Mixing Prescription Drugs and Alcohol

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Mixing prescription drugs and alcohol is inadvisable and potentially dangerous.

Combining prescription medications with alcohol can trigger effects beyond drowsiness and impaired coordination, though. When the two are combined, it can bring about life-threatening complications with breathing.

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Combining alcohol with some illicit drugs can cause long-term organ damage, and mixing alcohol with certain prescription pills can make a person stop breathing. Even some over-the-counter supplements can cause major health problems when mixed with alcohol.

This guide outlines what happens when you mix pills and alcohol, and also explores the negative outcomes resulting from mixing alcohol with illicit drugs and OTC medications.

What Happens When You Mix Alcohol with Prescription Drugs?

Prescription drugs are a broad classification of medications that includes:

  • Opioid painkillers like hydrocodone and oxycodone
  • Benzos like Xanax and Klonopin
  • Stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin

Prescription medications have many uses from relieving pain following illness or surgery to helping calm anxiety or improving impulse control. When used as prescribed, these medications can help effectively manage a wide range of conditions and issues. If misused or abused, prescription drugs can be highly addictive and potentially dangerous. Those risks are magnified in those drinking alcohol with medication.

Why is mixing prescription drugs with alcohol dangerous, then?

According to NIAAA (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism), it is inadvisable to mix alcohol and medication. Alcohol may change how a medicine works, and some medications may change the way in which alcohol affects you.

Alcohol may reduce the effectiveness of some medications by disrupting their absorption in the digestive tract. Alcohol may also cause an increase in the bioavailability of some drugs, causing blood concentration to reach toxic levels.

Beyond this, consuming alcohol may worsen the side effects of some medications. In some cases, drinking alcohol may cause new symptoms, particularly if you are prescribed a medication that induces sleepiness or sedation.

Some combinations like alcohol and prescription opioids can be life-threatening in the event of respiratory depression slowing breathing so much that it stops completely with lethal consequences.


The most reported side effects that occur when combining alcohol with medication include:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Stomach upsets
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Impaired coordination
  • Changes to blood pressure changes
  • Behavioral changes
  • Changes in mental state or emotions

If you’re still wondering, “Is it bad to mix pills and alcohol”, combining addictive substances may induce dangerous and potentially deadly adverse effects.

When some drugs interact with alcohol, this may trigger a severe reaction.

Additionally, combining alcohol and medicine can change the way you think and act in some cases, increasing the likelihood of risky behaviors and accidents or injuries.

The combination of prescription drugs and alcohol also weakens the desired effects of the medication, often prompting people to ingest more substances in response. This increased consumption can lead to alcohol poisoning or overdose. Alcohol poisoning can be fatal if untreated. Call 911 immediately if you or a loved one is experiencing alcohol poisoning.

From short-term side effects to long-term organ damage and life-threatening respiratory depression, it is always wise to avoid combining alcohol and prescription drugs.

What To Do

If you mix a prescription drug with alcohol, whether deliberately or accidentally, you run a significant risk of adverse effects that may include overdose.

If you or a loved one are experiencing alcohol poisoning or a drug overdose, it is imperative to call 911 immediately.

An image of two friends sitting on a bench discussing the dangers of mixing prescription drugs and alcohol

What Kinds of Drugs Don’t Mix Well with Alcohol?

While it is not advisable to combine alcohol with any drugs, the following drugs combined with alcohol make a dangerous and possibly deadly cocktail:

  • Benzos
  • Opioid painkillers
  • Stimulants
  • Antidepressants


Benzodiazepines are prescription medications designed to treat anxiety, insomnia, panic attacks, and seizure disorders. Benzos work on GABA receptors in the brain. GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a chemical messenger or neurotransmitter known for its calming effect.

Alcohol also targets GABA receptors, and when combined with benzos, this can enhance the effects of both substances. If this occurs, dangerous side effects may present, including:

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Slowed breathing
  • Impaired motor control
  • Erratic behaviors
  • Memory loss
  • Blackouts
  • Liver damage
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Benzo overdose

Opioid Painkillers

Prescription opioid painkillers are among the most widely abused drugs in the United States, triggering the unresolved U.S. opioid epidemic. Since 1999, more than 900,000 people have died from a drug overdose in the U.S.

Opioid painkillers are classified as Schedule II controlled substances for their addictive potential. When opioids are mixed with alcohol, the relaxing effects are intensified, and the risk of overdose is increased significantly. Research shows that oxygen deprivation is the primary cause of death in those with opioid use disorders who experience overdose.

Abusing alcohol and opioids in combination also heightens the risk of addiction to both substances developing.

The illicit narcotics heroin and fentanyl are also opioids that should never be combined with alcoholic beverages. 

Prescription Stimulants

Prescription stimulants like Adderall, Ritalin, and Vyvanse can relieve the symptoms of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). Small doses of these stimulants helps to alter levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, promoting focus.

This class of medication is also commonly abused by those without an ADHD diagnosis and frequently combined with alcohol. Adverse side effects triggered by mixing a sedative like alcohol with a stimulant like Adderall include:

  • Drowsiness and dizziness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Heightened risk of heart problems and heart damage
  • Liver damage


Antidepressant medications can relieve the symptoms of major depressive disorder, and this class of medication should not be mixed with alcohol.

Firstly, alcohol is likely to reduce the effectiveness of the antidepressant medication, leading to increased feelings of depression or anxiety.

Additionally, alcohol may impair thinking and cognitive processes, and cause sleepiness or sedation.

Older types of antidepressants like MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) may cause heart damage if mixed with alcohol.

Mixing any antidepressant with alcohol also exposes you to an increased risk of overdose.

List of Dangerous Drugs to Mix

This list includes the most dangerous drugs to mix with alcohol: 

  1. Opioids: Combining opioids like heroin, fentanyl, or oxycodone with alcohol can trigger life-threatening respiratory depression.
  2. Benzodiazepines: Combining benzos like Xanax, Valium, or Klonopin with alcohol can bring about respiratory depression, coma, and death.
  3. Cocaine: Mixing cocaine with alcohol can result in the production of a toxic substance called cocaethylene, and can cause heart damage, liver damage, and other serious health complications.
  4. Meth: Combining methamphetamine with alcohol can cause heart attacks, stroke, and other cardiovascular problems.
  5. Marijuana: Mixing marijuana with alcohol can impair cognitive function and increase the risk of accidents and injuries.
  6. Ecstasy (MDMA): Combining MDMA with alcohol can lead to dehydration, overheating, and other dangerous side effects.
  7. Prescription stimulants: Combining stimulants like Adderall or Ritalin with alcohol may increase heart rate and blood pressure, potentially leading to heart attack or stroke.
  8. Antibiotics: Consuming alcohol while taking antibiotics can compromise the immune system.
  9. DayQuil: DayQuil contains both DXM (dextromethorphan) and acetaminophen, so mixing these substances can result in drowsiness, dizziness, and liver damage.
  10. NyQuil: Most NyQuil products contain DXM, acetaminophen, and doxylamine. Doxylamine is an ingredient used to treat symptoms of cold or allergy, as well as short-term sleep problems. Combining NyQuil with alcohol may cause extreme drowsiness, impaired motor function, slowed breathing, and memory loss.

How to Get Help for Drug and Alcohol Addiction

If you or a loved one is struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, keep in mind that addiction – clinically termed substance use disorder – is a chronic and progressive brain condition. There is no cure for substance use disorder and most addictions worsen if untreated.

When you’re ready to commit to recovery, though, you’ll discover that drug and alcohol addictions respond positively to science-based treatments like MAT (medication-assisted treatment), psychotherapy, and counseling.

The most effective addiction treatment begins with a supervised medical detox, enabling you to address the issue of physical dependence on drugs or alcohol. Following detoxification, an inpatient, outpatient, or virtual treatment program can help you unpack the psychological component of addiction, while equipping you with the skills you require to thrive rather than merely survive in your ongoing recovery.

How can you go about connecting with the help you need?

Steps To Get Help

Here are some actionable steps you can take when you are ready to to get help for drug or alcohol addiction: 

  1. Admit that you have a problem with drug and alcohol addiction and that you need help.
  2. Learn as much as you can about addiction treatment and recovery.
  3. Speak with your doctor or a substance abuse professional to obtain an accurate diagnosis and guidance on the best course of treatment.
  4. Research treatment options appropriate for your needs. This may include medically supervised detox programs, inpatient rehab (residential rehab), outpatient treatment programs, and remote rehab programs. Broadly, most mild and moderate addictions can be effectively treated with intensive outpatient treatment, while most severe addictions and co-occurring disorders require residential rehab.
  5. Seek support from loved ones who can offer motivation and encouragement during your recovery process.
  6. Consider attending support groups like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), NA (Narcotics Anonymous), or SMART Recovery.
  7. Create a plan for relapse prevention. All addictions have high relapse rates of between 40% and 60%, similar to the relapse rates of other chronic conditions. To help you combat cravings for drugs or alcohol, develop healthy coping mechanisms to enable you to deal with stressors in your ongoing recovery without resorting to substance abuse.
  8. Stay committed to your recovery process and seek treatment and ongoing support as needed.

When you are ready to take the first vital step, we can help you here at California Detox in Laguna Beach, CA.

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Unchain Yourself from Addiction at California Detox

Whether you are addicted to alcohol, prescription medications, or illicit narcotics, we offer treatment programs at all levels of intensity at California Detox in Laguna Beach.

Our supervised medical detox program provides you with the smoothest pathway to ongoing treatment. Access clinical and emotional care alongside FDA-approved medications to streamline your withdrawal process and minimize complications and cravings during detox. Next, choose from the following California Detox treatment programs:

  • Inpatient programs (residential rehab)
  • Partial hospitalization programs
  • Intensive outpatient programs
  • Remote rehab programs
  • Dual diagnosis treatment programs (for co-occurring disorders)

All our treatment programs offer individualized therapy that combines evidence-based interventions with holistic therapies that may include medication-assisted treatment, counseling, psychotherapy, family therapy, and holistic treatments.

You will leave our luxury beachside rehab equipped with coping skills and relapse prevention strategies integral to sustained recovery from addiction. We’re here to help you from detox to discharge and beyond. Call the friendly team today at 949.694.8305.


Consult your primary healthcare provider before mixing alcohol and medicine. It is unwise to mix medicine with alcohol.
Mixing prescription drugs and alcohol can be dangerous because it can increase the effects of both substances and can potentially trigger adverse health consequences. Alcohol can interfere with the way prescription drugs are metabolized by the liver, which can increase the amount of medication in the bloodstream and intensify its effects. Additionally, alcohol can alter the way prescription drugs affect the body, increasing the likelihood of side effects and potentially dangerous interactions.


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