Why is it usually so dangerous to mix prescription medication and alcohol?

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Why is it usually so dangerous to mix prescription medication and alcohol?

In: Biology

Because both are having effects on your body.

For one, alcohol is a depressant, it’s slows down your nervous system. And 99% of prescription pain medication has the same effect, a depressant that slows down your nervous system.

If you drink alcohol then take prescription pain killers even if you take the amount you were prescribed, the extra depressant effects from the alcohol might be enough to make you pass out/OD.

For other drugs like anti-depressants it can mess with your brain chemistry in unexpected or bad ways. Anti-depressants are already changing up your Brain chemistry, so if that brain is also full of alcohol too, it could cause problems.

Generally it isn’t recommended out of an abundance of caution, not that something is guaranteed to go bad, but just that something might go bad so better to just avoid it all together.

It’s the same reason why there are some medicines you’re not supposed to take together, or why you can’t eat or drink grapefruit and take some medicines at the same time.

The liver is the main organ in the body that processes and breaks down chemicals. Alcohol is processed in the liver and so are many medications.

Consuming alcohol along with medications might cause the liver to become “overloaded” slowing down the processing and break down of the medicines. In some cases, this might lead to overdose because the medicines aren’t broken down fast enough.

Your liver is already working overtime to break down alchohol and medication on their own. Combine the two and it can lead to a backup or even liver failure.

*Warning: This is a scary story. It tells about ways that people can get hurt very badly or even die. It also talks about dumb things that people sometimes do when they are very unhappy. This story is not about livers. It’s about brains.*

Your brain works using chemicals called **neurotransmitters**. Those are how the nerve cells in your brain talk to each other. Drugs that affect your mind work by affecting those neurotransmitters.

Alcohol affects *seventeen* different neurotransmitters and other brain chemicals! It makes some of them stronger and some of them weaker.

One particular chemical, **GABA**, works by slowing down nerve cells, making them signal less. This is part of why people get stupid and sleepy and forgetful when they are drunk. GABA is also affected by many medications, including sleep drugs like Ambien and anxiety drugs like Valium. This means that if someone takes both Valium and alcohol, they can become *very* stupid and sleepy and forgetful.

But also, “slowing down nerve cells” means slowing down the signals that tell the body to breathe. Taking multiple “slowing down” drugs (depressants) can kill, by putting the person to sleep and stopping their breathing. This is one way that people die of drug overdoses.

Something similar goes for alcohol and antihistamines (like Benadryl), or alcohol and opiates. Telling the nerves “slow down, slow down, shut up, go to sleep” with multiple chemicals at the same time can shut down lots of things that the brain is supposed to be doing.

Some combinations of these drugs make it impossible for the brain to form new memories. We call that a **blackout**: the person seems to be awake but, later, they do not remember anything that they did or said. It is possible to black out on alcohol alone, but it’s much more common on alcohol plus other drugs. And these drugs also often make people stupid and clumsy — so they end up doing really dumb and dangerous and awful things, and forgetting they ever did them.

So that’s one reason why you shouldn’t mix alcohol with these kinds of drugs: it pretty much makes your brain shut down, and if it doesn’t outright kill you by stopping your breathing, it can make you do terrible things and forget you did them.