Drug and Alcohol Abuse – Alcohol use disorder is a chronic disease that when present, may also increase the likelihood of a person developing co-occurring substance abuse problems such as addictions to prescription medications or illicit drugs. Combining alcohol and other drugs, however, can result in serious health and behavioral complications. Not only can excessive drinking and drug use compound the effects of each substance, but it can also lead to unpredictable and dangerous interactions.
What Is Substance Abuse?
Substance abuse is constituted by the chronic and problematic use of alcohol and/or drugs. A person who abuses alcohol has a higher risk of using at least one other substance, such as marijuana, heroin, or cocaine. Prolonged consumption of drugs and alcohol increases tolerance, therefore requiring increasing amounts of the substance to achieve the same effects.
A co-occurring alcohol and drug abuse problem can begin as mild to moderate use then gradually develop into a more severe condition. For example, a person may initially combine small amounts of alcohol with some other drug that has a relatively low potential for abuse or addiction. Over time, however, their body may develop physical dependence and begin craving more of one or the other substance, or both.
Once a person has built a tolerance to both substances, he or she may be forced to increase the amount(s) consumed in order to avoid experiencing withdrawal symptoms. As a result, some individuals may resort to using more addictive substances, such as heroin, cocaine or meth, to experience the euphoric effects they are seeking.
Being able to identify the warning signs of alcoholism and substance abuse is key to recognizing the need for professional help as early as possible. If left unaddressed for a long period of time, problems with drinking and drugs can intensify and become life-threatening.
Recognizing a Drug and Alcohol Abuse Problem
While some signs of alcohol and drug abuse are prominent and may be caught early on, others may not be as obvious. Warning signs are sometimes overlooked when a person conceals their drinking habits and drug use problem.
Due to the shame and negative implications associated with drug and alcohol abuse, many people deny they have a problem, at least initially. In these instances, it can be challenging for close friends and family members to arrange an intervention and attempt to get their loved one the help they so desperately need.
Identifying Substance Abuse
Here are several questions to ask that may help you to identify whether you or a loved one may be suffering from a drug and alcohol abuse problem:
- Have you felt annoyed by the concern or criticism of your substance use by those around you, such as family, friends, or co-workers?
- Have you ever thought that you should reduce your alcohol or drug consumption?
- Have you felt guilt regarding your drug and alcohol consumption?
- Do you ever find yourself craving alcohol or other substances regularly throughout the day?
- In the last year, have you neglected any obligations due to drinking and/or drug use?
- Have you or someone else been physically or emotionally harmed as a result of your substance abuse?
If you answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, you should seek help from a medical professional, mental health provider, or addiction specialist. Positive answers to these questions are not meant to serve as an official diagnosis. However, they may indicate that there is a substance abuse issue at hand and motivate you to get help.
The Dangers of Drug and Alcohol Abuse
Depending on the volume of alcohol and type drug(s) consumed, a person can encounter a host of adverse side effects. Since alcohol is a depressant, combining it with another psychoactive substance can be dangerous and lead to unpredictable and even-threatening side effects.
Some of the most common drug and alcohol combinations include the following:
Cocaine and Alcohol
Cocaine and alcohol used together is one of the most popular combinations among drug users because of the intense high that both substances induce. Cocaine is a stimulant that increases blood pressure, heart rate and alertness, and also helps alcohol reach the brain quicker. Mixing cocaine and alcohol produces a chemical called cocaethylene, which contributes to intense feelings of pleasure. Severe risk factors of combining alcohol and cocaine include heart attack, overdose or death.
Methamphetamine (Meth) and Alcohol
Like cocaine, meth is a powerful stimulant that is most often used recreationally. The effects of cocaine, however, wear off quickly, whereas meth remains in the body for much longer. If someone drinks excessive while on meth, they will not initially feel the effects of alcohol poisoning, and in their euphoric state, they may consume much more than their body can handle. If meth begins to wear off before the alcohol, the person can die from acute alcohol intoxication.
Heroin and Alcohol
Both heroin and alcohol are central nervous system depressants that can cause comparable side effects. One of the most dangerous risks of using depressants is dramatically depressed breathing. When a person uses heroin with alcohol, breathing problems can become even more serious and life-threatening. The combined use of heroin and alcohol can result in an extremely slow heart rate and profound respiratory depression.
Ecstasy and Alcohol
Ecstasy is a stimulant and hallucinogen that can cause severe reactions when used with other substances, including alcohol. The intense high experienced while taking ecstasy can influence a person to drink large amounts of alcohol in a brief period of time. This can cause extreme dehydration, among other side effects, such as excessive sweating, heat stroke, nausea, and vomiting.
Prescription Painkillers and Alcohol
Prescription painkillers, such as Vicodin, Xanax, and OxyContin, are commonly prescribed in the U.S. to treat moderate to severe pain. When used in conjunction with alcohol, these substances can produce dangerous health conditions. When used separately, both painkillers and alcohol can cause liver damage. However, when the two are combined, it significantly increases the risk of liver problems and liver disease.
Side Effects of Substance Use
The consumption of an excessive amount of alcohol and drugs over the course of weeks or years can take a serious toll on the body. Some effects may be temporary and mild or moderate. Other effects may last much longer and be responsible for irreversible damage.
Several short-term alcohol and drug use side effects include the following:
- Short-term memory loss
- Anxiety and paranoia
- Difficulty concentrating
- Respiratory problems
- Markedly accelerated or decreased heart rate
- Muscle control and motor skill impairments
- Reduced inhibitions leading to risky behavior
- Intensified emotions and mood swings
In addition to the temporary side effects of alcohol and drug abuse, there are also complications that can be chronic. Some of these conditions can put one at a higher risk of developing further health issues later on.
Long-term effects of alcohol and drug abuse may include:
- Damage to internal organs
- Muscle and bone damage
- Loss of coordination
- Increased risk of disease
- Long-term memory impairments
- Malnutrition and marked weight loss or gain
- Nasal damage from snorting drugs such as cocaine or meth
- Skin damage, sores, and infection related to injecting drugs such as heroin
Treating Drug and Alcohol Abuse
Excessive alcohol and drug abuse can destroy relationships with family and friends, professional and academic prospects, and health. While many in the grips of substance abuse feel as though there’s no end in sight, help is available. Alcohol and drug abuse are treatable conditions that can be defeated with the help of addiction specialists and medical care and support.
Recovery in Tune offers comprehensive, evidence-based treatment programs that include services vital to the recovery process, such as behavioral therapy, psychoeducation, counseling, group support, aftercare planning, and more.
If you or someone you love is suffering from alcoholism, drug abuse, or both, please call us today to discuss treatment options and discover how we can help!
Related: What Is Alcohol Use Disorder?