Mixing Meth and Alcohol
By The Recovery Village Ridgefield
Editor Renee Deveney | Medically Reviewed By Dr. Annie Tye, PhD
Last Updated: June 1, 2023
Editorial Policy | Research Policy
Methamphetamine (meth) is a highly addictive and illicit potent central nervous system stimulant drug. Meth use triggers the release of several neurotransmitters in the brain, most notably dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin, resulting in increased mental alertness, energy and rapid mood swings. Meth use also causes elevated heart rate, high blood pressure and disrupts learning and memory processes.
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that is also powerfully addictive. Alcohol primarily acts by enhancing the signaling ability of an inhibitory neurotransmitter called GABA, leading to an overall inhibition of brain activity. Alcohol also indirectly affects dopamine release. Consequences of alcohol use include sedation, dulled thinking and loss of coordination. In addition, alcohol is strongly associated with impaired judgment and risk-taking behaviors.
Why Do People Mix Meth and Alcohol?
Although there is surprisingly little empirical evidence that clarifies why meth and alcohol are often used together, the data that does exist suggests that there are three overlapping reasons for why people mix meth and alcohol. The first reason is that the drug combination produces a greater sense of euphoria than either drug alone.
The second and third reasons for co-using alcohol and meth stem from the opposing effects of each drug on the brain: Meth reduces alcohol-induced performance impairments and sedation and alcohol reduces meth-induced sleep disturbances. As with other types of polysubstance abuse, co-administration of meth and alcohol increases subjective feelings of euphoria and self-esteem while mitigating negative aspects of using either drug on its own. An estimated 77% of people diagnosed with methamphetamine dependence also have an alcohol use disorder.
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Effects of Combining Alcohol and Meth
A 2012 study compared the effects of only alcohol, only meth and alcohol plus meth on psychological and cardiovascular measures. The authors found that co-administration of meth and alcohol significantly increased subjective measures of energy, sociability, stimulation and feeling high compared to either alcohol or meth alone. Measures of “good drug effect,” “drug liking” and “desire to take again” were all significantly increased after administration of meth plus alcohol compared to meth only or alcohol only. They also found that the first co-administration of meth plus alcohol was subjectively more positive than the second co-administration, and that tolerance became a factor after just the first administration.
This study also found that the combination of meth and alcohol has a significant effect on the cardiovascular system after the first co-administration but, as with the subjective measures, tolerance developed immediately and was strong enough to cause a significant reduction in heart rate between the first and second co-administrations (although heart rate after the second meth-plus-alcohol co-administration was still elevated compared to meth only or alcohol only).
These findings suggest that meth and alcohol, when taken simultaneously, increase subjective measures of pleasure. However, the immediate development of tolerance causes subsequent co-administrations to be less pleasurable. In light of the addictive nature of both meth and alcohol, the likely consequence of repeated co-use of meth and alcohol would be a need for ever-increasing doses of both drugs that parallel an ever-decreasing sense of enjoyment from taking these drugs together.
Risks of Mixing Meth and Alcohol
Physical risks of combining meth and alcohol include a number of adverse cardiovascular effects, including increased heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen consumption. In addition, alcohol increases meth’s ability to deplete dopamine and serotonin, leading to depression and anhedonia, while also increasing inflammation in the brain, which causes neurotoxicity (death of brain cells).
A 2014 study in rats found that co-administration of alcohol and meth inhibits learning and spatial memory more than the administration of meth only. They also found that meth and alcohol co-use caused significantly more inflammation and destruction in regions of the brain that are involved in learning and memory than either alcohol or meth.
Meth is likely to mask the intoxicating effects of alcohol, potentially causing people to consume substantially larger amounts of alcohol than they would in the absence of meth. Consequences may include alcohol poisoning or erratic, risky behavior. Among the outcomes of these consequences may be hospitalizations, arrests, dangerous or foolish stunts and unsafe sex.
Taken together, meth and alcohol are significantly more damaging to the heart and brain than the use of either drug alone. In addition, co-use is more likely to lead to erratic and potentially dangerous behaviors that can have severe, life-long consequences. Finally, co-use of alcohol and meth reinforce the addictive properties of each other, which causes a rapid onset of addiction that is more difficult to overcome than addiction to either drug on its own.
Treatment for Meth and Alcohol Addiction
Alcohol addiction and meth addiction are each challenging to overcome on their own; when combined, the early stages of recovery can be incredibly uncomfortable, even dangerous. The safest way for most people to begin recovery is to undergo medically assisted detox under the supervision of professionals. In addition to making sure that detox is progressing normally, they may be able to provide medications that will substantially mitigate the severity of withdrawal symptoms.
Following the detox period, participation in a residential rehab program is highly recommended. Because of the powerfully addictive nature of both alcohol and meth, it can be incredibly difficult to resist the temptation to relapse in the first few weeks of recovery. Residential rehab programs provide a secure environment that minimizes exposure to triggers while providing crucial opportunities for physical and psychological healing. Residential rehab typically transitions into intensive outpatient or outpatient treatment. Long-term sobriety requires constant maintenance, and a rehab facility that offers aftercare programs can provide valuable support and motivation throughout the entire recovery process.
Successfully overcoming substance use disorder can be challenging, but it is possible. The Recovery Village Ridgefield offers comprehensive rehab programs that are tailored to individual needs. You deserve a healthy, fulfilling life and we can help. Take the first step towards recovery. Call today to learn more about treatment options in Washington State and beyond.
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Kirkpatrick, Matthew G; Gunderson, Erik W; Levin, Frances R; Foltin, Richard W; Hart, Carl L. “Acute and residual interactive effects of repeated administrations of oral methamphetamine and alcohol in humans.” Psychopharmacology, January 2012. Accessed September 1, 2019.
Blaker, Amanda L; Yamamoto, Bryan K. “Methamphetamine-Induced Brain Injury and Alcohol Drinking.” Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology, March 2018. Accessed September 1, 2019.
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