What Are the Effects of Mixing Methamphetamine and Alcohol?

When someone uses a stimulant such as methamphetamine, the drug may counter some of alcohol’s sedative effect, leading the person to drink more than he or she intended.

Methamphetamine is a highly addictive drug that acts as a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant. In rare instances, pharmaceutical methamphetamine was once prescribed by physicians (as Desoxyn). However, the overwhelming majority of methamphetamine that is abused today is manufactured illegally and sold on the street. The illicit drug is commonly referred to as meth and crystal meth.

Those who abuse methamphetamine may experience intense cravings for continued use, which serves to promote a fast-growing addiction. Often, those who abuse methamphetamine also abuse alcohol, and combining these two substances may have serious side effects.1

The Side Effects of Using Methamphetamine with Alcoholic Drinks

Methamphetamine can be snorted, injected, smoked, or swallowed. No matter the method of ingestion, though, methamphetamine is highly addictive and often produces feelings of energy and excitement during the initial stages of use. Users then begin to feel irritable, angry or fearful.

Users may also suffer a variety of side effects such as:2

  • Severe dry mouth that can lead to dental problems and rotting teeth.
  • Severe itching.
  • Emotional problems.
  • Extreme rise in body temperature that causes the user to pass out, and may lead to organ failure in extreme cases.

Many people who use methamphetamine also concurrently abuse alcohol. While the general effects of each substance may, to some extent, counteract those of the other, the combination of methamphetamine and alcohol is extremely ill-advised and dangerous.

Research on the effects of combining stimulants and alcohol together has revealed more negative consequences compared to using each of the substances independently. Alcohol acts as a CNS sedative while methamphetamine, a stimulant, leads to feelings of increased energy, euphoria, and excitement.

When someone uses a stimulant such as methamphetamine, the drug may counter some of alcohol’s sedative effect, leading the person to drink more than he or she intended. In turn, this can cause the person to make poor decisions and engage in risky behaviors. A person who takes both of these substances is at increased risk of injury and other serious side effects.3

Treatment for Addiction to Methamphetamine and Alcohol

Treatment for concurrent addiction to methamphetamine and alcohol may be more complicated than that of a singular substance addiction, but it can still be done effectively. In general, those in recovery will first need to have a period of withdrawal from both substances prior to committing to more longitudinal substance abuse treatment efforts.

Methamphetamine withdrawal is difficult. The vast majority of users have reported the following withdrawal symptoms:2

  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Aggression
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Overeating
  • Extreme daytime sleepiness

These symptoms can last 5 days to 2 weeks. The lengthy withdrawal period from methamphetamine increases the risk of relapse since people may begin to use again to relieve their withdrawal symptoms. Thus, recovery from meth addiction often requires intense oversight.

Detox

Additionally, when a person who abuses methamphetamine also abuses alcohol, treatment in a detox center is advised since the sudden cessation of alcohol use may result in seizures and other adverse medical consequences. A detox program typically consists of an evaluation by a substance abuse professional to assess the form of treatment that would best suit the person’s needs.

Once the person is admitted to a detox program, a nurse provides an assessment and begins to monitor the person’s medical and behavioral withdrawal symptoms. A physician usually provides a comprehensive medical assessment within 24 hours. A variety of staff members, including counselors and assistants, provide emotional support throughout the recovering person’s stay.

Most detox programs last just a few days. Some have support groups, but these detox programs are not intended to be treatment for methamphetamine and alcohol addiction. Rather, detox is a brief stabilization period. The person who completes detox is admitted to an outpatient program for treatment several hours per week, or an inpatient treatment program that can last from a few days to a few weeks.

Blood Poisoning Effect When Mixed

It is never a good idea to mix alcohol with any other drug or medication. Controlled substances, in particular, can be exponentially lethal when used alongside alcohol. The effects of mixing methamphetamine and alcohol, for example, can result in a risk of death that is substantially higher than when either substance is used alone. Methamphetamine abuse is dangerous enough, but the effect the drug has on alcohol drinkers increases the likelihood that the alcohol use will result in blood poisoning.

Increased Blood Pressure When Combined

Methamphetamine, like cocaine, is a central nervous system stimulant, which increases blood pressure and heart rate by changing brain chemistry. Abuse of the drug creates a euphoric high that results from the increased production of dopamine in the brain. The drug exists as an odorless, white, crystalline powder that can be dissolved in a liquid and taken orally. It can also be snorted, injected, or smoked.

The drug is highly addictive when abused and has the same side effects associated with similar stimulants. When taken in high doses, methamphetamine can cause heart and respiratory failure, increased blood pressure, constricted blood vessels, restlessness, and anxiety. Although dangerous, methamphetamine abuse does not have a particularly high fatality rate. When mixed with alcohol, however, the fatality rate increases dramatically.

Concerns of Mixing Alcohol with Other Drugs

Alcohol Most Dangerous Component

You may think the lethal culprit in a methamphetamine-alcohol cocktail is the controlled substance, but, actually, the alcohol is the most dangerous component. When methamphetamine is used with alcohol, it masks the effects of being drunk. People who are addicted to methamphetamine and alcohol have reported that when they use methamphetamine, they never pass out drunk, no matter how much they drink.

Alcohol or Drug Overdose

Alcohol is a depressant, and it actually lessens the high experienced from the methamphetamine. What results is a person who continues to drink without becoming drunk and getting high, even though the actual physical effects of the drug on heart rate and respiration remain the same. The person's sense of when to stop abusing the substances is skewed, which can result in alcohol or drug overdose.

The other important consideration about the effects of mixing methamphetamine and alcohol is the different way alcohol interacts with each individual. It is impossible to know what the exact results will be of adding alcohol to methamphetamine use for a specific individual. The way alcohol works on a body is determined by a multitude of variables, including weight, height, mood, body chemistry, psychological history, and any other illnesses the person may have. What is clear is that the inclusion of a stimulant will increase a person's metabolism, causing the alcohol to reach the person's brain much faster. This speed, however, is hard to estimate on an individual basis.

Other concerns about mixing methamphetamine and alcohol are more psychological. Methamphetamine is known to affect judgment and decrease sexual inhibitions, for example. When a user combines the drug with alcohol, the risk of engaging in dangerous sexual behavior increases. This can result in ancillary health issues, including the transmission of sexual diseases. In other instances, the fact that abusers of both substances may not feel as drunk or as high as they normally do can affect decisions about whether to drive or engage in any other activity that can have negative consequences for unrelated parties.

Treatment Options for Methamphetamine Addiction

Treatment for addiction to methamphetamine and alcohol will likely require medical intervention. Withdrawal from methamphetamine can cause psychotic episodes for months after the physical withdrawal symptoms have subsided. The complex interaction of the two addictions can also result in withdrawal symptoms that are life-threatening. You may need the help of medical professionals who specialize in dealing with the effects of mixing methamphetamine and alcohol. If you need more information about treatment options, consider calling us so you can find the help you need for yourself or a loved one.

If you’re concerned that the co-abuse of alcohol and meth is impacting your health, or that of someone close to you, substance abuse treatment programs can help. Call us to speak with a treatment support advisor about your recovery options.

Sources

  1. The National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). Methamphetamine.
  2. Mancino, M. J., Gentry, B. W., Feldman, Z., Mendelson, J., & Oliveto, A. (2011). Characterizing methamphetamine withdrawal in recently abstinent methamphetamine users: A pilot field study. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse37(2), 131–136.
  3. State Government of Victoria. (2012). Know the facts: Alcohol and other drugs