Why Do People Mix Alcohol and Amphetamines?
People often mix alcohol with amphetamines because they believe the practice will allow them to drink more or for longer periods of time without fatigue. Alcohol is a depressant and works to slow down the central nervous system, making the drinker feel fatigued and groggy in addition to the other effects of alcohol intake. In order to combat this issue and remain alert for longer, those who drink heavily may take amphetamines like cocaine or crystal meth.
Some take the two substances at the same time or switch off throughout the binge drinking period. Others take amphetamines after a night of drinking with alcohol still in their systems to help them get up, get going, and be alert for work or other responsibilities.
What Are the Effects of Mixing Alcohol and Amphetamines?
There are a number of different factors that can impact the use of both alcohol and amphetamines, including:
- Type of amphetamine taken
- Dose of amphetamine
- Method of amphetamine ingested
- Type of alcohol ingested
- How much alcohol is ingested and over what period of time
- Underlying medical issues
- Co-occurring mental health issues
Depending on how these factors intersect, different issues may develop acutely and over long-term use.
Separately, alcohol and amphetamines will have a significant effect on the user. Each on its own has the potential to create acute medical emergency that can be deadly, lower inhibitions and increase the likelihood of accident under the influence, contribute to the development of a chronic disease with long-term use, and/or lead to addiction. When used together, the effects of alcohol and amphetamine do not add up to a simple 1 + 1 equation. Rather, in many cases, a synergistic effect occurs, meaning that alcohol amplifies the effects of the amphetamines, and amphetamines alter the effect of alcohol, creating an overwhelming experience to the user.
Many experience a “masking” effect when drinking alcohol and taking amphetamines. That is, the stimulant effect of the amphetamines can mitigate the depressive effects of alcohol. Rather than experiencing the lack of coordination, slurred speech, slowed response time, and other issues associated with heavy drinking, the individual may drink more alcohol before beginning to feel those effects when also taking amphetamines. This is dangerous because it can contribute to binge drinking – that is, a person may drink more and more in order to feel the effects of alcohol. When the amphetamines wear off and the person is hit with the full effects of the high levels of alcohol in the system, it can be abruptly overwhelming, physically and mentally.
Though not specifically an amphetamine, the use of cocaine, also a stimulant drug, with alcohol is common. When these two substances combine in the liver, a third substance is created: cocaethylene. This substance can be even more harmful but also intoxicating in its own right. Depending on how the cocaine is ingested, a different percentage will be converted into cocaethylene when combined with alcohol, but in any amount, the toxin can cause severe liver damage, especially with continued use.
Each individual will experience different effects of mixing alcohol and amphetamines, but there are some effects that are commonly experienced. Both alcohol and amphetamines can create some of the following social and behavior changes in users, but when the substances are combined, those effects may be amplified:
- Personality changes: Both alcohol use and use of amphetamines have the potential to change how the user interacts with others. In some cases, this may mean becoming chattier and more affable than usual. In other cases, the individual may experience lowered inhibitions and take risks that they otherwise would not.
- Mood swings: Especially with heavy use of alcohol and amphetamines, extremes of depression, anger, and sociability swing back and forth often with little warning.
- Erratic or violent behavior: Under the influence and after a binge, an individual who uses alcohol and amphetamines heavily may be more likely to engage in erratic or violent behavior that could harm oneself or others.
- Irrational thinking and decision-making: This can translate into making poor choices (e.g., jumping off buildings, driving a car, or having unprotected sex with a stranger) that can ultimately be deadly. It can also create socially dysfunctional situations in personal and work relationships.
In addition to the social and behavioral effects of combining alcohol with amphetamines, there are a number of health risks. While under the influence, if too much of either substance is taken, there can be serious health problems that result. Over time, the result of using both substances together can lead to physical effects that include:
- Liver damage and failure
- Cardiac problems, including tachycardia, heart failure, and heart disease
- Accident under the influence, including driving while under the influence
The higher the doses of alcohol and amphetamines and the longer that regular use of these drugs continues, the higher the likelihood that negative physical effects will result.
Common Amphetamines Used with Alcohol
In many cases, the amphetamines that are commonly abused with alcohol are prescription drugs that are prescribed for the treatment of attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These can include, among others:
Other stimulants commonly abused in combination with alcohol include cocaine and crystal methamphetamine.
When It Is Impossible to Stop Alone?
No matter the consequences and no matter the increasing risk of serious physical and mental health effects, many find it impossible to stop drinking and using amphetamines. This inability to manage or moderate substance use is a clear sign of a substance use disorder that requires intensive professional treatment. Addiction is not a moral failing or character flaw, but a medical disorder that requires medical treatment.
Though the specific treatments and therapies that will best speak to an individual’s needs will vary according to experience as well as goals for treatment and recovery, in general, there are some resources that are often recommended to help someone struggling with addiction to first stop using all substances safely and then to learn how to remain abstinent on a long-term basis. These include:
- Personal therapy that includes management of an individualized treatment plan
- Group therapy that offers peer support
- Traditional therapies that provide a strong foundation in recovery
- Alternative therapies, including experiential therapies, that allow for a diverse and multifaceted exploration of issues underlying ongoing substance use
- Holistic treatments that help to decrease stress and increase the ability to avoid relapse
- Aftercare that continues to provide therapeutic and peer support in the months and years following treatment
The good news is that treatment can be hugely effective in helping someone who routinely combines alcohol with amphetamines to find new and healthier ways to manage stress, enjoy an active social life, or learn how to make more positive choices that do not include substance use of any kind.