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The Dangers Of Mixing Meth And Alcohol

Brenda Munnerlyn, RN, BSN

Medically reviewed by

Brenda Munnerlyn, RN, BSN

March 25, 2019

Mixing methamphetamine (meth) with alcohol is a dangerous combination that can pose serious health risks, including a heart attack and overdose. People who abuse meth and alcohol may need to enter detox and inpatient treatment to help them overcome their polydrug abuse.

Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance in the United States, and may often be used with other drugs. This includes methamphetamine (meth) which can be dangerous when used alone or mixed with heavy drinking.

Separately, heavy drinking and meth can both pose significant health risks, including organ damage and psychiatric problems. Alcohol abuse has been linked to both kidney and liver disease, and chronic meth use can lead to permanent brain damage and violent behavior.

Combining the two can increase the risk of addiction, overdose, and other life-threatening consequences.

How Common Is Mixing Meth And Alcohol?

Researchers have found that people who frequently drink alcohol may be up to five times more likely than non-drinkers to use meth. It is also more common for those with severe dependency on alcohol to use meth than those without a serious drinking problem.

While some people are able to drink in moderation without developing a problem, people who abuse alcohol may risk becoming dependent. How often a person drinks, and whether or not they have a drinking problem, can be important risk factors in concurrent meth use.

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Why Do People Mix Alcohol And Meth?

People who abuse substances like alcohol are more likely than the general population to abuse other substances concurrently, or later in life. Misuse of more than one drug at a time is known as polydrug or polysubstance abuse.

The most common reason people report mixing meth and alcohol is to adjust their drug high. Meth is a stimulant that can produce a rapid rush of euphoria and increased energy. Alcohol, on the other hand, is a depressant that slows the central nervous system (CNS) activity, resulting in a sedated and relaxed state.

In cases of heavy drinking, meth may be used in order to counteract the sedating effects of alcohol. Some people who use meth have also reported feeling an even more intense drug high after drinking alcohol.

Dangers Of Mixing Meth And Alcohol

Heavy drinking can have moderate to severe impact on coordination, judgment, and organ function. Adding meth into the mix can exacerbate the potential harm caused by drinking and lead to dangerous consequences. The most concerning problems linked to concurrent alcohol and meth use is cardiac damage and increased risk for overdose.

Additional side effects of mixing alcohol and meth may include:

  • slowed breathing
  • high body temperature (hyperthermia)
  • seizures
  • increased heart rate
  • heart attack
  • unconsciousness, or coma (in severe cases)

Heavy drinking may also increase the risk of experiencing psychotic symptoms linked to chronic meth use. This includes hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not there), severe paranoia, and delusions. In the event that someone is already experiencing these symptoms, drinking may also make them more intense.

Meth And Alcohol Overdose

Drinking alcohol can lower a person’s inhibition and impair judgment, increasing their likelihood of engaging in risk-taking behavior. While intoxicated, a person may be less likely to consider the risks of mixing alcohol with other potent substances. They may also be less likely to keep track of how much they have drunk, or how much of a drug they have used.

Doing this can put a person at serious risk for alcohol poisoning or drug overdose. Alcohol poisoning occurs when someone has drunk an excessive amount, leading to severe adverse effects. Without treatment, this can in some cases be fatal.

Symptoms of alcohol overdose include:

  • confusion
  • vomiting
  • slow heart rate
  • clammy skin
  • trouble breathing
  • low body temperature
  • seizures

Meth overdose is also a serious risk with polydrug abuse. The most common symptoms of meth overdose include:

  • chest pain
  • irregular heartbeat
  • agitation
  • high body temperature
  • stomach pain
  • difficulty breathing
  • paranoia
  • hallucinations
  • coma

Dependency And Withdrawal

It is common for people who drink heavily or take meth to experience a ‘crash’ once the effects of the substances have worn off. This can include symptoms of nausea, vomiting, or depression. Those who become dependent on meth and alcohol may experience additional symptoms of withdrawal once effects have worn off.

Dependence on substances like meth or alcohol develops over time with repeated use. Becoming dependent can result in certain physical and psychological symptoms once a person attempts to stop drinking or using meth.

People who abuse meth in addition to alcohol may be at risk for more intense withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal from meth alone is rarely life-threatening, but can still be a distressing process. It is not uncommon for people to return to their alcohol or meth use, if only to avoid or ease the discomfort caused by withdrawal symptoms.

The safest and most effective way to withdraw from concurrent meth and alcohol dependency is to enter a medical detox program.

Detox For Meth And Alcohol Abuse

Detoxification, or detox, is the process of removing a substance — such as alcohol or meth — from the body. This is an uncomfortable process at best, and deadly at worst. Attempting to detox alone can be especially dangerous, and can put a person at higher risk for relapse.

The timeline for substance withdrawal can vary depending on the substance and other personal factors. Combined abuse of meth and alcohol may result in a more intense and longer withdrawal period than withdrawal from each substance alone.

Additional factors that can impact the timeline for withdrawal include:

  • length of time someone has used a substance(s)
  • amount of substance(s) used
  • age
  • severity of dependency
  • body size

Entering an inpatient rehab facility is the safest way to detox from one or more addictive substances. Medical detox programs are designed to provide a safe and supervised setting where specialists can monitor and help ease symptoms of withdrawal. Medical staff can also help keep you hydrated and nourished throughout the process, ensuring you do not suffer any additional harm.

Treatment For Meth And Alcohol Addiction

Addiction is a serious disease that is difficult to face alone. Although detox is the first step in overcoming polysubstance abuse, additional treatment may also be needed to help a person remain sober. Relapse most commonly occurs within the early stages of recovery when people are still struggling with drug cravings and other protracted withdrawal symptoms.

Inpatient treatment programs, which may last 30 to 90 days, can help with this. These programs provide a safe and supervised environment for people working to overcome addiction. They may also offer a variety of treatments shown to be effective in treating polysubstance abuse. This includes individual therapy, support groups, and medication-assisted therapy (MAT) as needed.

Learn more about treatment options for meth and alcohol abuse today. Contact one of our specialists to find help for you or a loved one.

U.S. National Library of Medicine - The Relationship between Methamphetamine and Alcohol Use in a Community Sample of Methamphetamine Users

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Alcohol Facts and Statistics, Understanding the Dangers of Alcohol Overdose

National Institutes of Health: MedlinePlus - Methamphetamine Overdose

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