121

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Title: Drugs & Alcohol: Simple Facts About Alcohol-Drug Combinations
Author: Christina Dye
Publisher: Do It Now Foundation
Publication Date: February 2011
Catalog Number: 121


..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.
  • Complications
    caused by drinking-and-drug interactions sent 497,987 Americans
    to hospital emergency rooms in 2009 alone for poisoning-overdose
    treatment.

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.

They involve
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.

Sound simple
enough? Good.

Stick around.
It keeps getting simpler.


..Simple Fact #1: Drinking and downers
don’t mix.

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
two.

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
do.

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.

That’s because
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.

Why? Because
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.

The scientific
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.

The difference
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
with anything.

Sniff the air
inside almost any bar and you’ll immediately bump into one of
the most common alcohol-drug combinations: booze and cigarettes.

And according
to recent studies, it may also be one of our most dangerous.

Because researchers
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.

Risks linked
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.

Long-term risks
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.

In addition,
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.

Today, alcohol
isn’t considered a cure or treatment for anything, or used at
all medicinally, except as an ingredient in some cough and flu
preparations.

Because the fact
is that alcohol can alter the way medicines work and often blocks
or decreases their therapeutic action.

Antibiotics (a
group that includes such common drugs as penicillin and tetracycline)
tend to lose their effectiveness when mixed with alcohol.

Other medications
(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
original.

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.

After throwing
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.

Stronger stimulants,
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.

Why? Because
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.

Alcohol/stimulant
combinations cause other problems, too, including increased blood
pressure, tension, and jitters.

These effects
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
alcohol.

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.

Accidents can
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.

Reality:
All alcoholic
beverages contain about the same amount of alcohol. Beer and
wine contain more water, but have the same potential for
problems.


Rumor: Cocaine and alcohol cancel each other
out, enabling party people to stay straight longer.

Reality:
They
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

Drug
Class
Trade Name(s) Effects
with Alcohol
Anti-Alcohol Antabuse® Severe
reactions to even small amounts: headache, nausea, convulsions,
coma, death.
Antibiotics
Penicillin, Cyantin®
Reduces
the drugs’ therapeutic effectiveness.
Antidepressants
Elavil®, Prozac®, Tofranil®,
Nardil®
Increased
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
death.
Antihistamines
Allerest®, Dristan®
Drowsiness
and CNS depression. Impairs driving ability.
Aspirin
Anacin®, Excedrin®
Can
intensify alcohol’s effects. Irritates stomach lining. May cause
gastrointestinal pain, bleeding.
Depressants
Valium®, Ativan®, Xanax®
Dangerous
CNS depression, loss of coordination, coma. High risk of overdose
and death.
Narcotics
heroin, codeine, Darvon®
Serious
CNS depression. Possible respiratory arrest and death.
Stimulants
amphetamine, cocaine
Masks
the depressant action of alcohol. May increase both blood pressure
and physiological tension. Increases risk of overdose.


This is one in a series of publications
on drugs, behavior, and health by Do It Now Foundation.
Please call or write for a complete list of available titles,
or check us out online at
www.doitnow.org.


 

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