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Side Effects and Dangers of Mixing Heroin and Alcohol

Heroin and alcohol are two of the most addictive and deadly substances in the United States. Both substances are central nervous system depressants that, when combined, produce an increased risk of overdose, adverse effects, long-term consequences, and physical dependence. In the most serious cases, mixing heroin and alcohol can stop a person’s breathing and result in death.

What is Heroin?

Heroin is an illicit substance that is derived from opium poppy plant seeds. It belongs to the opiate class of drugs and is highly addictive. When ingested, heroin enters the bloodstream and brain where it is converted into morphine. It then binds to opioid receptors in the brain, producing feelings of pain relief, euphoria, and elation.[1]

Heroin is most commonly found in the form of a white or brown powder that is snorted, smoked, or injected. It may also be sold as a solid dark brown or black sticky substance referred to as “black tar heroin.” Regardless of which form is abused, the drug is dangerous, addictive, and deadly.

The potency of heroin can vary from one batch to the next. Regardless, heroin is still a very potent opiate, and more than 13,000 people died from a heroin overdose in 2020.[2] A heroin overdose occurs when a person takes too much heroin that it depresses the respiratory system, slowing down breathing to a dangerous level.


Side Effects of Mixing Heroin and Alcohol

Heroin produces strong feelings of euphoria, relaxation, and pain relief when taken by itself. However, when combined with alcohol, these feelings can become more pronounced.

Both heroin and alcohol are depressant drugs that slow down respiratory rates. Although alcohol does have stimulant-like effects in low doses, it is primarily a downer because it reduces inhibitions and heart rate. Due to the sedating effects of both of these central nervous system depressants, mixing heroin and alcohol together can lead to a number of different side effects, such as:

side effects of mixing heroin and alcohol

  • Dizziness
  • Impaired coordination
  • Shallow breathing
  • Reduced heart rate
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting
  • Weak pulse
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Coma

Dangers of Mixing Heroin and Alcohol

Heroin is extremely dangerous when used by itself, but it is even more dangerous when combined with other substances such as alcohol. Even if a person is drinking moderately or keeping track of how much alcohol they have consumed, it is impossible to know how potent heroin is because it is entirely unregulated. As a result, mixing heroin and alcohol is risky and potentially life-threatening.

Increased Risk of Overdose and Adverse Reactions

The most concerning danger of combining heroin and alcohol in one sitting is the increased risk for overdose and other adverse reactions. Since both substances cause respiratory depression, taking too much of one substance or the other can easily lead to irregular breathing, coma, or deadly overdose.

When a person’s respiratory rate drops seriously low and stays there, less oxygen is able to reach the brain and body. Sustained oxygen deprivation can cause major damage to vital organ systems in the body. It can even cause brain damage.

Impaired Thinking and Decision Making Can Lead to Accidents, Impulsivity

While under the influence of both heroin and alcohol, individuals may experience slowed reaction time, making everyday actions such as driving, walking, running, or even bathing dangerous. A person may be more likely to slip and fall, get into a drunk driving accident, or hurt themselves. Similarly, impaired thinking and decision-making can lead to impulsivity, so individuals may act out in dangerous behaviors like unsafe sex, driving while under the influence, or breaking the law–all of which can have dire long-term consequences.

Risk of Cognitive Decline in the Long Term

People who abuse heroin and alcohol together in the long term may slowly develop cognitive impairments or suffer cognitive decline as a result of their substance abuse. For example, repeated oxygen deprivation can cause brain damage, leading to problems with memory, problem-solving, decision-making, and learning. After a certain point, some of these side effects may be irreversible.

Increased Risk of Dependence and Cross Addiction

Mixing heroin and alcohol is dangerous on a physical level, but it is also dangerous on a mental and psychological level. While heroin is one of the most addictive drugs out there, alcohol is the most commonly abused substance and is responsible for a large chunk of addiction treatment admissions.[3] Abusing heroin and alcohol together on a regular basis can lead to the development of a cross addiction–something that happens when a person gets addicted to two or more substances at the same time.

This particular type of cross-addiction is concerning due to the severity of alcohol withdrawal. When a person decides it is time to get sober, he or she must detox from whatever substances have been abused. Heroin withdrawal is typically not life-threatening, it is just uncomfortable. Alcohol withdrawal complications, on the other hand, can be potentially deadly without medical care. This means individuals who are addicted to both heroin and alcohol need highly intensive professional treatment services.

Find Treatment for Heroin and Alcohol Abuse Today

If you or someone you know has become addicted to alcohol and heroin, the only solution is to ask for help from an addiction treatment center near you. Here at Mandala Healing Center, we go beyond the conventional approach of detox–we inspire our patients to fully heal in a supportive and structured environment. Our holistic approach helps heal your mind, body, and spirit–leaving no part of yourself behind.

To learn more about our drug and alcohol treatment program in West Palm Beach or to find help for yourself or a loved one, give us a call today.