Risks of Mixing Meth With Alcohol

Exploring the dangers of mixing a stimulant with a depressant

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The prospect of mixing meth (methamphetamine) and alcohol probably seems foreign to most of us. However, certain similar combinations do pop up more frequently in daily life. For example, this combination is akin—but more dangerous—to smoking while drinking, or cutting hard liquor with Coca Cola or Red Bull. In other words, in a legal and more restrained manner, mixing a stimulant (nicotine or caffeine) with alcohol (a depressant) is similar to mixing meth (a stimulant) with alcohol.

(Technically, nicotine has both stimulant and depressant properties, but you get the picture.)

Unfortunately, the number of people who drink regularly and smoke crystal meth is concerning, with one study pegging daily drinkers as five times more likely to smoke meth. Here's another statistic that doesn't involve a relative risk: five percent of meth smoking is attributable to daily intoxication.

Why Alcohol and Meth Together?

Polysubstance abuse is common. People use many types of drugs to adjust highs (think cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana). Mixing meth and alcohol is no different.

Specifically, researchers believe that people who mix alcohol and meth do so in order to counteract the depressant effects of alcohol and still maintain its euphoric effects.

In 2008, 24 percent of methamphetamine-related emergency department visits involved alcohol intoxication.

The Research on Mixing Alcohol and Meth

In 2011, researchers from Columbia University and the New York Psychiatric Institute periodically administered solutions of alcohol mixed with methamphetamine to nine adult men.

These men were housed in a residential laboratory at New York Psychiatric Institute for 20 days.

In this study, adult participants were recruited who had reported past amphetamine use and recent alcohol use. Moreover, participants were screened and excluded for separate medical and psychiatric illness.

Thus, all the participants in this study had long histories of polysubstance abuse and none of them were naive to the effect of meth mixed with alcohol.

Participants were monitored and tested in a variety of ways including breath alcohol concentrations; cardiovascular, subjective, and cognitive/psychomotor performance; and objective sleep measures.

Here are some findings from the study:

  • Co-administration of alcohol and meth increased cardiovascular measures (increased heart rate and blood pressure) and feelings of euphoria.
  • This drug combination made participants feel less drunk or sedated.
  • Meth counteracted some of the cognitive and psychomotor impairment caused by alcohol.
  • Taken together, these drugs produced fewer sleep disruptions than did meth alone.
  • Participants developed tolerance to the drug combination as the study proceeded, diminishing some of the adverse effects listed above.
  • Except for increased heart rate and some upset stomach, participants experienced few residual effects.

This study had definite limitations. First, the administration of the meth-alcohol combination in no way mimics real-world scenarios. Specifically, most people drink alcohol and either smoke or snort meth in an unregulated manner.

Second, the study includes only nine participants. Third, people in the study were allowed to smoke cigarettes, introducing nicotine as a confounding variable. (Participants actually smoked more when taking the drug combo.)

Results from this study suggest that when taken together, meth and alcohol act in a fashion different from taking either drug alone. Meth and alcohol's contradictory effects are concerning for at least two reasons. First, people who use both drugs simultaneously may drink more alcohol in order to feel more inebriated or feel its accustomed effects—thus leading to alcohol toxicity.

Second, people who end up drinking more while high on meth may underestimate cognitive impairment and get behind the wheel of a car  thus putting others at risk.

Bottom Line

The distinct combined effects of meth and alcohol should serve as an ominous reminder to health-care professionals that various permutations of polysubstance misuse are distinct entities. With this knowledge in mind, physicians can better assess inebriated or impaired patients rushed to the ER.

Mixing certain drugs (illicit, prescription, and non-prescription) can result in distinct adverse effects that may be dangerous—especially if you have other psychiatric or medical conditions.

If you or someone you love is abusing or misusing one or several drugs, please keep in mind that there is effective help available. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that offers information about treatment programs.

Sources:

Carolyn DM et al. The suspected association between methamphetamine (‘ice’) smoking and frequent episodes of alcohol intoxication: data from the 1993 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 2000.

Kirkpatrick, MG. Acute and residual interactive effects of repeated administrations of oral methamphetamine and alcohol in humans. Psychopharmacology. 2012.

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