How Do Alcohol and Drugs Interact?
Alcohol and drug addictions can form separately, but they may also be co-occurring. Concurrent drug and alcohol use occurs when a person drinks and uses drugs at separate points over a long period of time. It’s common for surveys on this topic to use a 30-day timescale. Simultaneous drug and alcohol use refers to the ingestion of both in a single event. If someone drinks liquor and smokes marijuana at a party, that qualifies as simultaneous use. If someone drinks alcohol a couple of days a week and smokes marijuana on the weekends over the period of a month or two, that would be described as concurrent drug use.
Alcohol and Nicotine
Data shows a significant concurrent overlap between people who drink alcohol and people who smoke cigarettes. A person’s sensitivity to cravings for alcohol and cigarettes may be determined by genes in combination with environmental factors.
Not only are smokers more likely to drink and vice versa, but heavy smokers are more likely to drink heavily, and heavy drinkers are more likely to smoke heavily. Smoking rates among people with alcohol use disorders are estimated to be around 90%, with 70% of them smoking one pack or more a day. This relationship persists even though smoking in the general population has been on the decline.
Risks of Mixing Alcohol and Nicotine
Both alcohol and nicotine carry their own health risks, but when they are used together the likelihood of negative health outcomes increases. These include:
- Mouth Cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Cardiovascular disease
- Birth defects in unborn babies
- Higher rates of both alcohol and nicotine use
Alcohol and Caffeine
A black coffee has long been seen as a remedy to hangovers and drunkenness in a pinch. Unfortunately, though they have opposite effects, caffeine doesn’t reverse the effects of alcohol. Caffeine may make someone drunk feel more alert, but until their liver finishes processing the alcohol, they’ll still be drunk.
In the early 2000s, caffeinated alcoholic beverages reached peak popularity, especially among younger audiences. Companies advertised them on social media platforms in order to reach young drinkers, which proved very effective. By 2010, the US FDA banned seven major brands of caffeinated alcoholic beverages (CABs) because they were no longer recognized as safe.
Risks of Mixing Alcohol and Caffeine
The polar effects (upper vs downer) of these two substances can interact dangerously if someone takes them simultaneously. Caffeine masks the depressant effects of alcohol, which might encourage someone to drink more alcohol than they normally would. Research has found that people who regularly mixed alcohol and caffeine were more likely to report:
- Driving drunk
- Riding with a drunk driver
- Having unprotected or unwanted sex
- Sustaining alcohol-related injuries
Alcohol and Marijuana
Alcohol and marijuana are two of the most popular mind-altering substances in the world and especially in the US. Trends in co-use of these chemicals demonstrate a much higher popularity of simultaneous use than concurrent use. Those people who reported a high frequency of simultaneous use also tended to drink more heavily.
The risks involved with heavy drinking seem to be amplified by use with marijuana.
Risks of Mixing Alcohol and Marijuana
Simultaneous alcohol and marijuana use leads to more pronounced incapacitation. In general, the risks involved with heavy drinking seem to be amplified by use with marijuana. When compared to heavy drinking alone, those who drank heavily and used marijuana reported more detrimental effects including:
- Impaired driving
- Social consequences
- Self harm
Alcohol and Opioids
Both alcohol and opioids are central nervous system depressants, and if they’re used together can be extremely dangerous. Whereas caffeine masks the effects of alcohol, opioids will intensify the drowsy, depressive symptoms. Like many of these alcohol and substance combinations, it seems as though the pattern of use between them encourages heavier drinking habits.
While gathering data on people in the US who misuse prescription opioids, the CDC found that most of them also regularly binge drink. People over the age of 26 showed the highest rate of binge drinking with opioid abuse. A study among teenagers who misuse opioid prescriptions found that they frequently mixed substances. Marijuana and alcohol were the most common among this group.
Risks of Mixing Alcohol and Opioids
The primary concern with mixing alcohol and opioids is the risk of overdose. As the popularity of potent, synthetic opioids rises, so does the risk of overdose. Prescriptions for opioids almost universally advise against drinking alcohol during the course of treatment.
Other risks of mixing alcohol and opioids are:
- Increased levels of incapacitation
- Higher chance of overdose
Alcohol and Benzodiazepines
The increasing popularity of benzodiazepines as prescription medications has led to an increase in alcohol and benzodiazepine combinations. Benzodiazepines, when used responsibly, are not likely to provoke serious side effects, but when someone takes a benzodiazepine and drinks alcohol shortly afterward, they may experience drowsiness. The real risks of the combination occur when benzodiazepines and alcohol are misused together.
Risks of Mixing Alcohol and Benzodiazepines
In cases of co-occurring substance abuse involving alcohol and benzodiazepines, alcohol is frequently the primary drug of choice. Alcohol is involved in 25% of benzodiazepine hospital visits and 20% of benzodiazepine deaths. Both drugs bind to similar neurological receptors, which creates a more intense effect when taken together. Other risks of mixing alcohol and benzodiazepines include:
- Lower doses required to achieve an overdose
- Increased levels of incapacitation
Get Help Today for Co-occurring Alcohol and Drug Addiction
When someone mixes alcohol with other drugs, they risk damage to themselves and those around them. Research shows that simultaneous drug and alcohol use is especially problematic, often escalating levels of intoxication and increasing the likelihood of making dangerous decisions, such as drunk driving. When used in moderation and in accordance with a prescription, legal drugs may not cause issues, but none of them play nicely with alcohol addiction.
If you or a loved one are regularly mixing drugs, it may be time to reach out for help. Please contact a dedicated treatment provider today to get answers to questions about rehab for alcohol addiction and co-occurring substance abuse disorders.
Author: Michael Muldoon | Last Edited: June 14, 2021