Millions of U.S. adults are prescribed medications by their doctor every year. Many are for depression or mental illness, heart conditions, skin conditions, or a variety of other ailments. A dangerous problem exists when patients that are on medications prescribed by their doctor abuse illicit drugs or alcohol. The side effects of doing so can be deadly.
Combining prescription drugs and illicit drugs or alcohol may be more common than we think. There is little research on the prevalence of people combining substance abuse and prescription medications, but we do know fatalities and other side effects occur. Government reports rank alcohol-drug combinations as the leading cause of drug-related deaths in the United States, and have for decades. (1)
Here are some of the more dangerous combinations:
Alcohol and anything. Alcohol, when used by a healthy person in moderation is not harmful, but when it is abused, or combined with most medications, has the potential to cause toxicity and other effects on the body.
Alcohol with depressants, like Valium, can slow down the central nervous system and has the potential for causing coma or death.
Alcohol with anti-depressants, like Prozac, can cause blood pressure increases, leading to brain hemorrhage and death.
Alcohol with heroin can depress the central nervous system and lead to respiratory arrest and death.
Alcohol with things like tobacco and pot will increase the effects of these drugs, and cause increased toxins being taking in by the body.
For those taking prescription medication that also abuse illicit drugs, dangerous side effects such as severe drowsiness or coma, cardiac arrest, seizures, and psychosis are possible.
Change in Effectiveness
The reason for such severe side effects is that drugs that are taken together may increase each other’s potency. This causes the effects of the medications to be compounded. If the drugs work on the body in the same way, it is as if the patient is increasing the dose, thereby making the effects on the body, as well as side effects, more severe. The result is a dramatic increase in the impact on the body, and toxicity and possibly death can occur.
With some drugs, on the other hand, alcohol and drugs decrease the effectiveness.
Preventing Drug Interactions
It is important for patients and doctors to work together to prevent these dangerous drug interactions. Most poisonings and overdoses are accidental, because the patient didn’t understand the risks with combining their medication with others, but the overdoses are preventable.
It is never a good idea to take illicit drugs and prescription drugs together. Patients should let their doctor know about all medications and drugs they are taking before beginning a new medications. While many medications can be taken together safely, those with negative interactions can be fatal.