Why are cocaine and alcohol so frequently combined? If a person gets high from cocaine or drunk from alcohol, why would they need to mix the two drugs? The answer is both simple and complicated: Alcohol is a depressant, and cocaine is a stimulant. When an addict has drunk too much alcohol and wants to “party” some more, they’ll snort more cocaine to keep them awake. Cocaine also lets them continue drinking as well. More alcohol, more cocaine, more alcohol….
Imagine what would happen if you turned on your car, left it in park and pushed the gas pedal all the way to the floor. Forcing gas (a stimulant, in this case) into the engine when the car is in park (a suppressant) will ultimately cause the engine to explode unless you take your foot off gas pedal. Now, imagine someone “revving” themselves up with cocaine but trying to slow themselves down (or stay in park) with alcohol.
Cocaine’s Effects on the Brain and Body
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that one in five overdose fatalities involve cocaine. Since 2007, the estimated percentage of U.S. adults abusing cocaine–two percent–has not changed. With billions of dollars worth of cocaine hitting the streets every year, it’s not difficult to obtain cocaine no matter where you live in America.
Cocaine is just as addicting as heroin or methamphetamine. Nasal passages immediately absorb cocaine into the bloodstream. Within seconds of snorting a line of cocaine, the brain jolts into hyperdrive. Flooded by excess dopamine and other neurotransmitters implicated in addiction, the brain no longer controls itself. Instead, the “pleasure center” of the brain (or “mesolimbic reward pathway”) takes over, providing the euphoric “rush” that cocaine users report feeling after snorting or injecting cocaine.
In addition to euphoria and intense pleasure, cocaine’s physical and mental effects include:
- Increased energy/inability to regulate speech and behavior
- Feelings of invincibility that lead to poor decisionmaking (many cocaine addicts are also gambling or sex addicts and extreme risk-takers, in general)
- Rapid heart rate
- Dilated pupils
- Spike in blood pressure
- Profuse sweating
- Shaking hands/inability to stand or sit still
- Loss of appetite
Cocaine can also fuel aggressive and even violent behavior in long-term users. “Cocaine psychosis” refers to a psychological condition where an addict’s brain is so damaged they can no longer think clearly. Paranoid delusions and even hallucinations can cause a hard-core cocaine addict to commit violent crimes. If they aren’t incarcerated first, cocaine addicts will likely develop life-threatening health problems such as heart attacks, strokes due to high blood pressure, seizures and organ failure. People who inject cocaine are at a high risk for HIV or hepatitis infections.
Individuals recovering from cocaine abuse report the drug is so addictive they feel like they are actually getting a “rush” just seeing pictures of people injecting or snorting cocaine. Although damage to the brain and body caused by a cocaine addiction is reversible, some damage may be permanent if the addict refuses to get treatment.
Effects of Alcohol and Alcohol-like Drugs (Depressants)
Alcohol and opioids (heroin, pain pills) are central nervous system depressants that target opioid receptors in the brain. The effects of alcohol on opioid receptors have been extensively studied, and results point to alcohol being just as addictive as heroin or morphine.
We are all familiar with signs of alcohol intoxication–slurred speech, stumbling when trying to walk, lack of impulse control and personality changes. Combining alcohol with opioids intensifies the physical and mental affects of both drugs since they target the same receptors.
However, mixing cocaine and alcohol creates a dangerously toxic metabolite called “cocaethylene.” This chemical is the primary reason for overdose deaths in users of cocaine and alcohol.
What is Cocaethylene?
Formed in the liver once cocaine and alcohol enter the bloodstream, cocaethylene stays in the body long after cocaine and alcohol have been metabolized and excreted via urine.
Cocaethylene increases a person’s risk for stroke, by accelerating heart rate, spiking blood pressure and narrowing blood vessels. Additionally, because cocaethylene can stay in the body for several weeks, the risk of stroke remains high even if a person is no longer using cocaine and alcohol.
The bottom line: the combination of alcohol and cocaine is one of the most dangerous drug cocktails available. Anyone mixing cocaine and alcohol are putting themselves at extreme risk of suffering a heart attack, sudden stroke, violent behavior changes, seizures, liver damage coma and death.
Is Cocaine and Wine Less Dangerous Than Cocaine and Vodka?
It’s a myth that mixing beer and wine with cocaine is less dangerous than mixing cocaine with hard liquors, such as vodka or whiskey. Any amount of alcohol can create cocaethyline when combined with cocaine. Moreover, most people don’t realize how comparable wine and vodka are in regards to alcohol content. For example, a five ounce glass of wine is equal in alcohol content to just one shot of vodka or whiskey. Also, white and red wines have significantly different levels of alcohol by volume. In other words, you could be theoretically drinking shot after shot of hard liquor if you drink wine while using cocaine.
Trying to Quit One Drug By Using Another
Another reason why people may use alcohol and cocaine together is when they are trying to wean themselves off cocaine. Withdrawing from cocaine causes severe, flu-like symptoms, anxiety, nausea and insomnia. Cocaine addicts may begin drinking to ease psychological symptoms that are often worse than physical withdrawal symptoms. However, research indicates that alcohol can trigger strong cravings for cocaine due to the long-term presence of cocaethylene in the body.
This means the chance for relapsing back into using cocaine increases if someone tries to use alcohol to quit cocaine. The only safe, evidence-based method for recovering from a cocaine and alcohol addiction is to complete a medical detoxification program and then enter an outpatient or inpatient recovery center. Medical detox involves 24/7 monitoring of a person’s withdrawal symptoms by doctors specializing in addiction medicine. Medications to relieve cravings, anxiety and physical withdrawal effects are also provided to help that person finish the detox process.
If you or someone you know is mixing cocaine and alcohol for whatever reason, it’s time to seek help. You or your loved one are putting your life at risk every time you drink while high on cocaine. Know there is help and that treatment is available at FHE. Call today to learn about your treatment options and begin the path to freedom from addiction.