Mixing Prescription Drugs: Risks & Fatal Combinations

Did you know that prescription medications can be as equally dangerous as street drugs? In many instances, mixing them without doctors’ advice is the culprit of overdose or adverse side effects. Understand the dangers of mixing prescription drugs and how to get substance use disorder help in this post.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a cornerstone role in protecting consumers on the things they take. This is why FDA-approved substances uphold a specific standard, such as nutritional content, directions for use, amount of proper dosage, and emergency instructions. Otherwise, non-FDA approved consumables such as supplements may indicate that they have “no approved therapeutic claims” to get to retailers’ shelves.

Digging deeper into this system, we would see that there are also substances that can only be legally obtained by presenting a physician’s prescription. These prescription drugs are controlled because there is a risk for:

  • Substance misuse or abuse
  • Mixing substances and experiencing negative side effects
  • Obtaining more than recommended amounts for selling illegally

In this post, we will be focusing on the first two reasons–by understanding the dangers of mixing prescription drugs, we can avoid its life-threatening consequences.

What Is Mixing Drugs or Poly Drug Abuse?

Mixing drugs is the act of combining prescription medicines to achieve a certain effect in the mind and body. For example, individuals with anxiety may want the compounded effects of alcohol and benzodiazepines, and they would attempt to drink these within close timelines of each other. These combinations are not recommended as they may cause fatal complications.

Poly drug users may practice their habits intentionally or unintentionally. They may have discovered the ‘better’ effects of the drug combinations by accident, or they willfully tried it as influenced by other people.

The truth is, there is no safe way of mixing drugs without a healthcare professional’s recommendation. The effects of poly drug abuse can result in lethal combinations as each person has different health factors, such as:

  • Height and weight
  • Sex
  • Other underlying health condition
  • Metabolism
  • Genetic differences

Below, you will see the most common dangerous drug combinations that people can take intentionally or by accident.

Fatal Drug Combinations

Alchohol and benzodiazepines

These substances are both considered depressants. Someone may think of taking them at the same time or in close timelines to each other to extend the ‘calming effects’. However, mixing them together is very dangerous as it can cause combined drug intoxication.

This means that these depressants will cause compounded effects, leading to a potential overdose. A person may become unresponsive, have suppressed breathing, slow heart rate, or a weak pulse. As depressants are known to slow down the brain and vital organs’ activities, the effects of alcohol and benzodiazepines can multiply, leading to the body stopping its functions altogether.

Alcohol and opioids

Similar to benzodiazepines, opioids should not be mixed with alcohol due to its depressant effects. The same interactions can happen, which leads to the combined efforts to suppress activity in the brain and the body. Thus, taking alcohol and opioids intentionally or by accident can also lead to:

  • Unconsciousness
  • Weak heart
  • Abnormal or slow breathing rate
  • Bluish skin and pale lips
  • Low temperature

Cocaine and opioids

Many would assume that combining drugs with opposite effects cannot cause fatal results. Sadly, this practice can also lead to overdose as the combination can be addictive. Cocaine and opioids such as heroin are often touted as a practice of “speedballing”, which is done to increase and lengthen the pleasurable effects of both drugs. The interactions between a stimulant and a depressant do not necessarily negate the dangerous effects, but rather multiply the strain on the body.

For example, cocaine requires the heart to pump more blood and supply oxygen in the body, while heroin suppresses this need. The effects going in opposite directions may lead to the body shutting down, which can be life-threatening.

Alcohol and stimulants

The interaction between alcohol and stimulants is comparable to that of cocaine and opioids. As alcohol is a depressant, and stimulant such as cocaine and meth, the effect would be a prolonged and intense sense of “high” when taken. Some people would also use this method to “speedball” when opioids aren’t available.

However, doing this sends the heart and the liver on overdrive, and creates a byproduct called cocaethylene. This substance is what’s responsible for the intensely pleasurable feelings but it can also lead to toxicity and sudden death. Mixing depressants and stimulants is never safe and should be avoided to prevent toxic interactions.

Mixing Drugs: A Serious Problem In Need of Immediate Solution

You or a loved one may have mixed drugs habitually or have experienced a life-threatening situation unscathed. This does not mean that polydrug abuse should not be addressed–the potential effects can be devastating. There is a way out. By getting help as soon as possible, you can recover from polydrug abuse.


Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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