol with prescription drugs can vary depending on several factors, including:

  • How much alcohol has the person used?
  • What type of prescription drug are they taking?
  • How large of a dose have they taken?
  • How long ago did they take the prescription drug?
  • Have they also abused any other substances?

Many prescription painkillers contain opioids. These medications interact with parts of the central nervous system that regulate breathing, heart rate, and other automatic functions. If a person mixes these types of prescription drugs with alcohol, the possible dangers include overdose and death.

Alcohol can intensify the effects of a prescription medication. Alcohol can also cause memory problems, impaired judgement, and diminished inhibitions. This means that, once a person has mixed alcohol with a prescription medication, they may either forget what they have done or decide that they want to experience stronger effects by taking more pills. 

If the prescription medication they are taking contains opioids, benzodiazepines, or certain other substances, the results of this reckless behavior could be fatal. 

Who is Most at Risk for Mixing Alcohol with Prescription Drugs?

No one is immune from the dangers of mixing alcohol with prescription drugs. But some people may be more likely to be affected. Possible risk factors for alcohol and prescription drug abuse include the following:

  • Having chronic pain or another long-term medical issue
  • Family history of mental illness, substance abuse, and/or addiction
  • Personal history of mental illness, substance abuse, and/or addiction
  • Personal history of abuse, assault, or other forms of trauma
  • Exposure to excessive stress or pressure
  • Easy access to prescription medications
  • Personality traits such as impulsivity and novelty seeking

Signs of Prescription Drug and Alcohol Abuse

As we noted earlier, the dangers of polydrug abuse can vary depending on many factors, including which drug the person has taken and how much alcohol they have ingested. These factors can also affect the types of signs a person exhibits. 

Mixing prescription drugs with alcohol can be dangerous because it can impact how a person thinks, feels, and acts. Also, some symptoms, such as slowed heart rate and shallow breathing, may not be immediately noticeable to other people. This means that the person may overdose and lose consciousness before anyone else realizes that they are in crisis.

In general, the following are possible signs of prescription drug and alcohol abuse:

  • Intense headaches
  • Racing or slowed heart rate
  • Slow or shallow breathing
  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired balance and coordination
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Significant change in mood and energy level
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Difficulty staying awake
  • Seizure
  • Loss of consciousness

Types of Treatment for Polydrug Abuse

Polydrug abuse can be a sign of a substance use disorder (which is the clinical term for addiction). 

Anyone who exhibits the signs and symptoms of polydrug abuse should consult with a doctor, an addiction treatment professional, or another qualified healthcare provider. Polydrug abuse and addiction are treatable. Completing a thorough assessment can be a vital step on the path toward improved health.

Once a person has been accurately diagnosed, their treatment for polydrug abuse may include the following options:

  • Detoxification
  • Residential treatment
  • Partial hospitalization program (PHP)
  • Intensive outpatient program (IOP)

Within these levels of care, a person may receive a variety of polydrug abuse treatment services, including the following:

  • Medication management
  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Art and therapy
  • Holistic therapies
  • Neurofeedback
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy

Begin Treatment for Prescription Drug and Alcohol Addiction in Los Angeles

Untreated addictions to alcohol and prescription drugs can have a devastating impact on your life. But when you get proper professional care, your life can get much better. Renewal Health Group offers an array of prescription drug and alcohol addiction treatment options in Los Angeles, California. Contact us today to learn how we can help.

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