When heroin is concurrently used with alcohol, also a depressant, the combination can be a lot more than what was bargained for; often causing overdose, coma, and even death. It takes a deeper look at this relationship of two depressants to fully understand the severity of it.
Understanding The Dangers Of Heroin And Alcohol Use
Heroin is derived from morphine, but about three times stronger and includes an acetyl molecule which allows the drug to enter into the bloodstream and brain faster. One concern with heroin use is that it depresses the respiratory system, which basically means that it slows the breathing—oftentimes to a dangerous level.
When heroin is concurrently used with alcohol, this curbed rate of breathing becomes more likely. This can be dangerous on so many levels, but knowing what the situation can provoke can enable you to save someone’s life.
Alcohol is known for the sort of energetic feeling it creates (at least at first), but the truth is that ethyl alcohol is actually a sedative that not only slows down motor function and reaction time of the brain. It also affects the heart and breathing rate. Alcohol, like heroin, is absorbed into the bloodstream.
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When drinking alcohol on a full stomach, it can take several hours (on a full stomach) to reach the brain, because it’s absorbed through the small intestine and stomach. When a person injects or snorts heroin, it’s in the bloodstream almost instantly and makes its way to the brain just as rapidly—at which point it changes back into morphine.
Not only is mixing heroin and alcohol dangerous on a physical level, but also on a mental level. Heroin is among the most addictive drugs known to man, and alcohol’s well-known to cause drug dependency and addiction as well. A alcoholic rehab treatment program has the potential to help a person with dependence and mental addiction.
When heroin and alcohol are used at the same time, the double-depressant combination can cause a chain of events and complications such as:
- Slowed reaction time—which makes driving dangerous
- When the brain is slowed down, the lungs slow down
- Lightheaded due to slow or shallow breathing and lack of oxygen
- Lowers heart rate from less oxygen to the brain
- Depressed brain, lung, and heart rate can put a person in a coma
- Comas can lead to further brain damage, causing problems with memory and other disabilities
Signs And Symptoms Of Alcohol With Heroin
It can be difficult to determine if someone is using alcohol and heroin at the same time because the two substances can have similar symptoms—and the telltale signs of alcohol use can often cancel out the indicators of another drug. Some of the signs you may look for if you believe someone is using heroin with alcohol are drowsiness, decreased motivation, or frequent scratching as a side-effect of opiates.
Some other signs to look for in heroin use are:
- Having muscle and bone pain
- Complaining about chills
- Frequently throwing up
- Insomnia or inability to sleep
- Feeling nervous
Unlike alcohol, the signs of heroin use may be a little harder to pinpoint. If someone is using heroin, you might not know what’s wrong with them, or why they’re acting weird. From the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “heroin gives you a feeling of well-being and happiness. It also makes you feel like the world has slowed down. People on heroin think slowly and might move slowly. Heroin makes people feel sleepy like they’re in a dream.
Heroin makes the pupils (the black circle in the center of each eye) get very small. A person who injects (shoots up) heroin will have marks on the skin where the needle went in.”
Heroin And Alcohol Overdose Statistics
As previously mentioned, mixing alcohol with heroin can increase the chances of overdose. In the United States, “between 2000 and 2015, the rate of heroin-related overdose deaths more than quadrupled, and more than 12,989 people died in 2015” (Center for Disease Control and Prevention). Heroin use disorders usually start with use of prescription opioids, marijuana, and alcohol. The fact is that three out of four new heroin users report abusing prescription opioids before trying heroin.
Also in 2015, 26.9 percent of people 18 and older reported binge drinking in the past month. Why is this pertinent? Alcohol and heroin are deadly substances with the potential to be even worse when mixed. It’s true and even though alcohol leads to nearly seven times the amount of deaths as heroin, when the two are combined it’s even worse.
Alcohol-related deaths can include automobile accidents, alcohol poisoning, hepatitis of the liver, alcoholic cardiomyopathy, and opiate/alcohol overdose. In fact, “an estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States. In 2014, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities accounted for 9,967 deaths” (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism).
The statistics of heroin and alcohol overdose are staggering, but there’s hope to fix this issue. There are a lot of caring professionals who understand the phases of addiction and know how to help a person who’s struggling with substance use.
Detoxification And Other Treatment Programs
If you’ve established that you or someone you love has a dependency issue with heroin, alcohol, or both then you’re on the right path. Understanding that there’s a problem with drug use is the first step. The next step is figuring out a solution to the problem, and preparing for the road ahead. After a person stops using CNS depressants like heroin and alcohol, the withdrawals can be intense and medical detoxification may be required. Some of the withdrawal symptoms experienced can include irritability, anxiety, depression, severe drug cravings, headaches, nausea, and seizures.
The reason medical detoxification may be required is that the withdrawals from alcohol and opioids can actually be fatal—especially when the two are combined with one another. Detoxification can give a medical professional the adequate time needed to monitor a patient’s vitals and prepare them for behavioral therapy or whatever treatment comes next, but detox isn’t considered a full treatment. Heroin addiction detoxification only fixes the physical addiction.
The mental addiction from heroin and alcohol is a common ground for checking into inpatient treatment. Behavioral therapy can be the answer to other emotional or mental disorders that often co-occur with substance use disorders and addiction. In a rehab center, substance use disorders and addictions are treated with treatment programs like medication-assisted therapy, cognitive behavior therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, contingency management, group therapy, and support groups.
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Contact Vertava Health today to speak with an addiction specialist about drug or alcohol addiction and how to find the right program for you.