Risks of Mixing Prescription Drugs with Alcohol and Effective Treatment Options
What Happens When You Mix Prescription Drugs and Alcohol?
Mixing prescription drugs with alcohol can be harmful. Alcohol, like some medicines, can make you drowsy, sleepy, or lightheaded. Drinking alcohol while taking prescription drugs can intensify these effects. You may have trouble concentrating or performing mechanical skills. Small amounts of alcohol can make it dangerous to drive, and when you combine alcohol with certain prescription drugs, you put yourself at even greater risk.
Mixing prescription drugs with alcohol can lead to falls and serious injuries, especially among older people. If you or someone you know is struggling with a prescription drug and/or alcohol addiction, it’s essential to reach out for assistance. Inpatient addiction rehab provides treatment options for various substance use disorders, including those involving mixing alcohol and prescription drugs, and mental health.
When you receive prescription drugs, whether it’s a depressant like Xanax for anxiety treatment, an opioid painkiller like methadone for opioid withdrawal symptoms and addiction treatment, or a stimulant like Adderall for ADHD treatment, you’ll often find stringent warning labels about the risks of mixing prescription drugs with alcohol. When combined with the effects of alcohol, many otherwise routine prescription drugs can become deadly. Relaxing with a drink or two at night is dangerous when the effects of alcohol and prescription drugs are combined. Some people may use prescription drugs with alcohol to intensify the effects of both substances. This can lead to polysubstance abuse when the drugs are used together, especially in excess.
What Happens When You Mix Prescription Drugs and Alcohol?
56% of U.S. adults over the age of 21 drink alcohol at least once per month. Drinking alcohol in moderation is a safe practice for millions of people. But about 16 million people in the U.S. struggle with alcohol use disorder. Problem drinking can take many forms, including dependence on drinking, drinking to extreme levels of intoxication, and mixing alcohol with prescription drugs or illegal drugs.
Unfortunately, prescription drug abuse is common in the U.S. Abuse includes mixing prescription drugs with alcohol to get high. Also, individuals who struggle with alcoholism and are prescribed medications may be unable to stop drinking while taking a prescription. If someone is struggling with alcohol use disorder, they can experience many adverse health consequences when they mix their legal prescription drugs with alcohol. Accidentally mixing prescription drugs with alcohol is risky enough, but some people struggle with addiction to prescription drugs and may mix these with alcohol.
What Are Prescription Drugs?
Prescription drugs are a wide classification of medications that includes benzodiazepine (benzo) depressants, opioid painkillers, and amphetamine stimulants, among others. They can have a variety of uses, including relieving pain due to surgery or illness, helping calm anxiety or maintaining impulse control. When used as directed, prescription drugs can effectively manage a variety of issues and ailments. However, when abused, they can often become addictive and dangerous, especially when combined with other substances like alcohol.
Prescription drug abuse is the use of prescription drugs in a way not intended by the prescribing doctor. It is problematic use includes everything from taking a friend’s prescription painkiller, to snorting or injecting ground-up pills to get high. Prescription drug addiction involves people building a dependence on prescription pharmaceutical medications. In many cases, prescription drug abuse happens due to a voluntary pursuit of the euphoric feeling that some medications provide people.
Once prescription drug addiction sets in, abuse becomes compulsive and difficult to overcome. Additionally, addiction to prescription drugs can cause severe long-term consequences, including mental illness and physical injury while also affecting personal and professional relationships. Fortunately, there is a way for people to remove prescription drug addiction from their lives and overcome prescription drug abuse. Prescription drug abuse in older adults is a growing problem, especially when they combine drugs with alcohol. Having multiple health problems and taking multiple drugs can put people at risk of abusing drugs or becoming addicted.
What are The Dangers of Mixing Prescription Drugs with Alcohol?
When someone mixes prescription drugs with alcohol, they can experience many different side effects, which can vary in intensity and danger.
- Alcohol can prevent some prescription drugs from working.
- Alcohol can raise the levels of drugs in the bloodstream to toxic levels.
Who is Most at Risk for Mixing Prescription drugs with Alcohol?
The risk factors for mixing the prescription drug with alcohol abuse included the following:
- Being young, between the ages of 18 and 25.
- Not graduating from high school.
- Being single
- Having a pattern of heavy drinking or binge drinking behaviors.
People who struggle with alcohol dependence and addiction, and also need to take prescription medications need treatment for alcohol use disorder and alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Continuing to drink while taking prescription drugs for various health problems can worsen health outcomes, and patients can risk dangerous side effects when mixing prescription drugs with alcohol.
What Are the Side Effects of Mixing Prescription Drugs with Alcohol?
Alcohol often has harmful interactions with prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, and even some herbal remedies. Alcohol interactions with medications may cause problems such as:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Changes in blood pressure
- Abnormal behavior
- Loss of coordination
Mixing prescription drugs with alcohol may increase the risk of complications such as:
- Liver damage
- Heart problems
- Internal bleeding
- Impaired breathing
- Alcohol poisoning and overdose
In some cases, alcohol interactions may decrease the effectiveness of medications or render them useless. In other cases, alcohol interactions may make drugs harmful or even toxic to the body. Even in small amounts, alcohol also may intensify prescription drug side effects such as drowsiness, sleepiness, and light-headedness, which may interfere with your concentration and ability to drive a vehicle or operate machinery, and lead to serious or even fatal accidents. Because alcohol can adversely interact with hundreds of commonly used medications, it’s important to observe warning labels and ask your doctor or pharmacist if it’s safe to use alcohol with any medications and herbal remedies that you take.
What Prescription Drugs Should Someone Never Mix with Alcohol?
Mixing prescription drugs with alcohol may seem like no big deal, but mixing the two can often be very dangerous. If you’ve been prescribed medication and aren’t sure if it’s okay to drink that red wine, you might want to think twice about hitting the bottle. There are more than 100 medications that can cause issues when mixed with alcohol.
Mixing prescription drugs with alcohol can include symptoms that range from something as minor as nausea to more serious complications, like stomach bleeds, organ damage, difficulty breathing, and even death. One study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that 42 percent of individuals who drink alcohol were taking medication that could negatively react to the drink.
So how do you know what is dangerous to mix with alcohol and what’s not? Here’s a list of medications that should never be mixed with alcohol, along with some of the possible health risks. It should be noted that the risks vary based on the exact type of medication.
Mixing Prescription Drugs with Alcohol – Anxiety meds such as Xanax, Valium, & Trazodone
Alcohol and anxiety problems are common co-occurring disorders that can cause severe distress and impair your daily life. Anxiety and alcohol abuse often make each other significantly worse. Alcoholism can exacerbate an existing anxiety disorder or may lead to new anxiety symptoms and vice versa. This means that a pre-existing anxiety disorder can contribute to alcoholism (as many people use alcohol as an unhealthy coping mechanism).
Alcohol and anxiety meds are especially dangerous when combined. Problem drinkers were 1.5 times more likely to drink and use anxiety meds. Interestingly, problem drinking among women is linked with anxiety meds use. Xanax is a prescription drug used for anxiety treatment. It is also sometimes prescribed for panic attack treatment. Taking Xanax and alcohol together will intensify the effects of both substances. Combing Xanax and alcohol increases the likelihood of a Xanax overdose, which can lead to respiratory depression, seizures, and potentially even death.
Trazodone is an FDA-approved antidepressant for treating major depressive disorders. Trazodone has a possibility for physical dependence when consumed with alcohol. In addition to that, the deadly combination of Trazodone and alcohol can lead to delirium, hallucinations, and seizures in extreme cases. Mixing Trazodone and alcohol can lead to severe side effects that affect a person’s overall health.
Valium (diazepam) is a benzodiazepine prescribed for anxiety, muscle spasms, seizures, and insomnia. While some users mix Valium and alcohol or other drugs to intensify their calming effects, others take Valium with other substances without being aware that they are endangering their health and safety. Abusing this medication by mixing it with other medicines, illicit drugs, or alcohol poses serious risks. In order to prevent excessive sedation, it is critically important to be aware of the possible interactions of Valium with other chemicals.
- Risk of overdose
- Risk of high blood pressure/heart attack
- Breathing difficulty
- Impaired motor control
- Liver damage
- Memory problems and unusual behavior
Mixing Prescription Drugs with Alcohol – Antihistamines such as Benadryl
Benadryl (diphenhydramine) is a brand name for an over-the-counter (OTC) medication that’s classified as an antihistamine. People who are addicted to Benadryl often have simultaneous addictions to alcohol and other drugs. Both Benadryl and alcohol are classified as CNS depressants. First-generation antihistamines will cause drowsiness in just about everybody and alcohol does that too, so if someone is taking alcohol and antihistamines the chance of having a double dose of that drowsiness are very, very high. Depression of the central nervous system (CNS) can cause a slower rate of breathing, decreased heart rate, and loss of consciousness, and can lead to a coma in rare cases.
- Increased overdose risk
Mixing Drugs with Alcohol – Antibiotics
The advice that you shouldn’t mix antibiotics and alcohol does hold true for a small group of anti-infective drugs, including metronidazole (Flagyl, Metronide, or Metrogyl), tinidazole (Fasigyn or Simplotan), and sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim (Bactrim, Co-trimoxazole). The side effects of both Bactrim and alcohol are similar, including, stomach upsets, dizziness, and drowsiness. Mixing Bactrim and alcohol can increase the side effects of both, making the person extremely uncomfortable.
- Increased heart rate
- Sudden changes in blood pressure
- Stomach pain
- Liver damage and reduced effectiveness
Mixing Drugs with Alcohol – ADHD medications such as Adderall & Ritalin
Adderall is a brand name for the combination of dextroamphetamine and amphetamine. It is prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder treatment and narcolepsy (sleep disorder). Some people think that taking Adderall before drinking will help them keep up their energy. If Adderall stimulates them up and alcohol makes them tired, they should balance each other out, right? But that is not the case. Young people intentionally mix alcohol and Adderall in order to party longer and drink larger amounts. Unfortunately, this practice is extremely risky and dangerous because it can result in potentially-fatal consequences, including anxiety, depression, seizures, alcohol poisoning, and even heart attack.
Ritalin. or Methylphenidate hydrochloride—the generic for Ritalin, is a stimulant prescribed for ADHD treatment. It affects the parts of the brain and central nervous system (CNS) that control impulses and hyperactivity. Using Ritalin with alcohol also increases your risk of alcohol poisoning. This is because Ritalin masks the CNS-depressing effects of alcohol. You may feel more alert and be less likely to realize when you’ve had too much alcohol.
People who are addicted to Ritalin and alcohol typically experience alcohol and Ritalin withdrawal symptoms when they stop using the substances. They may feel severely depressed or irritable and suffer from headaches. They may need higher doses or more drinks to feel the same effects as they once did because frequent use increases a person’s tolerance.
- Impaired concentration
- Possible heart or liver damage
Mixing Prescription Drugs with Alcohol – Blood pressure drugs
- Heart problems such as arrhythmia
Mixing Prescription Drugs with Alcohol – Blood thinners
- Internal bleeding or an increased risk of blood clots
- Stroke or heart attack
Mixing Prescription Drugs with Alcohol – Cholesterol drugs such as Lipitor
- Liver damage
- Increased flushing and itching
- Increased stomach bleeding
Mixing Prescription Drugs with Alcohol – Cough medicine
Cough medicine is commonly available in local pharmacies as an over-the-counter (OTC) flu remedy. It helps us to relieve discomfort when suffering from flu, like runny nose and cough. Sadly, it is also a popular drug choice by substance abusers. It can be regarded as cough medicine abuse when cough syrup is used not for flu remedy or using more than what is prescribed by the doctor. Dextromethorphan is a cough expectorant and suppressant found in many OTC cough medicines. Dextromethorphan or DMX causes side effects such as nausea, vomiting, panic attacks, seizures, pounding heartbeat, high blood pressure, slurred speech, and even death if abused with alcohol or other drugs.
- Increased risk for overdose
Mixing Prescription Drugs with Alcohol – Prescription opioid pain relievers such as Vicodin or Percocet
Percocet is a prescription painkiller containing oxycodone (a semi-synthetic opiate) and acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol). This is a strong pain reliever most often prescribed for intense, short-term pain after surgery or trauma, but it is also sometimes used for clients with severe chronic pain. A high enough dose can result in the sense of euphoria similar to that experienced by heroin users. Abuse can lead to Percocet Addiction or something harder. Alcohol can intensify the Percocet side effects, but taking Percocet and alcohol together makes it more likely that the user will experience overdose and stop breathing.
Vicodin is a prescription painkiller to relieve moderate to severe pain. Vicodin can be addictive, and some individuals build a tolerance to it. This means that the person takes larger doses of this drug or does so compulsively without stopping. Physical dependence means that the person will experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking the medication. This can be dangerous because Vicodin can be highly addictive, and overdoses and death are common.
Mixing alcohol and Vicodin can cause extreme dizziness or drowsiness. Drinking alcohol while using Vicodin can be very dangerous to a person’s liver health because both alcohol and acetaminophen (one of the active components of Vicodin) are both metabolized through the liver. Both hydrocodone and acetaminophen can cause liver damage and liver failure when abused alone. However, when used together, the consequences on the liver could turn deadly.
- Increased risk for overdose, slowed or difficulty breathing, impaired Motor control
- Unusual behavior and memory problems
Mixing Prescription Drugs with Alcohol – Over-the-counter pain relievers such as Tylenol
Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, is a particularly bad medication to mix with alcohol, as it can lead to liver damage. Other risks include upset stomach, bleeding and ulcers, and rapid heartbeat. Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, is a particularly bad medication to mix with alcohol, as it can lead to liver damage. Other risks include upset stomach, bleeding and ulcers, and rapid heartbeat. Large doses or chronic use can lead to liver damage, especially when used in combination with alcohol or other drugs. If a person who is abusing acetaminophen suddenly stops misusing the drug, withdrawal symptoms can occur. These withdrawal symptoms may range from bone and muscle pain and restlessness to diarrhea and vomiting.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Polysubstance Abuse
Mixing prescription drugs with alcohol can lead to addiction and dangerous side effects, including a greater risk of overdose. People with a history of problem drinking and alcohol dependence will need to inform their doctor about these problems. In addition, it’s crucial that these individuals get help from a qualified addiction rehabilitation center.
Polysubstance abuse is the consumption of more than one substance at the same time. While some drug users have a preferred drug, other users have several drugs they like to take. Polysubstance abuse is common, and these drug users are clinically classified as having multiple comorbid substance disorders.
Because withdrawal from multiple substances is more complicated than withdrawal from one substance, inpatient medical detox is generally recommended. The goal of treatment is to restore some or all normal functioning to the liver by addressing the underlying issue of alcohol and prescription drug abuse.
Medically Assisted Detox
Usually, the first step in inpatient alcohol treatment is medically assisted detox. Doctors and addiction specialists monitor clients’ vital signs while alcohol exit the system. Depending on the type of substance a person is detoxing from, withdrawal symptoms may differ.
Cravings are very common during detox and can be challenging to overcome. This often leads to relapse. Constant medical care provided during inpatient treatment helps prevent relapse. Clinicians can provide necessary medicine and medical expertise to lessen cravings and withdrawals.
Behavioral Therapies, Dual Diagnosis
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) can improve the behavior of the individual. CBT targets negative and maladaptive thought patterns as it promotes positive emotions and beliefs, while DBT helps clients address conflicting impulses so they can make healthy choices. Both therapies treat substance abuse, anxiety disorders, and other mood issues. Therapy also empowers clients to identify, avoid and mitigate cues that trigger drug cravings.
Individual and Group Counseling
Alcoholism and mental health counseling occur in both individual and group settings. One-on-one treatment sessions may address unresolved trauma, unconscious conflicts, and specific struggles, while group sessions often involve training in life skills, stress management, conflict resolution, and social connections. Group counseling also gives clients the chance to share their thoughts and experiences to develop social support, which is essential for lasting recovery.
During your rehabilitation, the staff from the We Level Up treatment facility will help you identify what caused your alcoholism and teach you skills that will help you change your behavior patterns and challenge the negative thoughts that led to your alcoholism. Sometimes, the pressures and problems in your life lead you to rely on alcohol to help you forget about them momentarily.
Please, do not try to detox on your own because the alcohol detox process can be painful and difficult without medical assistance. In addition, it’s crucial that these individuals get help from a qualified addiction rehabilitation center. If you or someone you care about is struggling with alcohol or prescription medication addiction, please reach out to a drug abuse counselor today to explore your treatment options. Call us today here at We Level Up to get into proper treatment. Above all, recovering from a substance use disorder does not need to be overwhelming or burdensome.
 NIDA – https://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/prescription-drugs
 NIDA – https://archives.drugabuse.gov/news-events/nida-notes/2008/03/alcohol-abuse-makes-prescription-drug-abuse-more-likely
 NCBI – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6761694/
 NIAAA – https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/harmful-interactions-mixing-alcohol-with-medicines