..The Simple Facts
There are hundreds
of studies, crammed with millions of words, examining the
subject of alcohol-drug interactions
from every conceivable angle. Still, if you had to summarize
them all, you could do it with a single word: Don’t.
Because the simple
fact is that alcohol is a drug and, like every other drug, has
potential for risks, both large and small.
And when it’s
used with other drugs, the risk index for booze jumps right off
the chart. Just consider:
- Government reports
rank alcohol-drug combinations as the leading cause of drug-related
deaths in the United States, and have for decades.
caused by drinking-and-drug interactions sent 497,987 Americans
to hospital emergency rooms in 2009 alone for poisoning-overdose
Those are pretty
simple facts. Want another?
Then try this
one: A majority of all the poisonings and overdoses that take
place every year are accidents, plain and simple.
normal, everyday people using normal, everyday medicines-folks
who just didn’t realize that Drink A (a Tequila Mockingbird, say, from the local Mai
Tai Hut) interacts with Drug B (Flagyl®, for example) to produce Effect C (cramps, vomiting) until
after it did.
That’s why we’ve
put together this pamphlet. Because the hardest fact to swallow
is this: Most drug-and-alcohol mishaps could be avoided if the
people involved only knew what might happen before it did happen.
The fact that
they often don’t only makes the rest of what we’ll be talking
about in this pamphlet that much more critical.
It keeps getting simpler.
..Simple Fact #1: Drinking and downers
Simple Fact #1
flows from Funny Fact #1 (as funny as these facts ever get, anyway)
of this pamphlet, which is that one and one doesn’t always equal
Oh, it does on
a calculator, but that’s because calculators can’t calculate
all the possible outcomes of all the dumb things that people
And one of the
dumbest things that people ever do centers around one of the
most critical times that one and one doesn’t equal two: When
somebody adds the effects of booze to other depressant drugs.
alcohol is a depressant, just like tranquilizers and sleeping
pills. And like other downers, it slows bodily functions, including
breathing and heart rate. And when people drink enough (or combine
too much alcohol with too many downers), things slow down so
much that they stop altogether.
alcohol and downers compete for the same system of liver enzymes
that break down drugs and flush them from the body.
That means when
two or more downers are in play at the same time, the liver can’t
handle the load. Result: Drug molecules are reabsorbed and recirculated
throughout the body.
That’s when problems
really kick in.
name for this process is synergism. It means that the
effects of drugs taken together can be very different than the
effects they produce solo.
can be like night and day. In fact, it can even determine whether
a person makes it through the night to ever see another day.
..Simple Fact #2: Smoking doesn’t mix
Sniff the air
inside almost any bar and you’ll immediately bump into one of
the most common alcohol-drug combinations: booze and cigarettes.
to recent studies, it may also be one of our most dangerous.
now believe that drinking increases absorption of cancer-causing
tobacco by-products in the body. Recent studies have shown a
greater risk of cancers of the mouth, neck, and throat among
drinkers who also smoke. And alcoholics who smoke heavily suffer
higher levels of these cancers than heavy smokers who don’t drink.
to smoking and drinking don’t stop with cigarettes, either. Today,
scientists warn that an increased risk of cancer may also be
linked to marijuana and alcohol, since pot contains many of the
same cancer-causing chemicals as tobacco.
aside, though, alcohol and pot pose a multitude of immediate
problems, with effects that can turn a night out on the town
into a night of just being plain out of it.
For one thing,
each can reduce coordination and concentration and slow reaction
time, all critical skills if you’re performing complex tasks
— driving, for example.
both booze and pot can impair visual “tracking” ability,
making it harder for a smoker or drinker to follow a moving object
or perceive changes and movement in peripheral vision.
Those are just
some of the factors that make piling a pot high on top of a booze
buzz potentially risky.
And the risk
is needlessly compounded when a stoned drinker does something
really dumb — like sliding behind the wheel of a car.
..Simple Fact #3: Medicine doesn’t make
it as a mixer.
A hundred years
ago, alcohol was the number one all-purpose cure-all in the country,
the “secret” ingredient in any number of patent medicines
and prescription potions.
isn’t considered a cure or treatment for anything, or used at
all medicinally, except as an ingredient in some cough and flu
Because the fact
is that alcohol can alter the way medicines work and often blocks
or decreases their therapeutic action.
group that includes such common drugs as penicillin and tetracycline)
tend to lose their effectiveness when mixed with alcohol.
(including such drugs as metronidazole, or Flagyl®) can interact
violently with alcohol, producing a set of unexpected (and unwelcome)
side effects, such as cramps, vomiting, and headaches.
And those kinds
of effects can be (or fast become) a bigger problem than the
Want to avoid
problems altogether? Just do the math — and remember to subtract,
rather than add.
..Simple Fact #4: Up isn’t always the
opposite of down.
The best recipe
for sobering up is hot coffee and a cold shower, right?
In a word, no.
In fact, dosing a drunk with caffeine, the main stimulant in
coffee, is little more than a time-honored waste of time.
down a few cups of Brazil’s Best, a drinker may be wide awake
— but every bit as drunk as before.
One study even
suggests that following up a liquor-ish late-night with an early-morning
cup of joe may slow response time even more than booze alone.
such as cocaine or amphetamines, don’t straighten out a drinker,
either. (They can even make things worse: Check out the “Simple
Fictions” listed in the box below for more.)
Even worse, they
can trick users into believing that they’re speeding toward sobriety.
stimulants temporarily mask the depressant effects of liquor,
giving drinkers a false sense of security without improving coordination
or concentration, or driving skills, for that matter.
combinations cause other problems, too, including increased blood
pressure, tension, and jitters.
may not always be serious in themselves, but they can contribute
to a number of potential problems that nobody wants or needs.
..Simple Fact #5: It’s easier to prevent
problems than fix them.
The truth is
that there’s no real trick to avoiding problems with drugs and
In fact, staying
out of trouble is basically a simple matter of applying common
sense about what you put in your body and when.
It’s an old adage,
but it’s as true now as ever: An ounce of prevention can prevent
a ton of pain.
To reduce your
risk of problems with the drugs that you take (or may be taking
in the future), always remember:
- Tell your doctor
about any drugs you’re taking.
- Follow instructions
carefully. Be sure you understand how and when to take any drug
and that you’re aware of potential side effects.
- If you drink,
find out if it’s safe to drink while taking a prescription drug.
If you’re not sure, assume that it’s not okay-and don’t do it.
Because the final
simple fact about alcohol/drug combinations is that staying alive
and staying healthy starts with staying smart.
happen. But they don’t happen as often to people who are smart
enough to avoid them.
And that’s the
simplest fact of all.
..Sidebar1 | Rumors & Reality
Rumor: Beer and wine cause fewer “serious”
problems than hard liquor.
beverages contain about the same amount of alcohol. Beer and
wine contain more water, but have the same potential for
Rumor: Cocaine and alcohol cancel each other
out, enabling party people to stay straight longer.
might think they’re straight, but they’re not. In fact, the body
converts the breakdown products of cocaine and alcohol into a
different chemical, cocaethylene, which is twice as deadly
as cocaine is all by itself.
Rumor: If you take aspirin before drinking,
you can avoid a hangover.
Reality: Aspirin increases the stomach’s absorption
of alcohol, particularly when taken an hour or so before drinking.
If anything, it increases the odds of a hangover.
..Sidebar 2 | Bomb Squad: Booze
Lights Their Fuse
reactions to even small amounts: headache, nausea, convulsions,
- Penicillin, Cyantin®
the drugs’ therapeutic effectiveness.
- Elavil®, Prozac®, Tofranil®,
central nervous system (CNS) depression and blood pressure changes.
Combination use of alcohol with MAO inhibitors can trigger massive
increase in blood pressure, resulting in brain hemorrhage and
- Allerest®, Dristan®
and CNS depression. Impairs driving ability.
- Anacin®, Excedrin®
intensify alcohol’s effects. Irritates stomach lining. May cause
gastrointestinal pain, bleeding.
- Valium®, Ativan®, Xanax®
CNS depression, loss of coordination, coma. High risk of overdose
- heroin, codeine, Darvon®
CNS depression. Possible respiratory arrest and death.
- amphetamine, cocaine
the depressant action of alcohol. May increase both blood pressure
and physiological tension. Increases risk of overdose.