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Alcohol and Cocaine: a Recipe For Disaster

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When someone is abusing cocaine, the body quickly metabolizes the substance, and the associated euphoria lasts upwards of just 15 minutes. Alcohol, a depressant drug, slows the metabolism of cocaine and, in effect, increases the high and length of time this euphoria is experienced. When these substances are combined, the metabolism of both substances is slowed by approximately 20 percent, increasing exposure to these toxic substances and metabolites resulting from simultaneous exposure to cocaine and alcohol.Man who is misusing alcohol and cocaine

Alcohol and cocaine is a dangerous mix. If you are struggling with misuse of either substance, Vertava Health can help. Reach us at 844.470.0410 to learn more about our alcohol rehab center and cocaine rehab program. A brighter future is possible.

The Dangers of Cocaine and Alcohol

The dangers of cocaine and alcohol are well-established. When these two substances are combined, the risks of both escalate significantly. Cocaine is a stimulant drug that can cause significant harm to the body in a short period of time. At the same time, alcohol is a depressant drug that slows the metabolism and prolongs exposure to these harmful substances. If you are struggling with alcohol or cocaine addiction, it is important to seek help from a qualified rehab center like Vertava Health.

Apart from adding one toxic substance to another, when someone uses cocaine, then drinks alcohol, a dangerous metabolite is also produced. The metabolite, cocaethylene, is not only toxic but far more toxic than cocaine or alcohol alone.

Cocaethylene has many adverse health effects, including:

  • Heart failure
  • Liver failure
  • Sudden death

One study on laboratory animals revealed that increased cocaethylene from exposure to alcohol and cocaine led to overall reduced cardiovascular functioning and even death for some of the animals included in the study.

During the use of these substances, the brain, cardiovascular system, and liver are under enormous stress for a period, often 12 hours long, after the feelings associated with the drugs wear off. As the person comes down off the high experienced by the use of the drugs together, they may seek to achieve the same high by combining these drugs again within that initial 12-hour period or immediately following. The taxing effects of the combination on the body is one of the primary mechanisms for sudden death related to cocaine addiction.

The use of cocaine also slows the effects of alcohol, so someone consuming alcohol while using cocaine may feel that they can drink more, leading to binge drinking and a substantial increase in the risk of alcohol poisoning.

The brain of someone abusing cocaine is significantly changed in a short period. Reduced blood flow reduces oxygen to vital brain cells. Cumulative damage caused to the cardiovascular system from alcohol use can further reduce blood flow to vital organs, including the brain. Brain shrinkage is reported in those who use alcohol due to the death of grey and white matter cells. This can create significant and lasting cognitive impairment for an individual battling addiction.

Other Risks Associated with Alcohol and Cocaine

Apart from the known physiological risks associated with combining alcohol and cocaine, mood changes associated with the combination and resulting metabolites increase aggression in humans. This, combined with alcohol-induced aggression and the stimulant aspect of cocaine, can produce some violent outbursts from individuals consuming the combo.

With more than five million people claiming to have used alcohol and cocaine together in the US alone during one single-year survey, many of these users are women. Women generally are more vulnerable to physical and sexual violence while abusing substances like cocaine and alcohol. Studies of the effects of alcohol and cocaine combined on fetal development indicate the toxicity from the substances interferes with normal brain development.

Evidence-Based Treatment of Co-occurring Alcohol and Cocaine Addiction

There has never been a true one size fits all approach to treating drug and alcohol addiction. The same is true for treating co-occurring alcohol and cocaine addiction. Studies indicate specific treatment types show greater efficacy over others, including:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most successful treatment types for addressing co-occurring alcohol and cocaine use.
  • Contingency management (CM), a subset of behavioral therapy and motivational enhancement therapy, uses a system of reward to address progress made in treatment.
  • Motivational enhancement therapy (MET) shows some promise in treating co-occurring disorders, though the data does not yet support its efficacy when used alone to treat addiction disorder.
  • A twelve-step program also shows some limited promise. Either may be more effective when combined with CBT or CM.
  • Naltrexone, disulfiram, topiramate, valproate, or baclofen are pharmacotherapies that may be used in conjunction with one of the treatment types mentioned earlier, though none show significant promise as a solid treatment for a co-occurring addiction to both cocaine and alcohol. They may be used to address cravings in the early stages of recovery.
  • Overall, alcohol recovery program successes were improved by combining multiple therapeutic approaches over a single approach.

Find Treatment for Cocaine and Alcohol at Vertava Health

If you or someone you know is struggling with a cocaine and alcohol addiction, contacting Vertava Health is your first step toward getting the help needed to recover from this challenging combination of addictions. Vertava Health offers a wide range of options and levels of care. Contact us at 844.470.0410 to learn more.