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The poly drug abuse of pain pills and alcohol has negative implications for increased dependency, increased bodily harm and risks of fatal overdose, decreased cognitive and psychological performances, exacerbated detox and withdrawal symptoms and complicated drug treatment and aftercare.

The addiction to any one drug is problematic, and when the addiction occurs to more than one concurrent substance the treatment needs to be correspondingly intensive.

The dangers of pain pill and alcohol addiction remain high within our society, and a recent survey of high school kids indicates that as many as 20% of high school seniors had abused both pain pills and alcohol to get high.

What Are The Dangers?

Because both opiates and alcohol are central nervous system depressants, the dangers of accidental overdose are magnified when these two substances are consumed concurrently.

The risk of accidental overdose, which is relatively low when taking pain pills alone, becomes very real when pain pills in large doses are combined with even small amounts of effect multiplying alcohol.

Alcohol and pain pills when taken together can also increase the toxicity of the corresponding substance. For example, when vicodin in high doses is taken with small to moderate quantities of alcohol, the danger of acute acetaminophen toxic effects on the liver are increased. These liver effects can be both chronic and acute, and unfortunately, it only takes a single incidence of excessive acetaminophen and alcohol consumption to induce liver failure and with it the likelihood of an eventually fatal condition.

The dangers of dependence and deepening addiction are maximized when the intoxicating effects of opiates are enhanced through the use of alcohol. With greater perceived pleasurable affects the psychological addiction strengthens, and drug taking behaviors become increasingly entrenched and difficult to eliminate.

Research has additionally shown that poly drug addiction induces significant cognitive declines, far worse than those induced by the abuse of a single drug. When cognitive declines are increased, whether these declines are permanent or eventually reversible, the treatment and necessary internalization of the lessons of rehab and teachings of abuse avoidance are complicated and eventual recovery is more challenging.


A lengthy and intensive period of aftercare remains the best way to maximize the adherence to the lessons of rehab, and to ensure long term rehab compliance and sobriety.

Aftercare may occur within a rehab facility or elsewhere, and should consist of continuing peer group therapy (NA or AA) and continuing case management from a psychologist or addictions professional. Halfway houses or other transitional rehabilitation facilities may be employed when the need for additional temptation reductions and relapse minimization is deemed necessary.

The co-occurring abuse of alcohol and pills is a large, and increasing societal problem. The seeming acceptance of both prescribed pharmaceuticals and a few drinks a night make this poly addiction relatively easy to fall into, and unfortunately, the addictions to both substances exacerbates the effects and the dangers of the other substance.

The withdrawal and detox period is dangerous and difficult, and most people will require medical supervision and medical care for symptoms minimization during this difficult period.

A rehab facility with an awareness of the treatment needs of poly drug addiction to alcohol and pills, and one that offers comprehensive and long lasting aftercare should be considered the best solution for poly drug addictions to alcohol and pills.

Drug Rehab Treatment

Methadone or other opiate substitution therapy should not be considered when there is a corresponding addiction to alcohol.

Continuing alcohol abuse reduces the benefits of opiate substitution therapy, and there remains a significant risk of overdose and other health risks. The best program is an intensive and residential period of rehab, of sufficient length to provide a period of sobriety and with enough counseling and education to provide a new model for drug free living once released.

The treatment for a poly addiction to alcohol and pills proceeds in a similar manner to conventional rehab, and individual therapy, peer group therapy, education, cognitive behavioral classes, and meditation and introspection are combined to offer the recovering addict a number of strategies to future abuse avoidance.

Because the poly abuse of alcohol and pills can increase the severity of either addiction, and also increases experienced cognitive declines, rehab needs to be intensive and long lasting to offer the best probability of long term sobriety.

Detox off of alcohol and pills

Because there is a concurrent addiction to more than one substance, there is a need for a corresponding detox off of both substances.

Research has shown that the GABAergic effects of an alcohol detoxification affect the detox from opiates through an intensification of the experienced withdrawal pains of the opiate detoxification.

Treatment generally incorporates benzodiazepines to inhibit GABAergic systems and to minimize the exacerbation of opiate withdrawal symptoms. The detox from a poly drug addiction to alcohol and pills is more challenging, will take longer and will be more uncomfortable for the recovering addict. Because the alcohol withdrawal alone can be dangerous and even fatal, the medical management of a poly drug addiction to alcohol and pills is very necessary, and since the alcohol withdrawal exacerbates the intensity of the opiate withdrawal symptoms, few people will be able to suffer the discomfort of the withdrawal if left within the home environment and access to drugs and or alcohol. Safe and effective withdrawal requires medically monitored and sequestered detox.

What Are The Reasons For Poly Drug Addiction?

Pain patients using pharmaceuticals in a legitimate attempt to control chronic or severe pain sometimes increases the potency of the analgesic effects through the addition of central nervous system depressing alcohol to their pharmaceutical treatment regimen.

More commonly, people prescribed prescription pain medications use alcohol in conjunction with the pills to increase the pleasurable effects of the pills.

The concurrent use of alcohol has an exponential magnification of the intoxication of the pharmaceutical, and both drugs when co consumed increase the effects of each other. The pills increase the effects of the alcohol, and the alcohol increases the effects of the pills. The resultant intoxication when alcohol and pills are taken together is far greater than the sum of either intoxication when taken separately. With increased intoxication comes increased dependence and addiction.

Some pain pill patients may also consume alcohol to minimize negative side effects experienced from the drugs, to increases the potency of a limited supply of opiates, or to minimize withdrawal symptoms that may begin to occur between dosages.

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Page last updated 01/10/2015

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