Drug Rehabilitation Blog

Alcoholism vs. Drug Addiction

The Dangers of Drinking and Using Prescription Drugs

Many dangers await those who use alcohol or prescription drugs outside of moderation or a doctor’s instructions. Using both together is a recipe for disaster that can bring about a range of physical and emotional problems for the uninformed.

Young People in Danger

Drinking and Using Prescription Drugs
The Dangers of Drinking and Using Prescription Drugs

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that people who abuse alcohol are 18 times more likely to abuse prescription drugs. A recent study by the same organization showed that the demographic in greatest danger is the 18 to 24 years-old group, 12 percent of whom reported using prescription drugs with alcohol during the past year. Astonishingly, many of the young people in the study had no idea that taking drugs with alcohol was dangerous, even life-threatening.

Alcohol and Depressant Medications

If even incorrect dosages of over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen can cause liver damage, doesn’t it seem logical that mixing painkillers with alcohol is a bad thing, all around?

Let’s start with the dangers of alcohol. While a drink or two on a regular basis may relax the mind and spirit, decrease shyness and inhibitions, it must always be kept in mind that alcohol is a depressant. It constricts blood vessels, limiting blood flow to the extremities and the brain. Alcohol also depresses breathing and blood pressure.

Now look at the effects of prescription opiate painkillers. Among the many side effects of these drugs are dizziness, sedation and respiratory depression, and that’s when they are taken in correct dosages, without alcohol.

Put the two together, and it’s easy to see why prescriptions for painkillers always include the warning: Do not take with alcohol! Painkillers and alcohol are both respiratory depressants. Taken together, they can cause breathing to stop altogether. Lack of oxygen to the brain and vital organs can quickly cause coma and death.

Alcohol and Stimulants

Binge-drinkers have an especially high risk of death when they combine alcohol with amphetamines and other stimulants. The reason for this is completely logical. When a person drinks too much, a blackout or loss of consciousness is the body’s mechanism for preventing overdose. A stimulant counteracts that self-preservation, enabling the person to continue drinking. The result is alcohol poisoning and possible death.

Some prescription heart medications, like nitroglycerine, have an opposite effect when mixed with alcohol, causing rapid and irregular heartbeat, sweating, dizziness, nausea and sometimes cardiac arrest.

Not All Damage Happens Immediately

Some of the other effects, like liver damage, are more subtle and take longer. When taken with alcohol, arthritis pain relievers amplify the liver damage caused by alcohol abuse. Liver damage does not have early onset symptoms, and by the time the damage becomes evident, it’s often too late to do much about it. Pain relievers and alcohol can also cause stomach ulcers, another ailment that is slow to develop and difficult to cure.

As we age, the toxic effects of prescription medicines and alcohol are more difficult to treat. Organs like the like the liver and kidneys are no longer as efficient at filtering and breaking down the toxic substances in drugs and alcohol. These toxins are stored in fatty tissues and organs, building a cumulative effect that destroys health.

A Slippery Slope

In addition to physical effects, alcohol and prescription drug abuse lead to high-risk behaviors that result in:

  • Danger to others
  • Unwanted pregnancy
  • Accidental overdose
  • Criminal activity

As studies have proven, one type of addiction often leads to another. The Foundation for a Drug-Free World reports that 45 percent of overdose deaths in the U.S. are caused by prescription painkillers. How many of them also included alcohol abuse is unknown. What is known beyond a shadow of a doubt is that drugs and alcohol together are a runaway train to physical and mental destruction.

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