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Alcohol & Cocaine Combined: Heart Damage Due to Cocaethylene

When consumed separately, both alcohol and cocaine can have damaging effects on your normal heart function. It turns out that the impact on your heart is even worse when you use these two substances together, or within an overlapping span of time. That’s because the combination of alcohol and cocaine in your body produces a substance called cocaethylene, which triggers increased cardiac risks.

Alcohol, Cocaine and Your Heart

When you drink alcohol in excessive amounts, you increase your chances of developing two specific health problems: hypertension (high blood pressure) and obesity. In turn, both of these problems increase your odds of developing some form of heart disease (e.g., a heart attack or heart failure). Excessive drinking also increases your odds of experiencing a stroke.

Public health experts sometimes refer to cocaine as “the perfect heart attack drug.” That’s because the use of powdered cocaine or “crack” cocaine can make several changes inside your body that directly increase your chances of experiencing a heart attack. These changes include the promotion of hypertension, hardening of your arteries and thickening of the walls of your heart.

The Added Impact of Cocaethylene

Your liver makes cocaethylene when it simultaneously breaks down any alcohol and cocaine circulating in your bloodstream. Once this substance forms, it affects your normal heart function in two crucial ways. First, because it slows the breakdown rate of cocaine, it increases your heart rate over 200% more than this stimulant drug would do on its own. In addition, cocaethylene interferes with your heart’s ability to contract normally while pumping.

The change in your normal heart rate boosts the likelihood that you will experience a heart attack, while the change in your heart’s contractions boosts the odds that you will ultimately develop heart failure. Other heart- and blood vessel-related problems associated with the mixing of alcohol and cocaine include bleeding inside your skull cavity, a form of stroke called a cerebral infarction, an irregular or unstable heartbeat, and heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy). Unfortunately, the damage to your heart and blood vessels triggered by alcohol/cocaine use can continue long after you stop combining these two substances. The National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that the combined intake of alcohol and cocaine is the cause of more deaths than any other substance pairing.

Resources

American Heart Association: Alcohol and Heart Health http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Nutrition/Alcohol-and-Heart-Health_UCM_305173_Article.jsp#.WFHiC_krJhE

American Heart Association: Illegal Drugs and Heart Disease http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cocaine_UCM_428537_Article.jsp#.WFHjW_krJhE

AERC Alcohol Academy: Cocaethylene – Responding to Combined Alcohol and Cocaine Use http://ranzetta.typepad.com/files/cocaethylene_academy-briefing-paper-april-2010-8.pdf

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