Cocaine and alcohol a ‘deadly combination’

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Media captionCocaine and alcohol ‘muddles the mind’

Mixing cocaine and alcohol together creates a “deadly combination” which can increase violent and impulsive behaviour, doctors are warning.

At least 13 “self-inflicted” deaths happened in a year in England among people who took the two substances, the Victoria Derbyshire programme found.

Many, including two contestants on Love Island, died by hanging in the period between April 2018 and March 2019.

Coroners have reported seeing a rise in such cases.

The charity Inquest uses the term “self-inflicted” to describe deaths where a person was found hanging or had injured or harmed themselves in other ways, resulting in death.

The programme has also uncovered a death in similar circumstances in Wales during the same period, and there were also another five in England where cocaine and alcohol were consumed but coroners said there was not enough evidence to record suicide conclusions.

‘Muddles your brain’

One of those was Logan Woolliscroft, 21, who died after falling off a cliff near the family’s Derbyshire home in 2018.

His father, Steve, said he found 8g of cocaine bags and a bottle of Disaronno liqueur at the top of the cliff and “just knew” he had fallen. Police then found his body.

Logan had become increasingly volatile and depressed in the three months before his death, Steve said.

He had made some new friends and started taking cocaine and drinking heavily.

The coroner said while Logan left notes for his family, he could have fallen while intoxicated and recorded an open conclusion.

Steve says he believes “100%” that taking cocaine and alcohol together caused his death.

“To mix a stimulant with a depressant, it muddles your brain up completely and you just don’t know where you are,” he says.

Logan’s sister, Tillie, added: “I like to think of who he was before. He was such a nice boy. To think of something like this changing someone in such a drastic way, it shows what it can do to you.”

‘Increased impulsivity’

Figures show there has been a rise in the number of alcohol-and-cocaine-related deaths over the past two decades, plus an increase in cocaine use.

Image caption

Prof Julia Sinclair says mixing cocaine and alcohol increases the likelihood of risky behaviour

Professor of addiction psychiatry Julia Sinclair, who is chairwoman of the faculty of addictions at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, explained that alcohol and cocaine were very different pharmacologically.

“Alcohol is a depressant, it increases the levels of Gaba (gamma-aminobutyric acid) in the brain, which is like its handbrake and makes us feel less anxious.

“You add cocaine into the mix and you have a rocket-fuelled increased impulsivity which gives people the driver to complete an act that they may not otherwise do. It’s like crossing a road in front of a car speeding towards you.”

Some research in the US even suggests the mixture could increase the risk of suicide by a factor of 16.

‘Violent thoughts’

Image caption

Love Island star Sophie Gradon died in June last year

Among those who have died in this way in the past year after consuming alcohol and cocaine are Love Island contestants Mike Thalassitis and Sophie Gradon and her boyfriend, Aaron Armstrong, who took his own life just weeks after her.

There are no standardised statistics for these types of deaths. After consulting an academic, we found the figures by searching local and national media articles – it is likely the number of deaths will actually be higher.

Prof Sinclair said the way coroners recorded their conclusions could be obscuring emerging trends in difficult cases.

In the inquests we found, where the deceased hanged themselves – a conclusion of suicide was not always recorded, with “narrative”, or open conclusions instead. But coroners have warned about the dangers in a number of cases.

The coroner who heard Ms Gradon’s case, Eric Armstrong, said during his conclusion: “There’s a good deal of concern at the moment because of the consequences of taking alcohol and using cocaine.

“The combination, I’m given to understand, is used by those who believe it brings on a so-called high much quicker. What they don’t appreciate is that it also appears to give rise to violent thoughts. If Sophie’s death is to serve any purpose at all, that message should go far and wide.”

The Ministry of Justice said while coroners contributed to the compilation of death statistics, it was not their legal function.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said it was investing £25m in suicide-prevention efforts.

“We are also committed to reducing drug-and-alcohol-related harms and have commissioned a major independent review of drugs to help inform our thinking. And as part of the NHS long-term plan we are rolling out alcohol-care teams in hospitals with the highest number of alcohol-related admissions,” he said.

Follow the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme on Facebook and Twitter – and see more of our stories here.

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