Person with doctor after mixing cocaine and alcohol

There are a number of potential dangers of mixing cocaine and alcohol, from sickness and heart problems, to the most serious cases of overdose.

Alcohol misuse is extremely common in the UK. Around a quarter (24%) of adults in England and Scotland regularly drink over the Chief Medical Officer’s low-risk guidelines, and 27% of drinkers in Great Britain binge drink on their heaviest drinking days.

Cocaine use is also relatively common and powder cocaine is the second most widely used illegal drug in the UK (behind cannabis).

Both substances can be dangerous in their own rights, but taking them together can make the risks even higher. Here we will take a look at some of the risks of mixing substances and in particular the dangers of mixing cocaine and alcohol.

The Dangers of Mixing Substances

There are risks involved with using any drugs, including legal ones like alcohol and tobacco. Some substances are highly addictive. Some can increase the chances of indulging in risky behaviour, or produce harmful physical and psychological side effects.

People mix substances for a range of different reasons. Sometimes they might be chasing a particular effect or trying to reduce the effects of a comedown. At other times they might mix substances unintentionally, or without particularly thinking about it.

Mixing substances can make some of these risks worse, or expose the user to new ones. Mixing substances – whether they are bought over the counter, prescribed as medication or obtained illegally – can increase the risk of side effects, change the effect of medications and increase the risk of overdose. Alcohol and opiates, for example, are both depressants.

Taking them together can result in slowed or arrested breathing, lowered pulse and blood pressure, unconsciousness, coma, and can be potentially fatal. Mixing prescription opioids and alcohol is also known to increase the risk of serious and fatal car accidents.

Another increasingly common combination is mixing cocaine and alcohol. Some people might mix the two casually in a social situation. Others might do it intentionally, believing that it will enhance the effects. Others might have heard that drinking alcohol will ‘take the edge off’ a cocaine comedown or vice versa – that cocaine will help with a hangover.

The thinking behind this is that because cocaine is a stimulant and alcohol a depressant, they will counter the effects of each other. In reality, combining the two is likely to make any comedown or hangover worse and there are a number of potential cocaine and alcohol side effects that make this combination very dangerous.

The Risks of Mixing Cocaine and Alcohol

Combining cocaine and alcohol can have a number of effects that some people seek out. Some people report that it gives them a more intense ‘buzz’ or makes them more talkative, confident and sociable. Because a cocaine high has a relatively short duration, the user will come down to a ‘baseline’ of intoxication from the alcohol.

Taking cocaine with alcohol can also extend the apparent duration of the cocaine’s effect. The user may also be able to drink more alcohol without feeling drunk – although they will still suffer adverse effects such as a lack of coordination, impaired senses and decision-making.

This false sense of confidence and competence can be particularly risky if, for example, the person mixing cocaine and alcohol believes that they are alert enough to drive. They can also expose themselves to poor decision making that could lead to accidents, violent or aggressive behaviour, unsafe sex and other risky behaviour.

Combining alcohol and cocaine can also sometimes lead to you taking more of each drug than if you were using each one alone. This could potentially increase the risk of overdose.

Some other harmful effects when mixing alcohol and cocaine could include:
• Anxiety or panic attacks
• Impaired coordination
• Increase in heart rate and heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
• Tension in the jaw/grinding teeth
• Mood swings
• Cravings for more cocaine and/or alcohol
• Rise in body temperature
• Nausea and sickness

Frequently using cocaine and alcohol, either singly or together, can also expose you to the risk of dependency and alcohol or cocaine addiction.

The Science Behind the Dangers

Cocaine and alcohol is a unique combination as it actually produces a third substance, known as cocaethylene. This byproduct, while similar to cocaine in its effects, is an entirely new psychoactive substance. It lasts for around twice as long as the parent drug cocaine and may be more cardiotoxic, meaning it damages the heart.

In fact, cocaethylene is believed to be more 10 times more cardiotoxic than cocaine, increasing heart rate and blood pressure a lot more than when cocaine is taken alone. Like its parent drug, cocaethylene blocks the reuptake of dopamine, while cocaine may also block reuptake of serotonin.

This can make it more likely to suffer an overdose, which can result in heart failure and can be potentially fatal. As the cocaine (and cocaethylene) can also disguise the amount of alcohol consumed, it can also lead to an increased risk of alcohol poisoning. This occurs when you drink more than your body can process and can result in lack of consciousness, coma and again can be potentially fatal.

Tips for Staying Safe

It is always best to avoid mixing substances, particularly when a combination like cocaine and alcohol is known to produce such potent side effects.

If you do combine drugs, you should try to limit the amount you use and be aware that they might be doing more harm than you are initially aware of.

If you think that you or someone else has become seriously ill from mixing cocaine and alcohol, you should go to A&E or call 999 straight away.

Find Help For Addiction Today

While drinking too much alcohol and using cocaine can both be dangerous in their own rights, mixing the two substances together can be even more risky. There are a number of dangers of mixing cocaine and alcohol, such as how addictive and possible it is to develop a dependency to either drug or both together.

Addiction is very difficult to tackle alone and can be even more complicated when multiple substances are involved. If you are worried about your drug use or alcohol intake, get in touch today to find out how Step One’s residential addiction treatment services can help.