When one drug ceases to give that high or euphoric feeling, some people will start adding other drugs to attempt to get that same feeling again. Others mix drugs unintentionally, such as drinking alcohol while using prescription drugs. Some illicit drugs are intentionally used with alcohol or other drugs to create a specific reaction. No matter why you mix drugs or which drugs you mix, it is a very dangerous practice.

What Is Polydrug Use?

Polydrug use simply refers to using multiple drugs simultaneously. Many people unintentionally use alcohol with prescription drugs, for which there are known interactions and consequences. Those who use illicit drugs may intentionally use multiple drugs simultaneously to create a different type of high or to elicit a specific reaction.

While using alcohol with prescription drugs is probably the most common instance of polydrug use, there are also specific communities which engage in simultaneous use of multiple substances. One such community includes young adults who go to clubs and use psychoactive drugs such as ecstasy or MDMA, crystal meth, LSD, ketamine, cocaine and GHB. Alcohol is also commonly used simultaneously with these drugs.

Additionally, those who have heroin, methamphetamine or cocaine addictions will often use secondary drugs such as alcohol, marijuana, opioids or another form of heroin. Just as with cooking recipes with more ingredients increases the chance of errors, using more than one drug at a time increases your chances of serious health issues or fatality.

Mixing Alcohol with Prescription Drugs

One of the most common dangers of polydrug use occurs when you take prescription medications and then drink alcohol while those medications are still in your system. These drugs do not have to be taken at the same time; the dangerous side effects can occur at any time. Many prescription drug labels contain warnings about simultaneous alcohol consumption. Some of these drugs include prescriptions for the following conditions:

  • Allergies
  • Heart, blood pressure or blood conditions
  • Depression, anxiety, ADHD or other mental health diagnoses
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Infections
  • Seizures
  • Motion sickness
  • Sleep problems

Always check the labels and warnings that come with your prescription medications and follow the advice given. Many of these drugs contain multiple ingredients that can interact with alcohol and cause serious health problems or even death, all of which are preventable.

Mixing Alcohol and Illicit Drugs

Many people will become addicted to a primary drug, such as alcohol, and then add other drugs when the primary drug no longer produces the desired effect, even with increased doses. Using club drugs becomes an experiment to create an ideal high or euphoria. The risk of mixing those drugs is rarely known or considered, however, particularly when there can be unknown ingredients in illicit drugs. For someone with a heroin addiction, for example, mixing the drug with alcohol creates a more intense effect. In these scenarios of mixing alcohol and illicit drugs, the desired effects outweigh the potential consequences of a drug interaction in the mind of the user.

Increased Health Risks with Mixed Drugs

For those who take calculated risks while using prescription, illicit or even drugs that are legal such as alcohol and marijuana, they may feel like they know the limitations of their bodies and the health risks associated. When mixing drugs, however, there is the possibility of drug reactions that may not be anticipated. 

For example, opioids themselves can depress the central nervous system or respiratory system enough to be fatal, and so can alcohol. When taken together, the reactions are increased, sometimes exponentially. This is just one example, however. Another example would be to take a stimulant with a depressant, but this can create additional health risk, rather than having the drug effects counterbalance one another. Other health risks that can occur with polydrug use include:

  • Dizziness or changes in blood pressure or heart rate; fainting
  • Impaired concentration, reaction time, memory, motor control or thinking
  • Liver problems
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Internal bleeding
  • Gastrointestinal issues or extreme weight loss or gain
  • Depression, anxiety, suicide ideation or other mental health issues
  • Drowsiness or difficulty breathing 
  • Overdose

Why Treatment Is More Difficult with Polydrug Use

The concept that treating multiple drug use is more difficult may be obvious, but it does not change the fact that heroin treatment, cocaine treatment or treating chronic alcoholism becomes more complicated when more drugs are used. Polydrug use often consists of a variety of combinations and patterns of use, all of which have different treatment options and solutions. This can create greater mental and physical health challenges when detoxing and when using medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and other treatments, as well as the length of treatment. In addition, polydrug use can increase the chances for relapse.


Whether polydrug use is intentional or not, it can open a Pandora’s box of health risks and treatment challenges. Chronic alcoholism plus heroin addiction, for example, creates new health problems. Cocaine treatment becomes more complicated when alcohol or illicit drugs are thrown into the mix, and in all of these scenarios, there are significantly increased risks of serious health problems or even death. At our Maryland rehab treatment center, New Life, we can help you with polydrug abuse. We know that it will be more difficult, but we have experience in helping people who are struggling with multiple addictions. We are here for you and we want to put you back into the driver’s seat of your life. Contact us today to find out how you can put your polydrug use behind you and step onto your path of recovery.