Polysubstance Abuse: Alcohol and Heroin

The use of alcohol and heroin has become a very popular drug combination. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who have an alcohol use disorder are twice as likely to also develop an addiction to heroin. This form of polysubstance abuse occurs when a person is addicted to alcohol and begins to use heroin to increase its sedative effects. Ultimately achieving intense feelings of euphoria and pleasure. Because alcohol and heroin are both central nervous system depressants, they produce very similar effects of calmness and relaxation.

A blurred out glass of alcohol, a bag of white tablets, a syringe and a spoon filled with white powder represent polysubstance abuse of alcohol and heroin.

The Effects of Alcohol

Alcohol is a substance that contains ethanol. It is a sedative substance that has the ability to change the chemistry and composition of the brain. When alcohol is excessively used, it can slow down brain function and activity. Alcohol abusers begin to show signs of behavioral changes such as impaired judgment and decision-making. Because of the slowed brain activity, alcohol also slows down physical motor skills resulting in delayed reaction times.

The excessive abuse of alcohol often leads to a disease called alcohol use disorder (AUD). AUD is a chronic mental disease in which a person develops repeated patterns of alcohol use that result in negative outcomes.

Overconsumption of alcohol can also cause life-threatening effects on many major organs including, the heart, liver, kidney and stomach.

The Effects of Heroin

Heroin is a highly addictive substance derived from morphine, which originates from poppy seeds. This opiate is a synthetic substance and is a popular alternative to prescription pain medications. It is illegal and has no medical use in the United States. In 2012, over half a million people in the United States received substance use disorder treatment for heroin addiction.

Unlike other substances such as alcohol, heroin use doesn’t produce a hangover or come down feeling from initial use. This factor makes the drug highly attractive to users.

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Heroin is a potent substance that produces feelings of intense euphoria and pain relief. It works by targeting the brain’s opioid receptors and activating the chemicals that alter the brain’s reward system.

Under normal circumstances, the brain is able to naturally release chemicals such as dopamine and endorphins to reward behavior that is necessary for survival. Behaviors such as eating and helping to cope with feelings of pain produce “happy chemicals” in the brain. In heroin addiction, the brain quickly adapts to heroin as a trigger for activating these “happy chemicals” and is no longer able to produce them naturally.

Signs of Heroin Abuse

  • Increased heart rate
  • Confusion and paranoia
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Slowed breathing and shortness of breath
  • Drastic weight loss
  • Bloodshot eyes and pinpoint pupils
  • Slurred speech
  • Secretive behaviors
  • Changes in physical appearance
  • Needle track marks or collapsed veins due to drug injections
  • Lack of motivation
  • Extreme drowsiness

Alcohol and Heroin

The combination of alcohol with the stimulating effects of heroin can create unique symptoms and side effects that can potentially increase the risk of a drug overdose. Because both alcohol and heroin are sedative substances, they can dramatically slow down breathing and increase the risk of respiratory depression. Respiratory depression reduces the amount of oxygen that is able to reach the brain and other parts of the body. This is also known as hypoxia.

Normal lung functions begin to slow down. The user may become lightheaded and experience a lowered heart rate due to less oxygen being circulated within the body. Prolonged deficiency of oxygen causes long-term damage to major organ systems such as the brain, heart and lungs. This will ultimately lead to permanent damage causing coma and death.  

Other signs of Alcohol and Heroin polysubstance abuse:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Lack of inhibitions
  • Severe mood swings
  • Alcohol withdrawal
  • Heroin withdrawal
  • Hallucinations
  • Slowed reaction times and motor skills
  • Impaired memory retention

Reach out to Hotel California by the Sea

We specialize in treating addiction and other co-occurring disorders, such as PTSD. Our Admissions specialists are available to walk you through the best options for treating your addiction.

The combination of alcohol and heroin can result in deadly consequences. Both substances are considered highly potent sedatives. Not only do the side effects cause psychological harm, but the mixture of the two also increases the risk of damage to multiple organs.


Hotel California by the Sea provides evidence-based treatments for people in need of alcohol use disorder and substance use disorder. Oftentimes, people enter into rehab with an addiction to multiple substances simultaneously. This is known as polysubstance abuse. Alcohol and heroin are one of the most common drug combinations.

Dedicated programs for the treatment of drug addiction disorders provide various levels of care depending on each individual patient. Medical detox, residential program, partial hospitalization program and intensive outpatient program provide clients with a multitude of treatment options.

In addition to different levels of care, Hotel California by the Sea also offers unique treatments such as EMDR therapy and family therapy. These specialized therapies offer patients the opportunity to identify the underlying root cause of their addiction. It also helps the patient heel with the help of their support system.

Alcohol and heroin addiction treatment at Hotel California by the Sea provides clients with the tools and support needed to overcome their addiction.