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  • Mixing Heroin & Alcohol | Dangers & Long Term Side Effects

    Mixing Heroin & Alcohol | Effects, Dangers, & Treatment

    Originally envisioned as a safer alternative to the opiate drug morphine, heroin exists as the deadliest illicit drug in the United States today—heroin abuse claims the lives of around 15,000 Americans each year. 

    Alcohol, on the other hand, is legal and common, yet still claims the lives of a staggering 95,000 Americans yearly—most fatalities stem from alcoholic diseases of the heart, liver, or cancer.

    Mixing these two different yet potent substances in the human body creates an even more toxic and deadly situation than either one alone.

    Dangers Of Concurrent Alcohol & Heroin Use

    Both heroin overdose and alcohol poisoning can be deadly on their own. 

    But because each substance acts as a CNS depressant and enhances the effects of the other, individuals using both alcohol and heroin together only increase their risk of overdose, making it much harder to treat if it does occur.


    Signs and symptoms of an alcohol/heroin overdose may include:

    • extreme sedation, inability to stay awake
    • slow breathing, shallow breathing, gasping for pair, or not breathing at all
    • pale skin with blue-tinted lips and fingernails
    • pinpoint pupils
    • slow or irregular heart rate
    • disorientation or delirium
    • nausea and vomiting
    • seizures or spasms
    • coma

    Overdose deaths can occur with little warning and are likely due to respiratory depression (breathing effects). Naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal drug, could save a life if used in time.

    Keep in mind, however, that Naloxone is not able to reverse overdoses stemming from abuse of other types of drugs, including stimulants, alcohol, benzodiazepines, and others. 

    Short-Term Effects Of Concurrent Heroin & Alcohol Use

    Heroin is an opioid drug that works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and elsewhere in the central nervous system, changing how your body senses and responds to pain and triggering a massive, habit-forming surge of dopamine. 

    Alcohol, on the other hand, works by increasing the action of the GABA neurotransmitter and interacting with a large number of other CNS processes.

    Mixing alcohol and heroin increases the pleasurable effects of both substances, and also likely increases the harmful and negative short-term effects of both:

    • drowsiness/sedation
    • dizziness
    • impaired movement and coordination
    • nausea
    • confusion
    • impaired judgement and decision-making
    • low blood pressure and fainting
    • coma
    • depressed breathing

    Long-Term Effects Of Heroin Addiction

    Heroin is an extremely addictive substance with devastating long-term health effects that are only increased by chronic alcohol abuse:

    • rapid development of physical dependence, tolerance, and addiction (substance use disorder)
    • brain damage 
    • lasting behavior and personality changes
    • depression
    • antisocial personality disorder
    • sexual or reproductive dysfunction/impotence
    • sleep problems
    • constipation
    • immune system dysfunction

    Long-Term Effects Of Alcohol Addiction

    Alcohol use disorder, also known as alcoholism or alcohol addiction, can have equally devastating long-term physical and mental health effects, especially when alcohol is abused with other habit-forming drugs like heroin.

    These effects can include:

    • brain damage
    • lasting personality and behavioral changes
    • anxiety
    • depression
    • memory loss and dysfunction
    • learning dysfunction
    • alcoholic liver disease and cirrhosis
    • alcoholic pancreatitis
    • increased cancer risk
    • high blood pressure
    • increased risk of miscarriage, birth defects, and developmental defects
    • cardiovascular disease and dysfunction
    • heart attack
    • stroke

    Treatment For Poly-Drug Abuse

    Treatment for any substance use disorder begins with detoxification, a process that brings on uncomfortable or sometimes dangerous withdrawal symptoms.

    Detox Programs

    In cases of chronic poly-substance abuse, as with concurrent heroin use and alcohol consumption, the detox process can be more complicated and difficult. 

    Individuals planning on detoxing from these substances are strongly encouraged to seek out inpatient medical supervision as a result. 

    Other Treatment Services

    Following detox, treatment providers may prescribe various medications including buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone. Other addiction treatment options include:

    If you or a loved one have been struggling with heroin addiction, alcohol misuse, or a combination of both, please contact us today.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2023 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) - Overdose Death Rates
    National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) - What are the medical complications of chronic heroin use?
    National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) - Alcohol Facts and Statistics
    Molecular Psychiatry (Nature) - Polysubstance use in the U.S. opioid crisis

    Medically Reviewed by
    Kimberly Langdon M.D.
    on April 30, 2022
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