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How do alcohol and drug dependence connect? What do people who either suffer from substance abuse issues or may be prone to them need to know?

According to the National Institute on Alcohol and Alcoholism, a division of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, “Alcohol and drug dependence often go hand in hand; research shows that people who are dependent on alcohol are much more likely than the general population to use drugs, and people with drug dependence are much more likely than the general population to drink alcohol.”

Indeed, the NIH statistics are eye-opening:

  • 15.3 million adults meet the criteria for an alcohol use disorder*
  • Of those, 2.3 million adults meet the criteria for a drug use disorder*

In addition, there is the risk for dual diagnosis issues, treatment for which, as we’ve pointed out, is high effective but rarely offered: A majority of rehabilitation treatment centers in the U.S. only treat either addiction disorders or mental health disorders, not both concurrently. In a 2014 research study published in Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research that reviewed 256 programs across the U.S., only 18% of addiction treatment programs and 9% of mental health treatment programs addressed both issues with the individual and could be classified as “Dual Diagnosis Capable.” (Note: For more information on the symptoms and populations of dual diagnosis, see our post here.)

The NIAA states that patients with both alcohol and other drug use disorders:

  • “May have more severe dependence-related problems”
  • “Are more likely to have psychiatric disorders and are more likely to attempt suicide and suffer health problems”
  • “Are at risk for dangerous interactions between the substances they use, including fatal poisonings”

The combination of alcohol and drug use is important to watch — and always a concern for individuals who suffer from substance abuse issues.

Connecting Alcohol and Drug Dependence

In an article titled “Timing of Alcohol and Other Drug Use,” Dr. Christopher Martin, associate professor of psychiatry and psychology at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, writes about the connection:

“Many Americans who drink alcohol are polydrug users—that is, they also use other psychoactive drugs, such as nicotine, pharmaceuticals, cannabis, and other illicit substances. Polydrug use is a general term that describes a wide variety of substance use behaviors. Different types of polydrug use can be described with regard to the timing of the ingestion of multiple substances. Concurrent polydrug use (CPU) is the use of two or more substances within a given time period, such as a month or a year. Simultaneous polydrug use (SPU) is the use of two or more substances in combination (i.e., at the same time or in temporal proximity). Thus, although all simultaneous polydrug users are, by definition, concurrent users, concurrent users may or may not be simultaneous users.”

Indeed, the research shows real dangers: “SPU can have particularly dangerous consequences because AOD combinations can have additive or interactive effects on acute intoxication and impairment. The majority of deaths attributed to heroin overdose involve significant levels of other drugs such as alcohol or benzodiazepines; opiate levels appear to be similar in both fatal and nonfatal overdoses . Similarly, about two-thirds of oxycodone-related deaths were found to involve the use of alcohol and/or other drugs. Finally, fatalities and injuries reported to be “alcohol-related” often involve other drug use.