People who have a substance use disorder commonly abuse other drugs. Roughly 77 percent of individuals who are dependent on amphetamines like methamphetamine (meth) have a co-occurring alcohol use disorder.
Research suggests that frequent, heavy drinkers have a greater likelihood of using methamphetamine. Specifically, individuals who are frequently intoxicated had a five times greater chance of using meth than those who do not drink.
Mixing meth and alcohol can cause unpredictable complications that are more dangerous than the effects of either drug alone. In the most severe of cases, this could include hospitalizations, organ damage, major mental health problems, stroke, and fatal overdose.
Being addicted to more than one substance, or polydrug addiction, can complicate a person’s treatment needs. Fortunately, with the right combination of treatments, a life free from meth and alcohol abuse is possible.
Understanding Meth And Alcohol Abuse
Methamphetamine is a powerful and highly addictive central nervous system (CNS) stimulant or upper. All forms of the drug, including crystal meth and the prescription version Desoxyn, can be abused and cause addiction.
Despite its widespread use and social acceptance, alcohol is a drug, and one with a high potential for abuse and addiction. When consumed, alcohol acts as a CNS depressant or downer.
Uppers and downers are most frequently combined to increase the euphoric feelings of one or both drugs or to decrease the negative side effects of either substance.
While this combination may achieve these goals, using these substances together can result in dangerous side effects, some of which can be long-lasting or deadly.
The Effects Of Using Meth And Alcohol Together
When a person drinks and uses meth, whether it be smoked, snorted, or injected, they can experience great harm to their body and mind.
Abuse of both drugs can cause anxiety, dehydration, heavy sweating, and stroke. The risk of these conditions may be higher when these drugs are used together.
Other side effects may be a combination of effects caused by each individual drug or new side effects that result from mixing these substances.
Side Effects Of Meth
The side effects of meth can range from minor discomfort to serious and long-lasting health problems, both for the body and mind, such as:
- appetite suppression
- birth defects
- compromised immune system
- high blood pressure
- jaw clenching
- “meth mouth”
- nausea and vomiting
- skin sores and infections
Side Effects Of Alcohol
When a person has a few drinks, they may have only mild impairment. However, if a person continues to drink, they could become intoxicated. People who drink frequently and/or for long periods of time can experience major health problems at the hand of alcohol abuse.
Side effects of alcohol use may include:
- blurred vision
- memory loss
- poor coordination
- slowed reaction time
- slowed reflexes
- slurred speech
Serious medical problems caused by drinking include brain damage, coma, coronary disease, enlarged heart, fatal respiratory arrest, heart damage, liver damage, and osteoporosis.
The Risks Of Combining Methamphetamine With Alcohol
Evidence suggests that using these drugs together can increase drug seeking behaviors and the reinforcing effects of each drug. When drug use is reinforced, it encourages a person to use a substance again, a fact that can push a person closer to addiction.
Alcohol decreases a person’s inhibitions and impairs judgement, a shift that can increase risk-taking behaviors.
In this state, a person may be more likely to experiment with meth for the first time. It may also lead a person to change the way they take meth, such as by switching from smoking to injecting it, a method that can harm a person even more.
Further, in comparison to days when alcohol wasn’t consumed, one study found that people were three times more likely to use meth on a day they drank. If a person binge drank this risk rose even more, to 6.6 times that of non-drinking days.
The Dangers Of Mixing Meth And Alcohol
Alcohol can interfere with the metabolism of meth. This can heighten the stimulating effects that the drug has on the brain and heart, resulting in negative changes to a person’s mood, performance, and physiological functions.
Even though alcohol is a depressant, when consumed with meth, it can make the heart rate faster than when meth is abused by itself.
Using alcohol frequently, or more than 16 days a month, has also been shown to increase the development of psychotic symptoms in people who use meth chronically.
Taking these drugs together has also been shown to alter levels of important neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters are responsible for sending messages in the brain that help to regulate thought and mood, among other critical functions.
Overdose From Mixing Alcohol And Meth
Meth’s stimulating properties hit quickly and last longer than other drugs in this class. This is one reason why the drug is so dangerous when abused with alcohol. This long effect can cover up alcohol intoxication, leading a person to believe they are more sober than they actually are.
Because of this, a person may continue to drink even after their body can no longer keep up with the alcohol in its system. As the alcohol reaches toxic levels, a person could overdose, otherwise known as alcohol poisoning.
The way alcohol changes the metabolism of meth could increase the risk of an overdose from meth.
Research has found that drinking alcohol can lead to a higher blood concentration of meth and increase the toxicity of meth in the body. When a drug reaches toxic levels, the body can go into overdose.
These scientific findings also suggested that alcohol increases the absorption of meth and its metabolite, amphetamine, however, it does not make the body eliminate the drug faster. The faster a drug is absorbed, the greater the likelihood of dependence and overdose.
When a person abuses these drugs, they could overdose from one or both substances. Signs of overdose could include a combination of symptoms caused by each drug or new symptoms.
Signs and side effects of a meth overdose:
- dangerously high body temperature
- heart attack
- kidney damage or failure
- trouble breathing
Signs and side effects of alcohol overdose (alcohol poisoning):
- slowed breathing
- stomach and intestinal bleeding
- stomach pain
When used separately, overdose from each drug can cause coma. Abused together, this risk could be higher.
Finding Treatment For Meth And Alcohol Addiction
The most comprehensive alcohol treatment programs use an assessment or evaluation to determine how addiction has impacted a person and what treatments will work best for them. This can be especially crucial for a person who is addicted to more than one substance.
Polydrug addiction often requires more intensive treatment. For this reason, a residential or inpatient drug rehab program may be recommended.
A person may need to detox prior to enrolling in rehab. Withdrawal from meth can cause depression and psychotic symptoms. Alcohol withdrawal can be severe and even life-threatening. For these reasons, 24-hour monitoring and mental health care may be necessary.
Behavioral therapies may be used to treat both meth and alcohol addiction. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based treatment for both these drugs.
By addressing the physical and psychological elements of addiction, a person has a greater chance of finding sobriety and better health.
Contact Vertava Health now for info on meth and alcohol abuse, addiction, and treatment.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism — Harmful Interactions: Mixing Alcohol With Medicines
University Health Service — The Effects of Combining Alcohol with Other Drugs
U.S. National Library of Medicine — Alcohol Interactions with Psychostimulants: An Overview of Animal and Human Studies, Chapter 5—Medical Aspects of Stimulant Use Disorders, Effects of sequential ethanol exposure and repeated high-dose methamphetamine on striatal and hippocampal dopamine, serotonin and glutamate tissue content in Wistar rats., The Relationship between Methamphetamine and Alcohol Use in a Community Sample of Methamphetamine Users