What You Need to Know About Polydrug Abuse

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If you’ve ever had a prescription filled then you already know of the copious warnings that accompany medications. Offered as a paper handout, the Medication Guide details the drug’s effects, side effects, and harmful interactions. Often, these guides use overly complicated language, offer incomplete information, and, according to studies, most people don’t read them anyway. One crucial bit of information they do include, however, has to do with the drug’s interactions.

Take note: Interactions are extremely important. Studies show that a significant proportion of medical emergencies are the result of simultaneous use of prescription drugs, alcohol, illicit drugs, and/or medicinal plants and herbs. Ingesting multiple drugs, AKA Polydrug use, can cause serious interactions and significant damage to the user’s health. Polydrug use also affects the activity of the original drugs – often jacking up a drug’s actions to extreme levels – and in many cases causes new toxic substances to be formed.

Why Polydrugs Anyway?

For one, a higher high: Mixing substances creates a synergistic reaction. This means that the effects of the drugs combined are increased. Or, the user may want to adjust their level of intoxication or offset a drug already taken. An example of this would be taking speed to stay awake all night and then taking a sedative after to come down. Another side effect of polydrug abuse is the risk of becoming addicted to multiple drugs. When using multiple drugs, your brain chemistry is altered by each substance. In many cases a chemical link can be formed between the substances. Detoxing from these multiple drugs can result in powerful, painful side effects. This can make cold turkey withdrawal extremely problematic.

Alcohol and Marijuana

Alcohol interacts with nearly everything so it’s always a no-no*. Mixing alcohol with medications can increase the risks of liver damage, heart problems, internal bleeding, impaired breathing, and depression. Marijuana can interact with a whole host of things including birth control pills, estrogens, Prozac, and anticoagulents/antiplatelets. It can also affect the way certain drugs are changed by the liver, increasing how quickly the drugs are broken down. When combined with sedatives like barbiturates, the effects can be compounded to exponential levels. Opioid painkillers are the worst to mix**. They can slow breathing and inhibit the coughing reflex creating a condition that can stop breathing altogether.

There is evidence that mixing alcohol and marijuana together causes a faster absorption of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana that causes intoxication. This makes marijuana have a much stronger effect than it would normally have. Side effects can include dizziness, sweatiness, nausea and/or vomiting, panic, anxiety, and paranoia. It can also increase the risk of psychotic symptoms to those who are vulnerable to them.

Alcohol and Cocaine

An example of this link is the chemical cocaethylene, a substance that’s formed when cocaine is broken down in a body intoxicated with alcohol. Cocaethylene lasts longer in the body than cocaine because it is difficult to metabolize and can’t be easily eliminated. Cocaethylene has a similar psychoactive effect as cocaine and it has also been associated with liver damage, seizures, and immune system damage. Alcohol and cocaine together also result in higher levels of cocaine in the blood, as much as 30 percent. This increased level can lead to violent or depressive behavior. It can also put a strain on the cardiovascular system.

Cocaine and Ecstasy/Ecstasy and Alcohol

Since cocaine and ecstasy are both stimulants, they have similar effects on blood pressure and the body’s ability to regulate temperature. Mixing the two can quickly lead to an increase in heart rates and blood pressure as well as restrict blood vessels to create a possible lethal situation. Combining these drugs with physical activity like dancing can lead to overheating, dehydration, a possible stroke and/or cardiac arrest. Add to this the potential that these street drugs could also be cut with other substances and the list of additional dangerous combinations is even greater.

Alcohol may moderate the ecstasy high but it won’t moderate the come down: chances are you’ll feel much worse. Both alcohol and ecstasy cause dehydration which also increases the possibility of heatstroke with physical activity. The combination causes a greater strain on the liver and kidneys which can lead to nausea and vomiting. Both drugs impair judgement and lead to riskier behavior.

Cocaine and Opiates

Opiates and opioids (synthetic opiates) are depressants on the central system. Cocaine is a stimulant. While people may use cocaine with opiates as a bump to keep them from nodding off, the two used together are very stressful to the cardiovascular system. Heroin and cocaine together are called a speedball. Taken together the two drugs can suppress the negative side-effects of each other and lead the user to believe that they have a higher tolerance or are less high than they actually are. This can cause users to misjudge their dosage and take more of the drugs with sometimes fatal effects.

Opiates and Alcohol

On their own both drugs can do harm to the body but the effects are greatly increased when combined. Alcohol increases the absorption of opiates in the body making the high happen faster and last longer. Mixing can also intensify the sedative effects of alcohol and make unconsciousness and respiratory failure more likely. The combination significantly slows the brain and motor functions. These increased effects of the drugs together make the potential for overdose and death much more likely.

If you or a loved one have an addiction to alcohol, contact BLVD Treatment Centers. At BLVD Treatment Centers we custom tailor our recovery programs within the safe and nurturing confines of our rehab treatment centers. Located throughout California, in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego and in Portland, OR, our mission is to assess the severity of your addiction to help you achieve true recovery within 30 days. Call us now at 1-866.582.9844.

*According to a Brown University study, 60 percent of people who regularly take prescription drugs known to interact with alcohol also drink, and 5 percent have at least 3 drinks in a row when they do.
**A study in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology in 2003 that examined drug overdose deaths for the presence of oxycodone found that in 96.7 percent of the cases the deceased had multiple other drugs in their system too.

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