17 May 2019

Cocaethylene – A First-Person Story of Addiction

a photo showing types of alcohol
Alcohol + cocaine = cocaethylene. If you drink alcohol and take cocaine at the same time, this is one of many chemical processes that go on inside your body. But why do alcohol and cocaine users need to know about cocaethylene?

With more British people than ever using cocaine, and dying from its effects, it’s vital to raise awareness of this toxic combination. In this blog, you can read about the health implications of cocaethylene.

A recovering addict, Jamie, explains why he mixed alcohol and cocaine. And what does treatment population data tell us about the number of alcohol and cocaine users in England?

If you’re addicted to alcohol and cocaine, often health warnings won’t overcome your relentless cravings to use. You may already know that addiction is ruining your health, relationships, finances and life opportunities – but you just cannot stop or stay sober. Please, don’t waste another day in addiction! Pick up the phone and speak to an addiction specialist, such as the UK Addiction Treatment team. Let’s discuss our alcohol and cocaine recovery programmes.

Cocaethylene – Health Implications

  • There’s an 18–25 fold increased risk of immediate death when alcohol and cocaine are used together, than when cocaine is used alone.
  • When cocaine is taken with alcohol, the blood concentration of cocaine increases by approximately 20%. This places even greater strain on blood vessels and the heart, increasing blood pressure and making the heart work harder.
  • As with cocaine, cocaethylene blocks the re-uptake of dopamine in the brain, associated with the mood-altering affects that can become addictive.
  • The conversion of alcohol and cocaine to cocaethylene takes place in the liver, increasing the risk of liver disease in regular users.
  • Once formed, cocaethylene stays in the body three to five times longer than cocaine.
  • Alcohol and cocaine increase cortisol, commonly known as the stress hormone – over time, elevated cortisol levels can damage the immune system, blood pressure, heart, brain function and more.
  • A Brown University study in the US found that people who misused alcohol and cocaine together had 2.4 times the risk of suicide.
  • Some reports suggest the suicide risk is much higher – in April 2019, a coroner found that Love Island star, Sophie Gradon, took her own life after consuming alcohol and cocaine. The coroner said that US research indicated that the combination of alcohol and cocaine could increase the risk of suicide by 16 times.

Alcohol and Cocaine – “The Hamster Wheel of Hell”

Jamie is in recovery from alcohol and cocaine addiction, achieved through rehab and Cocaine Anonymous meetings. Here, Jamie explains how he used cocaine to fuel and prolong heavy-drinking sessions.

“I drank alcohol for 20 years – first to be part of the crowd and in the end because I couldn’t stop. I was addicted to the buzz of alcohol from the start, feeling like I could say and do whatever I wanted. But as things went on, I hated being completely out of it. Waking up in the morning in strange places, no memory, trying to piece together what happened.

a photo of a man who is desperate to stop his addiction
“That’s where cocaine came in. I was a sitting duck really. The first time, a mate offered it to me. He said it would straighten me out. After taking cocaine, it felt like I could drink much more alcohol and stay in control. Sessions would go on late into the night, sometimes through the next day – nothing to eat, no water, no sleep.

“I’ve never known anything like alcohol and cocaine comedowns – heart thumping, sweating, paranoia, desperate to switch my head off, body completely wrecked. That was my idea of fun for a decade – the hamster wheel of Hell, I call it.

“Towards the end of my addiction, I told friends I was laying off the coke. I’d swear off, believing I was done. But I couldn’t see the truth about alcohol until rehab. Once I had a drink inside me, I had to have cocaine. All that will power went out the window.

“By 33, I was a broken man. I couldn’t hold down a job. I was stealing from my partner. I was in the back of ambulances. I was so sick and tired of it all. Rehab helped me to see the truth – alcohol got me addicted and cocaine finished me off. Both of them had to go to break my addiction for good.”

Who is Using Alcohol and Cocaine in England?

875,000 people used powder cocaine in 2017-18. But what proportion of these people mix cocaine and alcohol?

The National Drug Treatment Monitoring System reports each year on drug and alcohol treatment clients in England – with the following data available on alcohol and cocaine addiction:

  • In 2017-18, there were 13,082 people who received treatment for both alcohol and cocaine addiction. That’s 47% of the ‘non-opiate and alcohol’ client group.
  • This compares to 8,557 people who received addiction treatment for cocaine alone (36% of the ‘non-opiate only’ group).
  • This means that for every two clients treated for cocaine addiction alone, three people are treated for cocaine and alcohol addiction. It’s possible to conclude, therefore, that a majority of the 875,000 powder cocaine users in England and Wales take it with alcohol.
  • Of the new presentations in treatment in 2017-18, 50% of the ‘non-opiate and alcohol’ group were treated for cocaine addiction (9,339 people). This reflects increasing cocaine use in Britain over recent years.
  • Alcohol and cocaine clients get help from addiction treatment services over a decade earlier than alcohol-only clients. The average age for alcohol and cocaine treatment clients is 34, compared to 46 for the alcohol-only group.

Alcohol and Cocaine Treatment in the UK

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