Dangers of mixing cocaine and alcohol

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Cocaine and alcohol are two drugs that often go hand in hand, largely due to their socially stimulating nature. When taken by themselves, each drug induces a number of effects. So, when cocaine and alcohol are mixed together, the effects are intensified and there is an increased risk of experiencing negative health complications.

One of the most serious risks of mixing cocaine and alcohol is the production of cocaethylene, caused when the two substances metabolize in the liver. Although cocaethylene intensifies the high, it comes with serious health risks.

It is important to look at the effects of cocaine and alcohol use, what happens when cocaine and alcohol are taken together and the different treatment options available for alcohol and drug addiction.

What Is Cocaine?

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Cocaine is an addictive stimulant drug that is derived from a coca plant that originates in South America. Referred to as 'coke', 'snow', or 'blow', the drug can be sold in a number of forms and is either snorted, injected, or smoked. Many street dealers mix the pure form with other additives in an attempt to increase profits; this includes talcum powder, flour, and in some cases, other drugs.

Cocaine induces a short-lived high lasting from 15 to 30 minutes. After the drug wears off, users are encouraged to take repeated doses over a short time period in order to prolong the desired effects. As individuals continue to abuse the drug, they will eventually need more of the substance to feel the same effects. This build-up of tolerance from drug abuse increases the chances of developing dependency and therefore a cocaine addiction. This is even more dangerous when cocaine and alcohol are used together.

Effects of Cocaine

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Cocaine users experience the effects quickly after consumption. After entering the bloodstream, the drug increases the levels of dopamine in the brain, causing a rush of energy and euphoria. Dopamine is a natural chemical that is associated with feelings of pleasure and reward. The chemical reaction can cause people to feel like the drug is increasing their creativity or productivity levels. Typically users experience the following effects:

  • Dilated pupils

  • Energetic and talkative

  • Increased body temperature

  • Impulsive and risky behavior

  • High blood pressure

  • Anxiety

  • Decreased appetite

  • Cravings for more of the drug

Effects of Alcohol

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Alcohol is a depressant and causes effects that are opposite to those induced by stimulant drugs, much like cocaine. The effects experienced after alcohol consumption include:

  • Slowed reaction time

  • Risky behaviors

  • Slowed speech

  • Blurred vision

  • Memory loss

  • Impaired judgment

  • Loss of motor function

  • Reduced heart and breathing rate

  • Fatigue

  • Anxiety

  • Nausea

  • Dehydration

Our bodies absorb alcohol pretty quickly and can additionally induce feelings of numbness or euphoric effects. Once the substance has been absorbed, it quickly enters the bloodstream and is carried throughout the body. Around 20% of the alcohol we consume is absorbed through the stomach and the remaining majority through our small intestine. A large amount of alcohol is eliminated by the liver; however, our livers can only metabolize the equivalent of one drink per hour, therefore the substance can remain in the body for long periods of time after heavy drinking. This increases the risk of liver damage and other adverse side effects, such as alcohol poisoning.

The Relationship Between Cocaine and Alcohol Use

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Alcohol use disorders and cocaine addictions have a very close relationship which may be due to a number of different reasons. Both cocaine and alcohol are noted as 'party drugs' and have a reputation for being present in similar situations. This means that the two are often used alongside one another as the self-reported high is intensified when cocaine and alcohol are taken together.

Another reason why many people mix both cocaine and alcohol is that one, allegedly, reduces the symptoms of the other. Alcohol is a depressant and has the opposite effect on the body compared to the stimulant, cocaine. Cocaine can induce anxiety-like symptoms. Introducing a depressant, such as alcohol, can help reduce these and make the 'comedown' from the cocaine high more bearable. Alternatively, those who are engaging in heavy alcohol consumption may use cocaine to counteract the negative effects of alcohol. Alcohol can make users feel tired, so, mixing cocaine with alcohol can boost energy levels.

Many people who are living with mental health conditions, such as a mood disorder, drink alcohol or engage in drug abuse in an attempt to self-medicate. Self-medicating refers to the misuse of substances to help manage symptoms of a mental health disorder without the help or guidance of a doctor. It is not uncommon for individuals who are feeling stressed to drink alcohol at the end of the day to 'wind down'.

Researchers suggest that those who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder are more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder. The presence of the co-occurring disorders may be due to the individual's attempts of minimizing and controlling the mania associated with bipolar disorder. However, engaging in substance abuse in a bid to control mental health symptoms is most likely to intensify symptoms of the mental health condition. Therefore, treatment for co-occurring disorders, the presence of a substance abuse disorder, and a mental health condition needs to take an integrated approach, ensuring that all aspects of both disorders are treated at the same time to ensure a long, lasting recovery.

Dangers of Mixing Cocaine and Alcohol

Both cocaine and alcohol are toxic substances and, when used by themselves, can cause short and long-term negative effects on the body, such as long-term health issues and in worse case scenarios, an overdose. Therefore, mixing cocaine and alcohol increases the risk of these possible health dangers.

Cocaethylene Toxicity

Cocaine and alcohol are both removed from the bloodstream and metabolized in the liver in order to eliminate the substances from the body. When both cocaine and alcohol are taken together, a byproduct called cocaethylene is produced in the liver as a result of the metabolization. Cocaethylene develops in the liver around two hours after the consumption of both of the substances. The metabolism of cocaine is interrupted and altered by the consumption of alcohol, and when 20% of the cocaine that is metabolized is disrupted by alcohol, it results in the production of cocaethylene.

The alcohol in the system slows down the liver's attempts to eliminate the byproduct, resulting in around 20% of cocaethylene remaining in the system. If an individual is engaging in prolonged and frequent substance abuse of both cocaine and alcohol, cocaethylene will eventually build up in the body. This can cause considerable damage to essential organs, specifically the cardiovascular system and of course, the liver, as this is where most of the work is being done.

Cocaethylene increases the desired euphoric effects of both substances, however, it also intensifies the negative effects of both drugs. The strain this induces on the cardiovascular system can lead to increased blood pressure and body temperature, resulting in sweating profusely and potentially dehydration.

Cocaethylene toxicity has been linked to sudden death and the following negative health consequences:

  • Heart attack

  • Damage to brain tissue that can result in stroke

  • Cardiac arrhythmia

  • Cardiomyopathy

Short Term Effects

When used by themselves, both cocaine and alcohol have been found to decrease one's ability to make judgments and increase impulsive and risky behaviors. Combined with the likelihood of experiencing memory problems due to alcohol consumption, the user can engage in risky behavior that they later cannot remember. Other short-term effects of cocaine and alcohol use include:

  • Increased heart rate

  • Cognitive impairment

  • Coordination loss

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Increased blood pressure

Long-Term Effects

Both prolonged cocaine and alcohol use can have different long-term effects, both psychologically and physically. Repeated cocaine abuse can result in the disruption of the production of dopamine, a naturally occurring chemical found within the brain. Additionally, the changes in the brain associated with substance abuse can result in an increase in negative moods and irritability when drugs have not been consumed.

Increased alcohol consumption can increase the risk of liver damage as well as contribute to high blood pressure, increasing the risk of experiencing a heart attack or stroke. After a substantial amount of time of substance abuse, an individual will develop a high tolerance for cocaine and alcohol. This means that they must take more of the drugs, repeatedly, and in higher doses, to feel the desired effects. This can result in the short-term effects that we have mentioned previously, such as restlessness, paranoia, and panic attacks. However, long-term use can also result in the development of psychosis, where an individual loses their sense of reality and can experience hallucinations.

Drug and Alcohol Addiction Treatment

There is a range of effective treatment options, offered by a multitude of treatment facilities, for both alcohol addiction and cocaine addiction. The first step in treatment for any substance abuse disorder typically begins with a detox. This is where you stop taking the drug to remove the toxins left in the body. Within this period, you can experience a series of withdrawal symptoms. How intense and how long these last is dependent on a variety of personal factors. With the right help and support, these symptoms can be easily managed and controlled, so you are able to successfully continue your treatment plan.

After a detox of cocaine and alcohol, you will follow a treatment plan that tackles the issues surrounding both your cocaine and alcohol abuse. A large part of the treatment will include a form of therapy that aims as changing thought and behavior patterns around drug use. A popular and effective psychotherapy that is utilized is Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Your treatment plan may include other aspects such as:

  • Support groups

  • Family therapy

  • Relapse prevention

  • Aftercare plan

Asking for help can seem scary, but once you have made that first step, you will be supported with the utmost compassion and care throughout your whole recovery journey. You are not alone and help is always available.

Treatment for Drug Abuse at Vita Recovery

At Vita Recovery, we provide an inclusive, compassionate and high-quality space to support you on your recovery journey. Everyone deserves to recover from addiction and to have the opportunity to live a happy and healthy fulfilling life. We want to help you achieve this.

We offer treatment for alcohol addiction and drug addiction on a partial hospitalization or intensive outpatient basis. Our partial hospitalization program is best suited for those who may have already undergone the detox process or maybe you're transitioning from an inpatient program. Either way, this is an opportunity to experience comprehensive care at a pace that is suited to you. The 30-day program oversees structured days that include family, group, and individual therapy.

We understand that addiction recovery from cocaine and alcohol is a process that requires multiple steps, which is why we offer an intensive outpatient program for those who have recently undergone the detox process or inpatient treatment. We offer a four to six-week program that covers comprehensive services such as psychiatric care, individual and family therapy, evidence-based education and therapy, and in-depth discharge plans.

If you believe you or a loved one is living with a substance abuse disorder, contact us today to see how we can help you Remember, you are never alone and help is always available.

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