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The Dangers Of Using Cocaine With Alcohol

Dr. Richard Foster, LICDC-CS

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Richard Foster, LICDC-CS

March 21, 2019

Cocaine is frequently abused in the United States. Sometimes people use cocaine with alcohol, which can result in a negative reaction and lead to health complications. Cocaine is a stimulant and alcohol is a depressant, and mixing the two can have adverse toxic effects, result in extreme addictions, and even lead to cardiovascular shut-down.

Risks Of Using Cocaine With Alcohol

The reaction produced by combining cocaine and alcohol can be extremely dangerous. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) explains,“The two substances react to produce cocaethylene, which may potentiate the toxic effects of cocaine and alcohol on the heart.”

Another risk of combining alcohol and cocaine is the potential of masking the dangerous symptoms caused by each substance. The stimulating effects of cocaine may work to hide any dangerous effects caused by alcohol and vice versa.

Some of the signs of cocaine overdose which may go unnoticed include:

  • agitation
  • enhanced reflexes
  • hostility
  • headache
  • tachycardia
  • irregular respiration
  • chills
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • rise in body temperature
  • hallucinations
  • convulsions
  • delirium
  • unconsciousness
  • seizures
  • stroke
  • cerebral hemorrhage
  • heart failure
  • respiratory failure

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Understanding Cocaine And Alcohol Abuse

Some people may mix cocaine with alcohol purposefully to experience the opposing effects of each drug. Alcohol relaxes and calms the body, and slows breathing and heart rates, while cocaine produces a false sense of energy and alertness, and people often report a sense of increased self-confidence while using cocaine.

The more alcohol a person drinks, the more likely they are to exhibit risky behavior, such as driving while intoxicated, getting into a fight, or experimenting with drugs like cocaine. By itself, cocaine creates a numbing euphoria, which may make some people feel as though they’re invincible.

There are many reasons people mix alcohol and cocaine. One reason could be that a person is trying to mask the anxiety-inducing symptoms caused by cocaine by taking a depressant. However, it’s more likely that a person combining cocaine and alcohol is trying to intensify his or her “high.”

Some of the other reasons people mix cocaine and alcohol include:

  • to increase the effect the other drug, or to bring on its desired effects
  • to reduce the negative effects of one of the substances, usually when “coming down” from that drug
  • to substitute for the drug they were really looking for
  • sometimes people will mix drugs when they are already intoxicated, aren’t thinking
  • straight, or if people around them are mixing drugs

What Do Cocaine And Alcohol Do To The Brain?

People might continue using cocaine because of what it does to the brain, and not everyone intentionally becomes addicted or dependent on drugs. Unfortunately, addiction can be inevitable with heavy abuse of hard drugs like alcohol and cocaine. Drugs can warp a person’s brain, and thus their behavior as well.

The NIDA for Teens reports, “with repeated use, stimulants like cocaine can disrupt how the brain’s dopamine system works, reducing a person’s ability to feel pleasure from normal, everyday activities. People will often develop tolerance, which means they must take more of the drug to get the desired effect. If a person becomes addicted, they may take the drug just to feel ‘normal.’”

Addiction to alcohol develops in a similar way, and alcohol is legal and can be found just about anywhere it’s permitted. Alcohol addiction certainly won’t be a problem for everyone, and not everyone will try cocaine during an alcohol binge either. However, people who do mix alcohol and cocaine may be at greater risk of experiencing adverse health effects than people abusing only one of these substances.

The effects of alcohol vary from person to person, and these factors also make a difference:

  • How much do you drink?
  • How often do you drink?
  • How old are you?
  • What’s the status of your health?
  • What’s your family’s history with alcohol?

Treatment For Cocaine And Alcohol Addiction

Using cocaine with alcohol greatly increases a person’s risk of fatal overdose, so people struggling with abuse of these substances should seek help right away. There are several ways to go about treating a substance use disorder or addiction, and what works for one may not be successful for another. An inpatient drug or alcohol rehab program may help people overcome addiction, build skills to achieve a fulfilling life, and remain sober.

As a precursor to alcohol addiction treatment, medically-supervised detoxification is often necessary to treat the physical ailment caused by prolonged abuse. Detoxification will also provide a chance for recovering individuals to safely manage alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

After detoxification, treatment for the mental effects of addiction can begin. Behavioral therapy at an inpatient drug rehab is one of the best ways to accomplish mental, emotional, and psychological healing.

Drug rehab centers may also connect individuals with aftercare, such as support groups like narcotics anonymous or alcoholics anonymous. Addiction recovery can be intimidating to pursue alone, but the best rehab centers provide the treatment professionals, evidence-based treatment types, and relaxing environment necessary to recovery success.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration - Drugs and Human Performance Facts Sheets: Cocaine

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