Why is Mixing Substances So Dangerous?

Most people are aware of the dangers of substance misuse. However, abuse of drugs and alcohol is still very common in the United States. In 2019, around 57,203,000 Americans aged 12 or older admitted to illicit drug use within the year and 139,727,000 binge drank within the past month.

Mixing drugs or mixing drugs with alcohol greatly exacerbates the health risks of substance misuse. Sadly, polydrug abuse is very common as well.

Opioids and Other Substances

Opioid use is the leading cause of fatal overdose by a wide margin. But involving other substances considerably increases the risk in a variety of different ways. This is evidenced by the:

Use of benzodiazepines (such as Xanax or Valium) with opioids further reduces cognitive function, greatly increasing the likelihood that breathing will be suppressed to the point of hypoxia and death. A recent North Carolina report found that co-prescription of opioids and benzodiazepines increased the risk of overdose by 10 times that of someone just prescribed opioids.

Similar to combining benzos and opioids, alcohol and opioids also can increase the risk of overdose by slowing cognitive function.

Combining stimulants and opioids is also risky but also very common. People that use both drug types often do so to balance the effects, since they feel stimulants enable them to function naturally while high on opioids. Others use them for the combined euphoric effects. Injecting both stimulants and opioids at once or concurrently is known as “speedballing.” In addition to the risks of using both drugs separately, simultaneous use can cause rapid changes in heartrate, potentially causing heart failure. Since opioids outlast stimulants, breathing can slow to a fatal rate once the stimulant wears off and the full effects of the opioid are experienced.

Beyond the heightened risk of overdose, mixing opioids and other substances also causes other harmful problems such as polysubstance dependence or addiction, memory problems, injury due to impaired motor control, and more.

Other Common Substance Mixtures

Mixing non-opioids together is also dangerous. When partying, it is common for people to mix stimulants, or mix stimulants with alcohol.

Misusing cocaine and alcohol together is especially dangerous for someone’s heart. Concurrent use forms cocaethylene, a metabolite that develops in the liver and slows down the metabolism of both substances, potentially causing more tissue and organ damage. The presence of cocaethylene is often a sign that neurological and cardiac emergencies are soon to follow.

The opposing effects of alcohol and other stimulants (such as ecstasy or amphetamines) on the heart also puts someone at an increased risk of suffering a cardiac emergency.

Combining multiple stimulants together can raise someone’s heartrate to a dangerous level. It also can increase the negative emotional and physical effects of the “comedown” after the effects of the drugs wear off.

Like mixing opioids and alcohol, combined benzodiazepine and alcohol misuse increases the risk of overdose due to slowed cognitive function, as well as formation of tolerance, dependency, and addiction.

Treatment for Polydrug Abuse

Simultaneous or concurrent use of multiple substances complicates the recovery process. It’s important that someone withdraws from these substances safely before moving onto the next stages in recovery. Medical detoxification can make the withdrawal process safer and more comfortable.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, please reach out to an admissions navigator at . They can answer questions about Oxford Treatment Center and help you find the right treatment option.

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