Seventy-one percent of adults in the United States enjoy an alcoholic beverage on occasion according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). The vast majority of them do not suffer from dependence or addiction. A study by the Mayo Clinic however, found that an almost equal number of adults – 70 percent – take at least one prescription medication, and more than half are on two or more.
ETOH is the acronym for ethyl alcohol, also known as ethanol. With a straight-chain molecular formulation, ETOH is the active ingredient in alcoholic beverages, some organic solvents and, as any old moonshiner knows, rocket fuel.
Mixing ETOH and drugs, whether they’re prescription or illegal, puts a person at serious risk for interactions leading to toxicity or even death.
Many drug and ETOH alcohol interactions receive a lot of attention, but very few think about how a glass of wine, a beer, or a pre-dinner cocktail might affect their prescription medications.
What are 6 Dangerous ETOH and Drug Combinations to Avoid?
1. ETOH and Opiates
Perhaps the most abused combination of ETOH and drugs is with opiates, such as prescription painkillers and heroin, and alcohol.
Opiate painkillers are effective because they depress the central nervous system and, therefore, dampen pain, but prescriptions like OxyContin, Hydrocodone and Vicodin also inhibit breathing.
Mixed with alcohol, the rates of overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), spike. Alcohol, reports the agency, was involved in just over 22 percent of prescription painkiller fatalities.
2. ETOH and Antidepressants
A combination of ETOH and antidepressant classes of drugs – Zoloft, Prozac, Lithium, etcetera – should be avoided.
Alcohol itself is a depressant and can exacerbate symptoms of the condition.
This class of medication is also known to intensify the effects of alcohol and, in some cases, increase the chances for seizures, dizziness, high blood pressure or confusion.
3. ETOH Mixed with Benzodiazepines
Mixing ETOH with benzodiazepines, drugs like Valium and Xanax, causes an estimated one-fifth of all drug and alcohol related emergency room visits.
Both substances are depressants.
Taken in combination there’s the potential for coma and death due to how the drug subdues the central nervous system and relaxes muscles at the same time.
4. Birth Control Medication and Alcohol
While a large portion of the female population uses birth control medication, many don’t realize mixing it with alcohol is known to create health issues.
The hormones in the birth control medications can make it more difficult for women to metabolize the ethanol in their bloodstream.
Processing ethanol too slowly causes a person to get drunk quicker than normal and affects overall health by staying in the body for longer periods.
5. ETOH and Over-the-Counter Medications
For many people, this might seem like a harmless combination because no prescription is necessary for over the counter meds. This is untrue, though.
Even a medication like Tylenol, which contains acetaminophen as its active ingredient, can cause liver damage if users take too much of it in combination with alcohol.
The NIAAA makes a point of informing people that many over the counter medications contain as much as 10 percent alcohol themselves, which can interact with a just a drink or two. The agency offers a guide on what medications to avoid drinking ETOH with.
6. Stimulant Medications Like Adderall and Ritalin
Many harmless-seeming medications are in the same category as cocaine and methamphetamines.
Mixing stimulates and alcohol is dangerous because the medications (or illicit drugs) increase blood pressure and mask the effects of alcohol.
People who combine these substances tend to drink more ETOH for longer amounts of times and not realize how impaired they’ve become. The increase in blood pressure also places extra stress on the heart’s ability to work effectively.
In addition to alcohol, certain combinations of medications and drugs can have fatal side effects.
Taking multiple drugs together (polydrug use) causes a synergistic effect in which each of them is intensified and can add to the danger.
Mixing heroin and other drugs can be especially lethal and has resulted in countless overdose deaths.
The safest thing is to avoid using a combination of drugs and alcohol together and always contact your physician or pharmacist before mixing any kind of drugs, legal or not.
Taking medication is often necessary for a variety of health conditions. If addiction to drugs or alcohol is at play, seeking treatment or, at the very least, advising your doctor of the condition is a lifesaving step to take.