On their own, both cocaine and alcohol can be very dangerous, addictive, and even lead to sudden death. When combined, the effects of cocaine and alcohol mixed can be riskier. Combining these substances can amplify the side effects of both, increase the risk of serious health complications and make it more likely you’ll develop an addiction or dependence.
The Effects of Cocaine
Before going into an overview of combining cocaine and alcohol, it’s useful to understand how each affects people on its own.
Cocaine is an illicit drug, meaning it’s illegal. There are different ways to misuse this drug. For example, most common is snorting it, but some people will dissolve the powder to inject it. There’s also a combination of cocaine and heroin, a speedball, that is injected.
Another method of abusing cocaine is to process it into a rock crystal. Heat is then applied to the crystal, creating vapors inhalable vapors. This form of cocaine is known as crack.
When someone uses cocaine in any form, it increases dopamine levels in certain brain circuits related to movement and reward. Dopamine is a natural chemical messenger. Large amounts of dopamine build up in the reward circuit, which is how cocaine addiction can occur quickly.
Over time, the brain becomes less sensitive to cocaine’s effects, leading to tolerance and dependence
Short-term cocaine effects include:
- High energy levels
- Euphoric effects
- Mental alertness
- Extreme sensitivity to stimuli like sight, touch, and sound
- Constricted blood vessels
- Raised blood pressure
- Increased body temperature
- Changes in heartbeat or heart palpitations
- Muscle twitches
Cocaine’s effects can be highly variable. Some people find it helps improve their physical and mental performance. For other people, cocaine can lead to violent or unpredictable behavior.
The effects of most stimulant drugs are relatively short-lived and last no more than an hour and often much less.
The Effects of Alcohol
Despite our culture’s acceptance of alcohol, it’s a very dangerous and addictive substance with many potential negative effects. When someone first drinks alcohol, they may nearly instantly start to feel the effects.
Some of the most noticeable effects of drinking occur because of its effects on the brain and central nervous system. Drinking reduces communication that occurs between your brain and body. That’s why when you drink, you may notice your balance, reaction time, and overall coordination slow down.
Drinking affects your ability to make memories, think clearly, or make sound and logical choices. Over time, drinking excessively can damage your frontal lobe. This part of your brain controls impulses, short-term memories, and judgment.
Chronic, heavy alcohol use can cause permanent brain damage, including causing Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which is a brain disorder affecting memory.
Alcohol is a depressant that slows down the brain and other bodily functions.
Alcohol use can worsen other mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety.
With continual use, alcohol addiction can occur. Alcohol addiction can affect someone’s physical health, relationships, career, and every aspect of their life. An alcohol use disorder is a chronic, progressive disease.
The Effects from Cocaine and Alcohol Mixed
Cocaine and alcohol affect the body and brain in opposite ways from each other.
Cocaine is a stimulant. Stimulants speed up processes in the brain and body, which is why someone using the drug may feel alert and energetic. Alcohol is a depressant drug, causing drowsiness, reduced reaction times, and a slowdown of key functions.
Unfortunately, there are myths and misconceptions about cocaine and alcohol mixed effects.
For example, some people think that one will cancel the other out or lessen its effects. Some people also believe that drinking and using cocaine can boost your high or help reduce withdrawal symptoms. In reality, the combination can be deadly.
The following are potential effects of cocaine with alcohol together:
- Increased toxicity: When alcohol is combined with cocaine, it creates metabolites. One metabolite is cocaethylene. This metabolite is stronger and more toxic than just cocaine or alcohol by itself. Excessive production of cocaethylene can cause toxicity and damage to major organs, including the liver and heart.
- Longer-lasting effects: Cocaethylene lingers in the body for longer than cocaine would, making its toxic effects longer-lasting. Alcohol slows the removal of other potentially dangerous metabolites from the kidneys as well, so you have higher blood levels of both cocaine and cocaethylene.
- Stroke risk: A stroke is a potential side effect of both alcohol and cocaine. Cocaine increases your risk of stroke in a few specific ways. It narrows your blood vessels and raises blood pressure and heart rate. Cocaine can also increase your risk of brain bleeding and blood clots. Similarly, there is a risk of a heart attack when you use alcohol with cocaine.
- More substance consumption: Alcohol can increase cravings for cocaine and vice versa. You’re more likely to go into cycles of binging when you combine them, and you’re at more of a risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. If you’re under the influence of alcohol, you could accidentally experience an overdose of cocaine because your judgment is impaired. On the other hand, cocaine with alcohol can reduce how drunk you feel, so you could drink to the point of experiencing poisoning.
- Impulsivity: Both substances can impair judgment and lead to impulsivity and changes in behavior. These effects stem from the impact on the brain chemicals dopamine and serotonin. When you drink and use cocaine together, you’re more likely to exhibit impulsive or violent behavior. You’re also more likely to have panic attacks, anxiety, or depression.
- Dependence: When you’re dependent on one substance, it puts you at a greater risk of developing a co-occurring substance use disorder. Being dependent or addicted to multiple substances makes treatment more complex.
Can Alcohol and Cocaine Cause Seizures?
Seizures occur when you experience a sudden electrical surge in the brain. The abnormal activity in your brain from a seizure causes behavioral and muscle movement changes, as well as alterations in your state of awareness. Both alcohol and cocaine can trigger seizures, and the risks are higher when you combine the two.
Seizures can occur when you’re actively using one or both of the substances. You can also experience a seizure when you’re going through withdrawal, particularly from alcohol. A medically supervised detox is important because of the risk of seizures during alcohol withdrawal.
All forms of cocaine can cause seizures. Seizures from cocaine can occur anywhere from seconds to hours after use. Cocaine-related seizures are especially dangerous. They’re associated with deadly heart issues, including heart attacks.
Cocaine isn’t the only drug associated with seizures. Heroin, stimulants, and synthetic cannabinoids have this risk as well.
Cocaine and alcohol are dangerous and addictive on their own. The risks go up significantly when someone is combining the two. If you’re struggling with cocaine, alcohol, or both, it’s essential to get treatment.
Otherwise, untreated addiction or use of both can lead to serious mental and physical consequences.