Blog | Alcohol Abuse

Deadly Combinations: Which Drug and Alcohol Combos Kill?

Taking too much of any drug can mean death by overdose.

Drunk manThis is true even of alcohol. The Centers for Disease Control[1] (CDC) explains, “Alcohol poisoning deaths are caused by drinking a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time. This can result in very high levels of alcohol in the body, which can shut down critical areas of the brain that control breathing, heart rate, and body temperature – resulting in death.”

Alcohol is a legal drug, but it is still a drug. Too much can be harmful. It can lead to overdose death. Using alcohol in combination with other drugs increases the risks involved. These risks vary depending on the individual, the drug or drugs used, and the amounts taken.

Overdose is unfortunately common. The U.S. Surgeon General[2] shares, “In 2014, 47,055 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States.”

A large portion of these–61 percent–were related to opioid like prescription painkillers and heroin. Most people recognize the dangers associated with heroin use. Not everyone recognizes how dangerous prescription medications can be. They certainly may not recognize the dangers inherent in using alcohol–a legal, widely available, and socially acceptable drug. However alcohol can be just as deadly as any street drug.

The CDC reveals, “There are more than 2,200 alcohol poisoning deaths in the U.S. each year – an average of 6 alcohol poisoning deaths every day.”

Substance abuse is an epidemic, and it is deadly. The majority of overdoses involve prescription opioids, but overdoses don’t only involve opioids. Many involve alcohol or other drugs. Many involve alcohol and other drugs.

Drug combinations are even more deadly than single drug use.

Consumer Reports[3] explains, “Up to one-third of the people who died from opioid overdoses were also taking benzodiazepines…What’s dangerous about taking an opioid for pain along with, say, a sedative such as Valium is that both drugs affect similar neural pathways in the central nervous system. So combining them compounds the risk of dangerous side effects—extreme drowsiness and very slow, or even stopped, breathing.”

Using multiple prescription drugs is never a good idea. Substances interact with one another. They may multiply, rather than add to, another’s effects. They may create entirely new and potentially deadly side effects.

Alcohol is a depressant like benzos and opioids. All of these substances slow essential bodily functions such as heart rate and breathing rate. Drinking alcohol with either, or especially with both, benzos or opioids increases deadly overdose potential.

The Surgeon General explains, “Alcohol is involved in about 20 percent of the overdose deaths related to prescription opioid pain relievers.”

Benzos aren’t the only drugs that increase opioid overdose risk. If all three substances are involved, the risks are even greater.

Drugs don’t have to have similar effects to create deadly combinations. Depressants are just as dangerous when used with stimulants. Stimulants may mask just how much a person has had to drink, and vice versa, leading individuals to use far more of either or both substance than they otherwise would. These combinations also place significant stress on the body, particularly the heart.

The Guardian[4] shares, “Cocaine/ethanol abuse is a major cause of emergency medical admissions [and] the cause of increases in cocaine-related mortality.” Combining alcohol and any stimulant can be deadly.

Even if the drugs combined seem relatively harmless, death can occur. For example both marijuana and alcohol have growing legal and social acceptance. They are often seen as fun or harmless ways to have fun with friends or relax. This “fun” can turn deadly. The Surgeon General shares, “Marijuana use can also impair driving skills and, while estimates vary, is linked to a roughly two-fold increase in accident risk. The risk is compounded when marijuana is used with alcohol.” Combining drugs increases overdose risk. It also increases the risk of accidents and other drug use consequences.

Drug and alcohol combinations kill. They don’t have to.

Ending risky substance use or addiction saves lives. It ends overdose risk. It restores physical health and mental balance. Programs like those at Michael’s House promote integrated wellness. They have experience addressing multiple drug use, co-occurring addiction and physical health issues, and mental health concerns. Comprehensive treatment leads to comprehensive healing. Learn more about protecting yourself or a loved one. Call Michael’s House.


[1] https://www.cdc.gov/media/dpk/alcohol/alcohol-poisoning/dpk-vs-alcohol-poisoning.html. “Alcohol Poisoning Deaths.” Centers for Disease Control. 6 Jan 2015. Web. 4 Apr 2017.

[2] https://addiction.surgeongeneral.gov/surgeon-generals-report.pdf. Facing Addiction in America. Surgeongeneral.gov. Nov 2016. Web. 4 Apr 2017.

[3] http://www.consumerreports.org/health/opioid-overdose/. “The Hidden Risk for Opioid Overdose.” Consumer Reports. 3 Oct 2015. Web. 4 Apr 2017.

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2009/nov/08/cocaine-alcohol-mixture-health-risks. “Warning of Extra Heart Dangers from Mixing Cocaine and Alcohol.” The Guardian. 7 Nov 2009. Web. 4 Apr 2017.