Painkillers and alcohol are everywhere. They’re also the fastest rising cause of emergency room visits in the United States, with the number of people seeking treatment for combined overdose rising 300 percent between 1999 and 2010. Prescription drugs, such as painkillers and benzodiazepines, mixed with alcohol are the newest and deadliest mix.
What to Know About Central Nervous System Depressants
Painkillers, benzodiazepine drugs such as Xanax and Ativan, and alcohol all depress the activity of the central nervous system. The central nervous system controls essential functions such as heartbeat and breathing. Painkillers such as Vicodin — as well as anti-anxiety medicines, muscle relaxers, and sleep aids such as Klonopin — slow heartbeat and breathing rate as a side effect of their desired clinical effects. Taking too many of these painkillers can result in fatal overdose.
Alcohol is another central nervous system depressant that slows heart rate and breathing. In fact, alcohol acts on the same nervous system areas that benzodiazepines do. Combining alcohol with other CNS depressants boosts the brain effects of both.
Taking both at the same time for recreational purposes can be deadly. In fact, the latest evidence from hospital emergency rooms across the country indicates that people who abuse these drugs with alcohol are more likely to suffer fatal overdose than those who are addicted to drugs. Even worse, the people who supply these drugs are more likely to be family members or friends — not street dealers.
How False Coping Mechanisms Affect Substance Abuse
Media reports of drug and alcohol overdose appear every day, yet the numbers continue to grow. The federal government described painkiller abuse as the worst substance abuse epidemic ever faced in the United States, and alcohol abuse is the leading cause of emergency room visits in the country. So why are people continuing to abuse these dangerous substances together?
Although denial is a likely cause, another likely answer is the relationship between the false coping mechanism provided by substance abuse and the symptoms associated with depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, and other mental health disorders. Some may have never been diagnosed while others may avoid taking medication; regardless, people with mental health disorders are far more likely to abuse substances than others.
Initially, the individual struggling with depression, for example, may feel more relaxed and social after casually abusing a substance. Over time, however, that abuse worsens the original symptoms and leads to addiction.
Quitting a substance abuse problem is hard. With help, however, the struggling individual can relieve both the mental health symptoms and the addiction — and lead a healthier, more satisfying, and sober lifestyle.