Polysubstance Use: Xanax and Cocaine

Polysubstance use is not uncommon among those who abuse mind-altering drugs. Xanax and cocaine have become a fairly common drug combination. This can be caused by a number of reasons including lack of education regarding the dangers of drug mixing or the dangers of developing an addiction. Xanax is one of the most popular prescription benzodiazepines used to treat symptoms of anxiety disorder and sleep disorders. In 2013, research found that over 13 million Americans have been prescribed the drug. Cocaine is an illegal stimulant drug. Data collected showed in 2021, over 4.8 million Americans reported using cocaine. Taking both substances can mask the effects of one another and lead to dangerous consequences.

A female young adult taking Xanax and cocaine lays her head on the table with pills while she reaches for a syringe.

Fast Facts: Xanax

Xanax is a powerful central nervous system depressant. Also known under its generic name alprazolam, this benzo is prescribed to treat generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorders and insomnia. In fact, it is the number one prescribed psychiatric medication in the United States. In 2020, an estimated 16.7 million prescriptions for alprazolam were written. It is so commonly prescribed and used that research found an estimated 70% of teens who have a Xanax addiction, have access to the drug in their family medicine cabinet at home.

It is an intermediate-acting benzo. Its effects can last anyways from 6-12 hours. It can become extremely addictive when used long-term. The most common side effects of Xanax abuse include:

  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of coordination and balance
  • Confusion
  • Muscle weakness
  • Slowed heart rate

It produces feelings of relaxation by impacting the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors in the brain. The drug slows down brain activity and can help ease symptoms of anxiety, stress and fear. Xanax decreases anxiety, decreases energy, increases drowsiness and can result in symptoms of depression.

Infographic listing the risks of mixing xanax and cocaine.

Fast Facts: Cocaine

Cocaine is a powerful central nervous system stimulant. And works by activating the brain’s mesolimbic dopamine system, blocking the removal of dopamine and producing a sense of intense euphoria. In the normal process, dopamine is released into the brain in the area between two neurons and binds to a specialized dopamine receptor. When cocaine enters the body, it binds to the dopamine receptor and blocks the removal of the hormone from the small gap (area in between the two neurons). This allows an accumulation and build-up of dopamine in the brain and sends signals of pleasure and euphoria throughout.

Cocaine causes euphoria, high energy, sensory sensitivity, paranoia and a higher risk for anxiety. Other side effects of cocaine abuse include:

  • Cardiovascular damage
  • Nasal damage
  • Loss of appetite
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Restricted blood flow
  • High blood pressure
  • Memory loss
  • Poor impulse control
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Stroke
  • Seizure
Infographic comparing signs of xanax use vs sings of cocaine use.

Polydrug Use and Mixing of Drugs

What is polydrug use? Polydrug use or polysubstance use is the act of consuming multiple substances at the same time. In the case of Xanax and cocaine, there are a couple of main reasons why they are often used together. Intentional polysubstance use occurs when a person takes one drug in an attempt to increase the effects of another drug or when they want to experience the effects of both drugs.

Unintentional polysubstance use occurs when a person takes a drug that has been mixed or cut with other substances like fentanyl, without the user’s knowledge. This can also happen if the user is unaware of the interactions or dangers of taking the different substances together.

Mixing drugs is never a safe option because it can result in more intense, strong and unpredictable side effects. Xanax and cocaine can have opposing effects on the body. When the body experiences both stimulating and sedative effects simultaneously, it can greatly disrupt and confuse normal brain functions.

Xanax and Cocaine

Mixing Xanax and cocaine is dangerous. Abusing more than one substance can lead to unpredictable results. Mixing Xanax and cocaine is considered even more dangerous due to the fact that they have opposing effects on the body. One drug increases high energy and stimulation while the other drastically reduces brain activity. The polar opposite effects can cause chaos in the body due to its extreme reactions.

A common misconception about mixing stimulants and depressants is that they will balance each other out. The combination of stimulants and depressants will not cancel each other out. They mask the effects of each drug and can trick the brain into thinking the drugs are not affecting you. When both drugs are masking each other’s effects, it can convince a person to unknowingly take much more of the drug as they attempt to induce the desired effects. This leads to a build-up of toxic chemicals and makes it much easier to accidentally overdose.

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Dangers of mixing Xanax and Cocaine

The combination of Xanax and cocaine can lead to permanent damage to the cardiovascular system. When taking both drugs, it can cause the heart to work overtime. This can lead to an elevated heart rate, high blood pressure and a higher risk for heart attack and stroke.

Users may not be able to immediately feel the effects of either drug, which leads to taking higher or more doses and a build-up of toxic chemicals in the brain and body. This reinforces addictive drug craving behaviors as well as a high risk of addiction and overdose. Symptoms of overdose include nausea, vomiting, respiratory depression, confusion, difficulty with coordination and balance, sedation and seizure.

Mixing the two drugs can permanently alter brain functions and have both physical and psychological lasting effects. It causes damage to the central nervous system as well as other organs. Feelings of increased paranoia and irritability along with adverse feelings of depression and anxiety are common when mixing Xanax and cocaine.

Why are people mixing Xanax and Cocaine?

Some people who are abusing cocaine find that taking Xanax can help them come down from the uncomfortable effects of cocaine. This is one example of why users are mixing the two drugs. People who use substances often take Xanax as a way to mask or treat the other unpleasant effects associated with taking stimulants. It is their way of self-medicating and self-treating.

Other users may be used in an attempt to experience the effects of both drugs at the same time or using both drugs as a way to enhance each other’s effects. Either way, polydrug use of Xanax and cocaine can have dangerous consequences leading to addiction, coma or death.

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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.

Treatment for Substance Use Disorder

Xanax and cocaine use is a common combination that has been attributed to cases of addiction and overdose. One drug may have been the catalyst for the usage of another, or the user was seeking out the effects of both drugs. Either way, using both drugs results in a substance use disorder. At Hotel California by the Sea, we provide a comprehensive program targeting substance abuse and co-occurring mental health disorders.

Our behavioral health program provides around-the-clock medical detox care, inpatient residential programs and flexible outpatient programs. We provide access to evidence-proven treatments such as CBT, EMDR therapy and marriage and family counseling. Our goal is to provide a safe environment for clients to get sober. We believe in providing the tools, resources and support for each client as they work to overcome their addiction.