For someone used to the party scene, if they’ve seen it once, they’ve seen the following scene played out a thousand times.
You’ve had a long day working and should probably get a good night’s sleep but you and your friends have a big night out planned. What can you do to wake yourself up quickly and feel ready to get loose? Before you leave the apartment, you snort a quick line of cocaine and within two or three minutes begin to feel like a powerhouse of energy. You feel amazing and ready to tackle the world. You might tuck the second round in your pocket for later “just in case.”
Now that you’re finally rocking, you want to maintain the quick-acting, but the relatively short-lived high of coke, so once your crowd hits the bar you knock down a few Red Bulls with vodka. Drinking is perfectly acceptable in public and you’ve known this since you were a little kid and saw the commercials on television. Your hand might feel naked without holding a beverage and when you keep sipping alcohol, you’re keeping the ride going. The irony is not lost on you that both alcohol and cocaine basically get you high, but while you can drink one openly in public, the other is relegated to furtive trips to the bathroom due to its illegal status.
To anyone watching you from an observer’s perspective, they’re seeing a guy in his mid-20s having a few drinks out with his buddies. Your body’s internal functioning, however, is telling a different story.
Physically and behaviorally, your body and mind don’t only feel the positive, supercharged rush frame of mind that comes with alcohol or cocaine, the drugs are affecting your body’s central nervous system with short-term behaviors and if you develop an addiction to either substance, the effects could be long-lasting.
Side Effects Of Cocaine
Physical side effects include
- Elevated heart rate
- Constricted blood vessels, resulting in heart palpitations and high blood pressure
- Dilated pupils
- Increased body temperature
Behavioral side effects include
- Heightened mental awareness
- Noticeably high energy level
- Mood changes such as paranoia, irritability, or aggression
- Taking increased risks
- Craving more of the above feelings
Long-Term Effects Of Cocaine
Hand-in-hand with long-term use comes tolerance. More frequent doses at higher levels are needed to achieve the results felt with the initial high.
Things get particularly dangerous in this respect because as cocaine addiction develops, so does sensitization. This means the body might crave more cocaine but negative physical reactions such as anxiety, convulsions, and other toxic effects are more likely even if less cocaine is taken.
This teeter-totter can lead to overdose. Another possibility of overdose is if a person unknowingly takes cocaine that is cut with highly addictive fentanyl. Mixed in with cocaine it is invisible but can have drastic results.
In the case of cocaine, Texas is rated as one of the lower-ranked states in the country among those ages 18-25, with 4.19% having used the drug over a year.
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Side Effects Of Alcohol
Physical side effects include
- Increased blood pressure
- Slowed reflexes, resulting in slurred speech, loss of coordination
- Blurred vision
Behavioral side effects include
- Loss of inhibition
- Impaired judgment
- Memory loss of day-to-day events over time
Long-Term Effects Of Alcohol
Physically, the effects of alcohol over time or with prolonged use are evident typically through weight gain mainly in the abdominal area, shaky hands, or a yellow tinge to skin or eyes from a malfunctioning liver.
Alcoholic hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, which may be curable and can indicate early signs of liver disease but can still be returned to a healthy state.
Liver disease results when heavy use of alcohol is consumed over long periods. The liver can typically process one drink per hour but often experiences a back-up during binges or long drinking bouts. The alcohol builds to a toxic level and the liver experiences scarring. As the blood vessels constrict, blood has no clear path from the spleen to the liver, eventually bursting in a condition known as varices. Internal bleeding results and there is a 10-20% mortality rate in the six weeks following a first incident.
Alcohol interferes with neurologic pathways in the brain and, as such, can cause severe physical and mental impairments, possible coma, or death.
Behavioral changes are very striking as the brain matter is directly impacted, resulting in memory loss, slowed thinking, and reduced attention span. Thiamine deficiency due to poor diet is common in up to 80% of heavy drinkers. This deficiency of vitamin B-1 can lead to wet brain, which is a layman’s term for Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. With this condition, even if alcohol is no longer taken, the person may seem to be in a confused, intoxicated state.
The 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health numbers show 25.8% of people had been binge-drinking and 6.3% were drinking large quantities of alcohol regularly in the past 30 days.
Regarding alcoholism, 18.7% of Texas adults reported binge-drinking or excessive use in the prior month.
What you’re NOT seeing though, are the internal effects on your body, especially when you use both substances at one time. Mixing alcohol with cocaine puts a strain on your heart, even one time. If you are addicted, you’re just playing a game of odds for not if—but when—you’ll experience complications.
Why Combine A Stimulant With A Depressant?
Some people mistakenly believe alcohol is a stimulant due to the initial buzz they feel upon consumption. While this is attributed to an initial endorphin rush, it inevitably slows the central nervous system reactions, which is seen with decreased motor skills—and not seen, with slowed heart rate.
They might take a quick hit of cocaine to get things moving and hope to maintain the feeling with alcohol in a party-like setting. This is a falsehood and both can lead to increased risk-taking and increased use due to higher impulsivity as well as lowered inhibitions. Overdose can often result.
Or they might reach for cocaine the morning after a long night of partying to shake off the hangover feelings (remember, alcohol is a depressant!). Alcohol can remain in the system as long as 80 hours after a night of nearly toxic partying. The liver can only process one ounce of alcohol per hour and you can even test over-the-limit well into the next day.
Some people understand the depressant effect of alcohol and use both substances under the mistaken assumption they may counteract each other’s negative side effects.
Effects Combining Cocaine And Alcohol
Now that we’ve explored the science behind the individual effects of taking cocaine or consuming alcohol, let’s explore what occurs when the two drugs are combined, otherwise known as polysubstance use.
Alcohol is the most commonly used substance with cocaine use. Psychologists from Florida Atlantic University published a 2016 article titled Effect of Alcohol in Chronic Cocaine Abuse: A Follow-Up Study, in which they noted memory delays and “performing significantly worse” after abstaining from both substances than in those who had only used cocaine. Also, the use of one drug may have been understated and deemed irrelevant at the treatment center where the individuals were seeking assistance.
How Cocaine And Alcohol Interact
Cocaine is a stimulant taken by 2% of the American population and it takes seconds to minutes to feel the effect. Alcohol is a depressant that has been consumed by 140 million Americans and generally kicks in at around 10 minutes. About 17% of drinkers are heavy drinkers related to quantity and frequency and 50% have participated in binge-drinking in the prior month.
One paper published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that “increases in stimulant-involved deaths are part of a growing polysubstance landscape.”
Poly-What? you might be asking. Polysubstance dependence refers to exactly what we’ve been talking about with cocaine and alcohol. The use of multiple substances is sometimes defined as two or more, while some recovery centers consider it as three or more substances.
With your central nervous system receiving a punch from both together, it means they are more likely to produce a toxic impact. This means alcohol and cocaine combined can poison your organs and slow your breathing or heart rate, potentially causing an overdose, coma, or death.
There were 14,666 overdose deaths from cocaine alone in 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is estimated that six people die daily due to alcohol poisoning, or 2,190 annually. Approximately 50,000 people die from health effects due to long-term drinking.
Cocaethylene Created With Cocaine And Alcohol Combination
The combination of cocaine and alcohol creates cocaethylene. This compound doesn’t occur naturally but is derived from the combination of the coca plant with alcohol.
Cocaethylene is a psychoactive that affects someone’s mental state by altering mood, perception, understanding, and behavior. When the two substances meet in the liver area, the reaction occurs and can cause seizures, liver damage, or sudden death. The reaction assaults the internal organs, compromising the immune system, and putting a person at risk for other illnesses.
Unlike the shorter time cocaine or alcohol stay in the body, cocaethylene remains in a person’s system longer. The amount of its toxic impact as an addition to cocaine and alcohol remains unclear.
Dr. Amitava Dasgupta is a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston. In his book titled Alcohol, Drugs, Genes and the Clinical Laboratory: An Overview for Healthcare and Safety Professionals, he suggests that cocaethylene and cocaine are responsible for the extreme euphoric state a person may reach while using alcohol.
The alcohol present in the system was relatively low, but the cocaethylene had sufficiently formed with the interaction. The study further considered the possibility that cocaethylene may act to increase addictive tendencies to cocaine and alcohol by reinforcing brain circuits.
Cocaine Vs. Alcohol: Society’s Acceptance Somewhat Arbitrary
Let’s talk a bit about the history of both cocaine and alcohol going back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. Why? Because this is when plants in North and South America were still being studied and categorized for potential uses, whether it be medically, nutritionally, or as habitats for insects and sources of nutrition for animals and birds.
Cocaine specifically is derived from the coca plant, from which the leaves had long been chewed for their stimulant properties for energy in high-altitude mountain areas and for working long hours in the jungles. A German chemist named Albert Niemann was the first to isolate cocaine from the coca plant in 1860. As its medicinal benefits were explored, it initially enjoyed much celebration by the public. Popes advocated its benefits, a U.S. president, renowned scientists—all promoted cocaine.
As its addictive tendencies became known and the drug became renounced, there was a societal undercurrent at play as well. There became a hysteria regarding danger to white women in the South. What was behind this hysteria? A force driven by politicians and doctors and carried in newspaper headlines about the “Negro cocaine fiend.” This referred to the supposed attacks that could be made if cocaine were in available supply to the Black population.
This hysteria and the desire to curb opium imports from China led to the 1914 passing of the Harrison Tax Act, which also made the substance illegal.
Prohibition followed from 1920 to 1933, banning the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcohol. Difficulty in enforcement, underground crime, loss of revenue base, and public non-support led to the repeal of the ban.
Treatment For Co-Occurring Disorders With Dual Substance Use
Sometimes it takes a life-changing event to realize you have substance use issues. Maybe you felt the impact due to a court situation or a health-related issue. Or perhaps it’s something you’ve felt within yourself but weren’t ready to recognize or commit to a new path.
By learning more about how alcohol and cocaine affect you, both individually and combined, you start from a position of strength in knowledge to heal your mind, body, and spirit. Once you have some time with these substances removed from your body, you can develop an openness to new ways to find a meaningful life.
Vertava Health Texas offers polysubstance drug detox and rehab with licensed professionals and excellent mental health care.
Our treatment modalities include
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Dialectical behavior therapy
- Motivational interviewing
- Family therapy and support
- Mindfulness stress management
- Business professionals treatment
- Equine therapy program
- Adventure therapy program
- Wilderness drug rehab program
Vertava Health Of Texas Detox And Treatment Program
When you enter our treatment center, we will fully assess your health to develop the right treatment plan uniquely for you. Our experienced staff is trained to assess your polysubstance use and incorporate that into your plan.
You will be cared for emotionally, mentally, physically, and socially by us because we believe that by treating your whole self you will be able to build your future.
Our clinical therapists will lead your therapies throughout, with recovery and relapse prevention built-in:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Dialectical behavior therapy
- Family therapy
- Mindfulness/stress management
- Motivational interviewing
- Contingency management therapy
Our beautiful campus covers 65 acres, which will give you access to outside activities including our adventure program complete with a zip line, equine therapy, and outside meeting spaces. Our space offers you the luxury of programs to grow with art, cooking, music, and dance because it is important to have new experiences, hobbies, and passions in your sober life.
Our addiction treatment programs are founded on the knowledge and principle that for treatment to be effective, it must recognize and nurture the unique landscape of each client’s life. Whether this means identifying and treating negative patterns or behaviors or recognizing and nurturing positive ones, we are 100% committed to your recovery.
If you would like to learn more about how Vertava Health Texas’ inpatient drug rehab programs and alcoholism treatment could help you or a loved one build a sober life, contact us now. Your call is confidential, and our compassionate staff will help you to begin building a treatment plan. Call us at 877-318-2084.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Happens When You Mix Cocaine And Alcohol?
When cocaine combines with alcohol there can be serious side effects upon the central nervous system. These can include a reduced heart rate, seizure, coma, or death. The unique compound cocaethylene is formed when the coca plant interacts with alcohol. The effects of this are potentially toxic, but the amount is still being studied.
How May Alcohol And Cocaine Polysubstance Use Affect Consciousness?
Cocaine and alcohol can disturb someone’s regular sleep pattern, whether used individually or combined. If polysubstance use issues are leading to toxic amounts a person’s heart rate could slow, putting them in a state of unconsciousness which could be potentially life-threatening.
How Do People Act On Cocaine And Alcohol?
Cocaine will cause a quickly-felt, but not long-lasting, state of euphoria. The person may appear razor-focused, confident, and happy but since it is short-lived, they will experience what is called a “crash.” In this state, their mood swings abruptly to sadness and tiredness. To avoid this crash, they will often bring alcohol in to maintain a good time. People react differently to alcohol, with some tending to be jovial in general and others turning morose or angry. Inevitably, there too comes a crash, which can only be resolved by sleep or repeating the cycle of use—which can only last so long.