Alcohol & drugs simply don’t mix

For nine of the last ten years, the leading cause of drug induced deaths in the U.S. has been alcohol combined with other drugs (1985 DEA Statistical Report). Alcohol is involved in more than half of all suicides. However, most alcohol/drug deaths are accidental. They occur when someone takes medication or drugs which depress (slow-down) the central nervous system (CNS) and drink alcohol. Alcohol is a CNS depressant also. Generally, any medication which warns of “drowsiness” as a side-effect should not be taken when consuming alcohol. Two or more CNS depressants taken together produce an additive or even supra-additive effect.

Additive: 2 beers and 2 antihistamines equals 4 beers or 4 antihistamines. Supra-additive: 2 beers and 2 sleeping pills equals 6-8 beers or 5-6 sleeping pills.

It is important to know that “drug” means medicine and over-the-counter (OTC) products as well as street dope.

The following cause dangerous interactions with alcohol:

Opiate or synthetic opiate drugs, pain-killers and some cough suppressants, sedative/hypnotics, sleeping pills and some calming agents, antihistamines, allergy pills and some cold medications and Amitriptyline (Elavil): This medicine is regularly listed among the top ten in drug induced deaths. It is an anti-depressant drug with very potent CNS depressant side-effects.

Street drugs which are not CNS depressants (marijuana, LSD, cocaine, speed, etc.) do not cause additive or supra-additive effects when used with alcohol. However, because alcohol can impair judgement and lower inhibitions, it is easier to take more than the usual dose of the street drug. The user stops when he feels unpleasant effects. Under the influence of alcohol, the user may not feel these effects or may not heed them resulting in an accidental overdose. This type of overdose is not an alcohol-drug interaction but the result of reckless behavior or a depressed sensation caused by alcohol intoxication.

Some other interactions of concern to a young adult population are alcohol and:

Metronidazole—a medication to treat genital infections. (Flagyl) This drug has an antagonistic reaction with alcohol causing vomitting, dizziness, etc.

Aspirin—Aspirin is a stomach irritant. So is alcohol. This is especially so on an empty stomach. Use an aspirin substitute if you must drink with this medication.

Time release drugs—Because alcohol stimulates secretion of gastric juices, time release drugs dissolve more rapidly. This all-at-once release can cause side-effects and overdose risks.

Motion Sickness drugs—These drugs (some tranquilizers too) impair the vomit reflex in the brain. A healthy body protects itself from lethal alcohol poisoning by vomitting. Alcohol intoxication and motion drugs increase the risk of such toxic reactions.

Marijuana—One area of consistent agreement in the literature is marijuana’s temporary impairment of immediate memory. It is clear from driving ability. A driver who drinks and smokes is twice impaired.

The Illinois DUI law allows drivers to be convicted at breathalyzer levels well below .10% blood alcohol level if there is evidence that the driver was using medicine or other drugs in combination with alcohol.

For more information about alcohol or other drugs, call Health Enhancement Services 753-9755 or stop at the Wellness Resource Center on the main floor of the Holmes Student Center.