Heroin and Alcohol: A Deadly Drug Combination

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When news broke that Cory Monteith of Glee had died from a toxic overdose of heroin and alcohol, it brought to life the very real dangers of lethal drug combinations. People who use drugs often don’t take these warnings seriously; they continue to mix drugs with alcohol or prescription medication to enhance the effects. Emergency rooms see the bulk of potentially deadly drug combinations, and it’s obvious that users continue to push the limits to achieve their next big high.

When the sweet-smiling, good-natured singer from Glee lost his life to heroin and alcohol, it forced people to talk about what the dire consequences of mixing drugs. Even for those who are addicted, most agree that they would never want to suffer a lonely death in a hotel room, without the chance to say goodbye to their loved ones. So, it’s time to take this conversation seriously.

Cory Monteith may be one of the most recent deaths from a heroin and alcohol overdose, but he is certainly not the first, and sadly, he won’t be the last. Let’s take a look at other celebrities who have overdosed from heroin and alcohol. (Note: In earlier deaths, there may not have been an autopsy done to confirm the cause of death.)

  • Jim Morrison
  • Janis Joplin
  • Chris Farley
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • John Belushi
  • Kurt Cobain
  • Sid Vicious (Sex Pistols)
  • Jonathan Melvoin (Smashing Pumpkins)
  • Bradley Nowell (Sublime)
  • Hillel Slovak (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
  • Dee Dee Ramone (Ramones)

What Makes Heroin and Alcohol a Toxic Mix?

Illegal substances are not safe. Period. When discussing heroin and alcohol, heroin on its own can be deadly and should not be slighted. Mixing it with something else only increases the risk of overdose. A heroin and alcohol cocktail, also called a polydrug cocktail, is highly dangerous because both substances suppress breathing.

Under normal conditions, the excitatory and inhibitory signals are in balance, which results in controlled breathing. Alcohol decreases the excitatory effects of glutamate, while heroin increases the inhibitory effects of GABA. When these signals are out of balance, they suppress the impulse to breathe. In the majority of heroin and alcohol cocktails, respiratory failure is the cause of death. When mixing heroin with alcohol, users may also experience vomiting that can also compromise breathing.

There are other ways that heroin and alcohol work together to produce lethal effects. Since both suppress the central nervous system and slow the heartbeat, there may not be enough oxygen-rich blood to pump through the body. Within minutes, the organs and brain cells become depleted and die, something called a synergistic effect. Also, when there are too many toxins in the body, the body becomes poisoned and results in some type of heart failure.

Bottom line: There is no “safe” way to use heroin and alcohol, or heroin for that matter. Heroin causes far more deaths by overdose than any other illegal substance. There are reasons why the drug is illegal, and its dangers should not be underestimated.

Why Am I Hearing More About Lethal Drug Combinations?

More young adults are dying from lethal drug combinations because of two factors: heroin is on the rise, and so are synthetic drugs. Some U.S. counties have seen a 200 percent increase of fatal heroin overdoses from 2008 to 2012, and the problem is growing in affluent communities. With more demand comes more availability of the drug, and communities see the effects from increased emergency room visits, arrests and overdoses.

Synthetic drugs are also emerging and include substances such as K2 Spice and bath salts. These drugs are synthetically made by illegal street chemists, so users don’t know exactly what they’re getting and in what quantity. Just a few weeks ago, there were multiple deaths from coast to coast from the drug molly, and even though many falsely believe this drug to be pure MDMA, it’s actually cut with other substances to make the drug go further, be more addictive and so forth.

When it comes to synthetic drugs, users have no idea what they are taking. The more these drugs are mixed with other substances, the more likely some type of overdose or lethal combination is to occur.

What Can I Do to Protect My Family?

Education is key. Young people need to be educated on the dangers of drug cocktails and how these chemicals work together to cause heart and respiratory failure. Information should come from all levels, including the community, local schools and family members.

Unfortunately, there is a tough barrier to cross: it’s not necessarily young teens that are dying from lethal drug combinations. This is not a problem limited to the young as some drug issues are; mixing drugs is something that often comes with time, age and practice. Many believe they are safely mixing, and they continue to ignore the inevitable dangers.

Thankfully, more treatment centers are working diligently to follow up with clients and ensure they are adhering to their aftercare plans, attending AA and 12-Step meetings and seeking counseling or therapy. They are also educating family members on addiction so that they can play an active role in their loved one’s recovery. Cory Monteith sought treatment, only to slip back into his old ways. If there is one thing we can learn from this, it’s that recovering addicts need continued support, stability and reinforcement, for this disease is truly never over.