How Heroin and Alcohol Can Kill You in Five Minutes

We are often brought face-to-face with the reality that an overdose is far too easy. How could this tragedy have happened? Is it really possible for heroin and alcohol to kill?

Unfortunately, this deadly mixture is far too common. Heroin and alcohol both depress the part of the brain that controls the basic functions of life—breathing, body temperature, reflexes, blood pressure, and other vital functions.

Together, these two drugs produce a synergistic effect, which means that the combined effect is more powerful than the separate effects combined, and can easily stop the natural drive to breathe.

Heroin: the world’s most powerful drug

Part of heroin’s power comes from its rapid onset of action. After ingestion, heroin floods the brain to bind to your body’s opioid receptors, resulting in the surge of intense euphoria or “the rush.”

The other half of heroin’s power comes from its addictiveness. Heroin is considered the most addictive drug in the world. Nearly one fourth of heroin users will become addicted. This is because tolerance builds up quickly, and the user will need a higher dosage to achieve the same effect he or she used to have. As you can guess, this effect increases the risk for overdose on heroin alone.

Now throw alcohol into the picture.

Alcohol (ethanol): the molecule that can penetrate through any cell membrane

Ethanol is a unique molecule in that it can get anywhere in the body in a short amount of time. About 20 percent of alcohol is absorbed directly across the walls of an empty stomach and can reach the brain within one minute.
Alcohol affects nearly every area of the brain:

  • the frontal lobes, which are responsible for cognition, thought, memory and judgment
  • the cerebellum, which controls movement and balance, and
  • the medulla oblongata, the power panel of the brain that controls basic life functions

It takes a lot of drinks to stop breathing, but it only takes three or four to impair judgment, which may be just enough for you to do something that you normally don’t do—such as accidentally taking a larger dose of heroin.

It doesn’t take long

It doesn’t take long, and it doesn’t take much effort. No one ever picks up a drink and a shot of heroin and thinks, “Hey, I’m going to overdose on heroin and alcohol tonight.” But the combination can be lethal.