Cocaethylene is the substance found in the liver when alcohol and cocaine are used in combination. The liver’s function in the body is to detoxify.
Whenever a foreign substance is put into the body, waste products are created. It’s the liver’s job to take care of those waste products, and make sure they leave our bodies. The liver metabolizes (breaks down) the waste products and then they are forced out of the body via urination.
Cocaine and alcohol are both foreign, harmful substances to the body. Independently, they are broken down by the liver so they can leave the body. But, when cocaine and alcohol are taken together, cocaethylene starts to develop in the liver.
Experts believe that cocaethylene only develops in the presence of both substances, because alcohol alters the way the liver breaks down cocaine. According to researchers, cocaethylene seems to appear about 2 hours after someone has used both cocaine and alcohol. Based on research findings, it appears that about 20% of the cocaine in someone’s system will wind up as cocaethylene. A portion of that cocaethylene will then remain in a person’s system as alcohol works to slow down the metabolic processes of the liver.
That cocaethylene that remains in the liver will then pass onto the bloodstream. From there, it can circulate through the body and start to do damage to body tissue, as well as organs.
In addition to doing long-term damage to the body, the cocaethylene in the system adds to the person’s impairment. With cocaethylene in their system already, the cocaine and alcohol have a much greater effect on the body than either one would have alone.
The effects of Cocaethylene are more significant in people who use the combination of cocaine and alcohol regularly. But, the development of cocaethylene has been known to cause sudden events, like a heart attack, even in occasional users.
Cocaethylene also has an increased toxic effect on the user. Compared to cocaine alone, studies suggest that the toxic effects of cocaethylene are 30% more powerful. Once the liver starts to produce ccocaethylene, it keeps producing it. Cocaethylene will continually reach the bloodstream and remains in the bloodstream up to three times longer than cocaine. This residual cocaethylene getting into the blood can cause the toxic effects of cocaine and alcohol to be much higher. In fact, this “leftover” cocaethylene in the system may be responsible for a number of the sudden heart-related deaths associated with cocaine use.
Being a byproduct of cocaine, cocaethylene is known to increase the risk for heart issues. One of the major side effects of cocaine use is heightened blood pressure or heart rate. Cocaethylene has an even stronger effect on heart rate and blood pressure, and it can even impair the heart’s ability to contract. Cocaethylene can also increase the risk for stroke, as opposed to just alcohol or cocaine alone.
Since cocaethylene has a higher toxicity than either cocaine or alcohol alone, it also can have increased negative effects on the liver. Cocaethylene is more toxic, and stays in the system longer, which can significantly increase the risk for liver damage.
Users also begin to feel a stronger “high” from combining alcohol and cocaine. They aren’t aware of the cocaethylene forming in their organs. They just know that they get more of the desired effect if they mix the two. This fact makes cocaethylene more dangerous, because users who experience the euphoria of using cocaine and alcohol together will probably do so more frequently as time goes on.
Cocaethylene can also cause more serious symptoms because it stays in the system longer. It stays in the system longer because cocaethylene has a longer half-life than cocaine by itself.
Studies have also shown that having cocaethylene in the system may cause someone to drink more alcohol. Typically, when cocaine and alcohol are combined, it’s in a binge drinking setting. Those who binge drink increase their risk of liver damage, heart issues, nerve damage, poor judgement, alcohol poisoning, and they are more likely to develop an alcohol dependence. This form of chronic binge drinking can also increase impulsivity, and may even result in death.
General Complications of Combining Substances
People who routinely use multiple drugs together open themselves up to a long list of other complications and disorders. Although using cocaine and alcohol together creates cocaethylene, the abuse of each drug individually has its own set of side effects. These side effects can increase the risk of a number of different health problems, and will both also require their own set of individualized treatments.
Combining alcohol with other substances can also increase the risk of the more serious side effects of alcohol. After prolonged periods of combined drug use, the potential for fatal seizures or delerium tremens (DTs) significantly increases. DTs can make a person hallucinate, experience confusion, as well as have a number of other negative effects on the body.
Alcohol and cocaine increase the effects of one another. They also increase the risk of complications or disorders from either one of the substances, or both. Chronic use of both substances will also increase the risk for dependence on both substances.
Overcoming the addiction to one substance can be challenging enough. Overcoming addiction to a combination of substances presents an even more challenging road. Medical professionals or counselors will need to treat the addiction to each substance simultaneously. The doctor also may encounter co-occuring withdrawal symptoms. Some of these can be: depression, personality disorders, anxiety, etc.
Having to go through two different treatment programs, and experiencing co-occuring side effects or disorders, can make treatment very challenging. Counselors and medical professionals dealing with a patient who has combined substances constantly have to be on the look out for relapses.
Many times, even with the use of just one substance, withdrawal symptoms can be so severe that patients will turn to their drug of choice to alleviate the withdrawal symptoms. That tendency to start using again during withdrawal is drastically increased when another substance is involved. There are also a number of other setbacks that can derail a patient’s treatment plan. The production of cocaethylene in the system makes all of these challenges even harder.
Nevertheless, recovery is always an option. There is no challenge too big for a dedicated team of doctors and counselors to solve. With the right team, and the right treatment plan, people who suffer from alcohol and cocaine addiction will be able to move on with their lives.