Alcoholism and Substance Abuse

Estimated reading time: 27 minute(s)

Alcoholism remains one of the most common types of substance use disorders across the world. While the issue alone can have serious repercussions for someone’s mind, health, and well-being, the consequences may become even worse when a person starts abusing other drugs simultaneously.

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Thousands of people across the United States and the world suffer from alcoholism and substance abuse at the same time. These co-occurring issues can bring significant challenges to a person’s life. Fortunately, recovery is possible by joining a professional rehab where highly-trained professionals teach addicts how to break from abusive patterns.

How Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Disorders Sustain Each Other

The lifestyle of a person who uses alcohol is often such that it promotes using drugs simultaneously. For example, most alcoholics love spending time at rave parties or nightclubs where lots of people around them are experimenting with party drugs. Repeated exposure to these environments where drug use is so common can often instill a desire in alcoholics to try these drugs in addition to using alcohol.

In addition, alcohol and most illicit drugs induce similar effects in the body; hence, people who use one of them like using the other, often interchangeably. Many alcoholics already suffer from alcohol tolerance and may attempt to use other drugs to experience new or more powerful sensations.

Finally, alcohol use is often a response to the negative emotions that many people experience. When these people realize that alcohol is ultimately making them feel worse instead of uplifting their mood, many may turn to drug use for the same reason. Because substance use, regardless of whether it involves drugs or alcohol, is never an answer to anger, sadness, or an underlying mental illness, these people may keep moving from alcohol to drugs and vice versa in search of the perfect solution. This constant search never reaches a conclusion but only worsens their addiction and brings more unhappiness.

Recognizing Alcohol and Drug Abuse

When some symptoms of substance abuse are visibly apparent and easy to spot, others may be less conspicuous and, therefore, hard to catch. It is common for many people to hide their symptoms simultaneously out of guilt and shame while others may deny that they have a problem at all. In these circumstances, family members and close friends may find it challenging to prepare an intervention and get the addict the help they need and deserve.

To make sure you are able to secure help for yourself, it is essential to identify alcohol and drug abuse in the first place. For this purpose, ask yourself or a loved one the following questions? 

  • Have you ever felt irritated or annoyed by the criticism or comments that others pass because of your substance use?
  • Have you ever thought of reducing or quitting alcohol or drug use?
  • Do you find yourself craving drugs or alcohol throughout the day?
  • Has your alcohol or drug use ever made you feel guilty?
  • Have you ever failed to meet an obligation during the past year because of your drug or alcohol use?
  • Have you ever injured yourself or someone else because of drug or alcohol use?

If you answer yes to most of the questions mentioned above, consider seeking a professional evaluation from a healthcare provider.

Common Alcohol and Drug Combinations and their Risks

Depending on the type of drug and amount of alcohol a person consumes, a person may develop different types of risks and harm. Mentioned below are some most common drugs that people often combine with alcohol:

Alcohol and Cocaine

Cocaine and alcohol are one of the most common combinations that many addicts go for, mainly because both substances are highly potent. Cocaine is a stimulant that increases the heart rate, blood pressure, and alertness. Moreover, the drug also facilitates alcohol absorption and helps it reach the brain much more quickly. When taken together, cocaine interacts with alcohol to form cocaethylene, a substance that triggers intense feelings of euphoria and pleasure. The combination may also trigger various other risks, such as overdose, heart attack, and even death.

Alcohol and Heroin

Both alcohol and heroin are depressants of the central nervous system that often trigger similar side effects. One of the most dangerous risks associated with this combination is depression of the respiratory system, leading to slow breathing. Moreover, heroin is also extremely addictive and may become difficult to quit.

Alcohol and Ecstasy

Ecstasy is a widespread party drug, mainly prevalent in younger age groups, to experience euphoria and high. It is a stimulant of the central nervous system and may lead to severe side effects and adverse reactions when combined with other substances, such as alcohol. The power experience that a person feels when they take ecstasy can easily tempt them to drink heavy amounts of alcohol in a relatively shorter period. This may lead to extreme dehydration along with other side effects, such as heat stroke, excessive sweating, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Alcohol and Marijuana

Both marijuana and alcohol are central nervous system depressants; hence, combining them can increase the risk of an overdose. Additionally, the combination can make a user dizzy, nauseous, and paranoid. Regardless of how severe a user may feel like throwing up alcohol, marijuana may prevent them from vomiting, keeping it in the system and increasing the risk of poisoning.

Alcohol and Painkillers

Painkillers like Xanax and Vicodin are commonly available in the United States for treating moderate to severe pain. Combined with alcohol, these painkillers can lead to dangerous health conditions, including liver damage.

Alcohol and Antidepressants

Many individuals suffering from mental illness use antidepressants, such as Prozac or Zoloft. Mixing these antidepressant medications with alcohol can worsen the side effects of each of them, sometimes leading to potentially deadly circumstances. One of the most significant side effects of this combination is rebound anxiety and depression along with impaired judgment and poor sleep.

Alcohol and Sleeping Pills

Sleeping pills on their own are extremely dangerous and may lead to multiple side effects. When combined with alcohol, these side effects can potentially become life-threatening. Drinking even a small amount of alcohol while a person is using sleeping pills can significantly amplify their sedative effects. When mixed with alcohol, a sleeping pill can lead to confusion dizziness, and faintness.

Substance Abuse Alcohol Side Effects

Consuming excessive amounts of drugs and alcohol for a few days, weeks, or even years can take a toll on the body. While some effects are minor and last temporarily, others may linger on for months, leading to permanent damage. Generally, the nature and severity of side effects depend on the type and duration of drugs and alcohol being abused. For example, a person who mixes alcohol with heroin is likely to experience more severe consequences than someone who mixes it with tobacco.

Mentioned below are some short-term side effects of using alcohol and drugs together:

  • A fluctuating heart rate
  • Lowered inhibitions
  • Difficulties with muscle control
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Lack of concentration
  • Heightened feelings of sadness, fear, or anxiety
  • Respiratory problems

In addition to the temporary side effects of drug and alcohol abuse, some users may develop longer-term complications that are likely to last much longer. Some of these conditions are so serious that they may put individuals at risk of developing additional issues later in life.

Mentioned below are some long-term effects of drug and alcohol abuse:

  • Damage to internal organs
  • Long-term memory impairment
  • Nasal perforation
  • Muscle and bone breakdown
  • Lack of coordination skills
  • Poor nutrition
  • Problems coping at school, job, or work

Alcoholism and Substance Abuse: How to Prevent Harm

If you or someone you know has been abusing alcohol and other substances, there are different ways to make life safer for them. For this purpose, consider the following tips: 

  • Choose not to drink alcohol. Even if you do, make sure to adhere to the official dietary guidelines released by relevant authorities
  • Consider skipping alcohol while using other substances
  • Talk to a healthcare provider about your drinking issues or illicit drug use and discuss the possibility of a mental health referral.
  • Support the community strategies to prevent heavy drinking, such as regulating the places that sell alcohol, increasing taxes on alcoholic beverages, and other recommendations.
  • Seek help from your loved ones to help you fight the cycle of addiction by providing you a robust support system to rely on

Polysubstance use, involving alcohol and drug use, can be extremely hard to overcome. Nevertheless, help is available in various forms and can be sought by joining a professional rehab. These rehabs offer different types of treatment programs according to individual needs and requirements to help manage all types of coexisting substance abuse disorders together for better recovery.


What warning signs should you keep in mind if you suffer from alcohol and drug abuse?

If you suspect that someone is using alcohol and other drugs together, keep an eye out for the following symptoms:

  • A change in friends’ circle
  • A drop in school performance
  • Deterioration of family relationships
  • Delinquent behavior

Can alcoholism and substance abuse cause any risks?

Using alcohol and other drugs together may increase your risk of:

  • Injury
  • Overdose
  • Risky sexual behavior
  • Violence
  • Chronic disease

Who is at risk of developing alcoholism and drug use at the same time?

The following are the risk factors that determine an individual’s risk of developing alcohol and drug addiction simultaneously:

  • Male gender
  • Younger age group
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Non-Hispanic Black Ethnicity
  • History of binge drinking
  • Family history of substance use
  • Family history of mental health disorders

Is alcoholism substance abuse?

Yes, alcoholism comes under substance abuse. It is considered the second most common type of substance abuse, second to tobacco addiction. It can cause severe distress in life along with multiple mental and physical implications. 

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