Combining Alcohol and Substance Abuse

Alcohol and substance abuse are two problems that are incredibly common among all age groups and people from all backgrounds, both on their own and in combination with one another.

Alcoholism is a problem that leads to around 88,000 deaths on its own each year, and deaths related to alcohol are the fourth-leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. This doesn’t even take into account the deaths resulting from a combination of alcohol and substance abuse.

Alcohol and Substance Abuse | A Dangerous Combination & Signs of Addiction
People who struggle with alcohol abuse or addiction frequently use other substances as well, which may include prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, or illicit street drugs. When multiple substances are combined, it amplifies the risk of adverse side effects, as well as overdose and death.

Alcohol and substance abuse that occur together are often referred to as polydrug abuse or polysubstance abuse, and for someone who regularly engages in the mixing of alcohol and substances, it’s referred to as chronic polysubstance abuse.

According to research, a significant amount of visits to the ER related to alcohol were because it was combined with other drugs. The drugs most commonly mixed with alcohol are marijuana, cocaine, and heroin.

Also commonly combined with alcohol are prescription drugs including opioids and sedatives.

There are a few reasons someone might suffer from both alcohol and substance abuse simultaneously. It might be something that starts without intention, or for some people, it’s done as a way to heighten the desirable side effects of the substances being taken.

Below are some of the results of pairing alcohol with other commonly abused substances:

  • Cocaine and Alcohol: When someone abuses cocaine and alcohol you’re mixing something that’s considered a stimulant (cocaine) with a depressant (alcohol). Depending on the person this can lead to reduced effects from both substances, or heightened effects. With that being said, when you take cocaine and alcohol together it can increase your chances of experiencing heart-related issues or death.
  • Alcohol and Opioids: It’s no surprise that America is facing a troubling opioid epidemic, and alcohol is one of the substances often combined with opioids like heroin and prescription pain medicines. Both alcohol and opioids are depressants of the central nervous system, making this an incredibly dangerous combination. When you take opioids and alcohol together, it can slow your respiration and central nervous system functionality to the point that you overdose and die, much more quickly than if you just took alcohol or just took opioids alone.
  • Alcohol and Other Prescription Drugs: There are many other prescription drugs that are very dangerous when paired with alcohol. For example, sleep medicines, sedatives and antianxiety medicines can all lead to death when mixed with alcohol.
People with drug or alcohol abuse problems often abuse multiple substances simultaneously, and in the addiction treatment world and the medical world, polysubstance abuse is considered more common than single drug abuse.

Some of the signs of addiction in terms of polysubstance abuse are similar to signs of addiction to one drug or one substance.

For example, people who suffer from both alcohol and substance abuse will often withdraw from friends, family, and other relationships, as well as school or work responsibilities.

They may start hanging out with a different group of people, or they will seem secretive or deceptive.

People who struggle with alcohol and substance abuse also often have financial problems because of the costs of keeping up with their addiction.

They may display strange changes in mood or mood swings, they may sleep for long periods of time, or they may display periods of euphoria or extreme euphoria, depending on the substances they’re abusing.

Other potential signs of abuse of multiple substances can include:

  • Using a prescription substance for longer than what a doctor prescribes
  • Trying to cut down on one or all of the substances and being unsuccessful
  • Spending a lot of time obtaining substances and then recovering from their use
  • Strong cravings
  • Putting the use of substances as a top priority in one’s life
  • Using multiple substances in dangerous situations, such as while driving
  • Having withdrawal symptoms from one or all substances when they’re suddenly stopped
There are treatment options available for people who suffer from both alcohol and substance abuse, but polysubstance treatment needs to be specialized. People who struggle with multiple simultaneous addictions should look for a treatment center that can address each addiction independently of the others, but also look at treatment holistically.

Frequently when people suffer from polysubstance abuse, they also have a co-occurring mental health disorder that needs to be dealt with during treatment as well.

It’s not uncommon for alcohol and substance abuse to exist together, but it is a dangerous combination and is often deadly. It’s important to be able to identify signs of abuse and help your loved one get the proper help for polysubstance abuse, or if you think you have a problem, find a treatment center that offers specialized polysubstance abuse treatment.