Drugs don’t just impact your physical body and health; they can also affect your mental state, finances, relationships, social life, and even your criminal record. The effects of drugs often vary for each individual and reactions may depend on the drug itself, the amount used, the person consuming, as well as environmental factors. In extreme cases, drugs have the potential of causing overdose and even death, especially when used in high amounts or when mixing different substances. In fact, most fatal overdoses involve more than one type of drug (polydrug use). Learn more about dangerous drug interactions and why mixing substances should be avoided at all costs.
If you’re struggling with drug abuse for one or multiple substances, finding recovery can feel hopeless. Addiction is an actual disease impacting millions, and many are unsure where to go to seek help. AspenRidge Recovery provides guidance and compassionate support through our rehabilitation programs. Contact us today to discuss your options directly at 855-281-5588.
How Your Body Processes Drugs
It’s important to understand how the human body works and how it processes legal and illegal substances. Specific short-term and long-term effects related to polysubstance abuse will differ according to the particular combination of substances. Drugs are often consumed in the following ways:
- Oral administration
- IV Injection
If multiple substances are a factor, the body is more likely to be negatively impacted. In general, once in the body, drugs are processed in the following way:
Stage 1: Absorption
In the first stage, a person will inhale, ingest, or inject a drug. Once consumed, the body begins to push it through the bloodstream. Depending on the method used, the substance consumed can potentially cause a more rapid onset of symptoms. Some studies suggest that the consumption method also impacts how quickly addiction may set in.
Stage 2: Distribution
Once a drug is absorbed, it is carried through the body. It moves from the bloodstream to the tissues and intracellular fluids, where it binds to receptors. As the drug is taken throughout the body, it can also negatively impact organs. Mixing drugs is more likely to affect bodily functions, which is why combining different substances is extremely dangerous.
Before a drug can enter the central nervous system (CNS)—the brain and spinal cord—it must pass through the blood-brain barrier. Drugs that cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB) can have various effects, including the rush of euphoria or the “high” commonly associated with illicit drugs and the nonmedical use of some medications. Repeated use of drugs that are able to cross the BBB can also impact the brain in numerous other ways, such as making it hard to feel pleasure from natural rewards—leading to compulsive use and causing problems with executive functioning (planning, making decisions, and solving problems).
Stage 3: Metabolism
After the drug has been distrusted, the next phase is metabolism. This is where the drug is broken down. This takes place mainly in the body’s largest internal organ, the liver. The enzymatic breakdown process can make it easier for the drug to be excreted, which is the final phase.
Stage 4: Excretion
The last phase of a drug within the body is excretion. This is the process by which drugs and their metabolites exit the body, primarily via urine or feces. Drugs may also be excreted in sweat, saliva, breast milk, or exhaled air.
Is this Process Impacted When Two or More Drugs Are Involved?
A University of Michigan study found that reports of prescription drug abuse were 18 times higher in participants who were dependent on alcohol. In a separate 2014 report, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) stated that close to 1 million emergency department visits from 2005 to 2011 involved benzodiazepines, or a combination of benzodiazepines and alcohol or opioid pain relief medications.
Polydrug use means using more than one drug at a time. It can intensify the high and the effects of any individual drug, making them more dangerous. It can also create new, more euphoric highs, causing many to use deadly drugs in combination. According to the University of Michigan, mixing drugs can also bring unpredictable consequences; this means that those who engage in polysubstance abuse cannot predict the array and severity of negative effects that could result.
Death Toll Due to Combining Drugs
The National Institute on Drug Abuse calculated that over seventy thousand Americans died of drug overdoses in 2019. This included prescription drugs, opioids, illegal drugs, and combinations of drugs. Each drug can interact differently. Mixing marijuana with other drugs can product different results as mixing alcohol with prescription medications, for example.
Why are Deaths from Drug Interactions on the Rise?
A Georgetown and University of Arizona study cited three reasons for the increase:
1) More drugs and more combinations of drugs are being used to treat patients. Sixty-four percent of physician visits result in prescriptions. 2) In 2000, almost three billion prescriptions were filled. This averages to ten prescriptions for every American. 4) The study found that adverse drug interactions increase exponentially after four or more drugs are being taken by a patient.
Mixing Drugs and Alcohol
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism warns that mixing drugs and alcohol may cause nausea, headaches, vomiting, fainting, lack of coordination, headaches, or drowsiness. More serious reactions may include heart problems, difficulty breathing, or internal bleeding.
Most Deadly Drug Interactions
While it is always wise to avoid combining drugs, some are more dangerous than others. These combinations should always be avoided.
Opioids and Alcohol
Those who find themselves addicted to prescription painkillers often substitute other street drugs like heroin when they can’t get opioids. This is dangerous enough, but many addicts often abuse alcohol, too. As the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism points out, alcohol depresses the central nervous system. Combining alcohol and opioids can result in cardiac arrest, breathing problems, and other deadly reactions.
Heroin and Cocaine
These two drugs have very different potentially deadly effects. Often called speedballing, combining heroin and cocaine may result in sudden cardiac arrest, rapid heartbeats, and strokes.
Alcohol and Benzodiazepines
Both of these substances are legal and can be purchased with a prescription or even over the counter. However, that doesn’t make them safe. Benzodiazepines are often used to treat depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges. The two drugs are even more dangerous when combined. Their use together can be deadly.
Benzodiazepines and alcohol are depressants. When combined, they can send blood pressure to dangerous lows. They can even cause the heart to stop beating.
Alcohol and Cocaine
Many addicts use alcohol to prolong the high induced by cocaine. This is dangerous and potentially deadly. Combined, alcohol and cocaine can create a highly toxic substance called cocaethylene. This can harm both the heart and lungs.
Alcohol and Over-the-Counter Drugs
Drugs like Atarax, Claritin, Benadryl, Dimetapp, and a host of over-the-counter medications taken for allergies can produce drowsiness, increase the risk of overdose, and serious medical conditions. Just because you can purchase these substances without a prescription doesn’t make them safe in higher amounts or combined with other drugs.
How to Avoid Deadly Drug Interactions
Medical experts and drug addiction specialists strongly advise against mixing different types of substances. Although polysubstance abuse often refers to the abuse of multiple illicit drugs, it also includes prescription medications used in nonmedical circumstances.
- Communication is vital to preventing drug interactions. Your doctor and pharmacist need to know if you start or stop a medication. This includes herbal remedies, vitamins, supplements, over-the-counter drugs, and prescription drugs. In certain combinations, these can have serious consequences.
- Research Your Medicines
Use a reliable and consumer-friendly online drug interaction tool like Drug Interaction Checker to learn about your medications. Discuss the information with your healthcare provider. The Drug Interaction Checker explains the mechanism of each drug interaction and the level of interaction.
- Fill All of Your Prescriptions at One Pharmacy
Your pharmacist will do a drug interaction screen electronically on all of your medicines. Make sure your pharmacist and your doctor know about any new and discontinued medications with all of your health care providers.
- Take Food and Beverage Drug Interactions Seriously
What you eat and drink can affect medications. For example, dangerous drug interactions include foods rich in vitamin K and certain blood thinners like warfarin. Citrus juices like grapefruit juice will alter the blood levels of some cholesterol drugs. Calcium can bind with some drugs and prevent absorption.
- Tell Your Doctor about Caffeine Consumption and Alcohol Use
Combined with caffeine, some medications can interfere with sleep, lead to a rapid heart rate or cause problems for those with heart disease. Combined with other drugs, the stimulant effect from caffeine can add to their stimulation.
- Don’t Take Someone Else’s Medication
Medications are prescribed specifically for a person for a specific type of medical condition. They are based on the patient’s age, gender, weight, and health. It is dangerous to take another’s medication. Adverse reactions may occur for both people.
- Follow Dosage Recommendations
Drug reactions can occur when the medication is not taken in the amount and at the recommended intervals. Failure to follow directions could result in stomach bleeding or lowered drug absorption.
Tell Your Healthcare Provider About Your Medical Conditions
Some combinations can be deadly. For example, Sudafed and other oral decongestants can increase your blood pressure. Those with hypertension need to avoid these medications. Antihistamines like Benadryl can affect those with certain types of glaucoma. Your doctor needs to know everything you are taking!
Use only Trusted Drugs Sources
Using online pharmacies may be a way to save money on medications. But, these sources may be in countries without fully regulated prescription drugs. You could receive the wrong drug, the wrong strength, outdated, or expired drugs.
Polysubstance Abuse Help Through AspenRidge
If you find yourself addicted to drugs or experiencing the negative effects of drug interactions, AspenRidge Recovery provides tailored recovery programs and compassionate support. We help individuals and families find long-term recovery from the dangerous effects of substance abuse.
Experienced, board-certified addiction counselors will work with you and your family to treat your addiction and its underlying causes. AspenRidge therapists offer a comprehensive continuum of care focused on the specific needs of each patient.
Knowledgeable clinicians will explain the various levels of care and help you make an informed decision about which program is right for you. Empathetic intake staff members are available 24/7 to take your call at (855) 678-3144.