Alcohol: Reactions with other drugs or substances

Last modified: Wednesday, 24. December 2008 - 4:02 am

Alcohol should not be consumed while taking medications. Drinking alcohol along with antihistamines will increase the drowsiness that can occur with cold medicines. Alcohol can cause liver damage when taken in combination with acetaminophen. It has additional adverse effects when taken with other drugs. For example, when taken with aspirin alcohol can cause inflammation of the stomach and increase gastrointestinal bleeding. Alcohol combined with antidepressants slows down psychomotor performance. Alcohol taken with barbiturates (Nembutal, Seconal, Amytal, Tuinal, etc.) can increase depression. Tranquilizers that depress the central nervous system like Valium and Librium taken along with alcohol can cause high blood pressure, drowsiness, depression, and confusion in elderly people. Elderly people should avoid alcohol when taking antidepressants, muscle relaxants, sleeping aids, or cold medicines. Those people taking prescription or over-the-counter medicines should check with a physician about alcohol use.

Polysubstance use refers to combining one drug with another drug or drugs. It often involves the use of a legal drug like alcohol with an illegal drug such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and/or pills. Polysubstance use is common among young people. The user may get high on a stimulant like speed or cocaine and then use a depressant like alcohol to come down from the high. Alcohol is considered by many to be a gateway drug, as are nicotine and marijuana. Individuals who use one or more of these gateway drugs are believed to go on to deeper and more severe drug involvement. Jeanne Nagel in her book Polysubstance Abuse says “statistics reveal that alcoholics are 35 times more likely than non-alcoholics to use cocaine.” She goes on to say that alcoholics are “17 times more likely to abuse sedatives, 13 times more likely to take opiates, 12 times more likely to ingest hallucinogens, and 11 times more likely to abuse stimulants.” Furthermore, Nagel reports 90% of alcoholics smoke cigarettes, and alcohol abusers are six times more likely to abuse marijuana. When someone develops an addiction to more than one drug, the person is said to be cross-addicted.

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