• Addiction & recovery

Kratom and Alcohol – The Risk of an Overdose

Nzinga Harrison

May 28, 2021


An overdose occurs when someone takes too much of a specific substance or a combination of substances deliberately or unintentionally. Overdoses are fatal in many instances. However, people who overdose can be revived if medical attention is given promptly. It is estimated that around 100 drug-related overdose deaths occur in the U.S. each day. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 67,367 drug overdose deaths occurred in the U.S. in 2018 alone.

People can overdose on illicit drugs, alcohol, prescription medications, and many other substances. The risk of an overdose is relatively similar for most drugs when taken in high doses. However, these risks are heightened when two or more substances are combined or when a substance is taken while under the influence of another. One such potentially dangerous combination is kratom and alcohol. 

What Is Kratom?

Kratom is a tropical plant that has been used for medicinal and ritual purposes for thousands of years in certain parts of the world. It’s been used for centuries to alleviate exhaustion and pain and in rituals for its psychotropic effects. Kratom is now readily available in many forms, including dried or crushed leaves, or in the form of pills, capsules, and extracts. Kratom’s popularity has grown significantly in the U.S. recreational drug market and is now readily available for purchase online and in stores that sell supplements and alternative medicines.

Although the DEA has listed kratom as a “drug of concern,” and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved kratom for any medical use, an estimated five million Americans are reported to regularly use kratom by either eating the leaves with food or brewing them in tea. 

How Does Kratom Work?

The effects of kratom are similar to both stimulants and opioids. When taken in low doses, the two main compounds of kratom, mitragynine, and 7-a-hydroxymitra-gynine, interact with certain receptors in the brain to produce stimulant effects. This causes increased energy, sociability, and alertness. When taken in high doses, the compounds of kratom interact with opioid receptors in the brain to produce sedation, pleasure, and pain relief. 

What Is Alcohol?

Alcohol is one of the most widely used substances in the world. Despite the fact that alcohol is readily available and drinking is a socially acceptable practice, it is nevertheless responsible for thousands of deaths and injuries each year; despite the fact that it’s an addictive and unhealthy substance, people continue to accept it in ways that other drugs would never be accepted.

An alcoholic beverage is one that contains ethanol, a form of alcohol made from the fermentation of grains, fruits, or other sugar sources. When yeast ferments (breaks down without oxygen) the sugars in various foods, it produces alcohol. For example, wine is made from the sugar in grapes, beer from the sugar in malted barley, cider from the sugar in apples, vodka from the sugar in potatoes, beets, or other plants.

How Does Alcohol Work?

Alcohol is a hypnotic sedative drug, which means it depresses the central nervous system when consumed in large amounts. Alcohol can act as a stimulant in low doses, causing feelings of euphoria and talkativeness, but consuming too much of it in one sitting can cause drowsiness, respiratory depression, coma, or even death. The initial doses of alcohol trigger the release of dopamine and cause a person to feel energized and stimulated. 

Alcohol affects different people in different ways. The way it affects you is determined by a number of factors, including:

  • Gender
  • Mental and physical health
  • Medical conditions
  • Use of other drugs and medications

Combining Kratom and Alcohol

The legal status and easy access to kratom and alcohol have led to their widespread misuse. While there isn’t adequate research about what happens when kratom and alcohol are mixed, looking at the properties of these compounds individually will give you a clear idea of the potential risks.

Alcohol is a depressant, which means it interferes with the central nervous system’s ability to function. It also prevents nerve receptors from sending signals to the brain. Perceptions, mobility, and senses are all altered as a result. Kratom, on the other hand, acts as a stimulant as well as a sedative. In general, combining a depressant with a stimulant or a sedative can be harmful. With this in mind, it’s best not to combine kratom and alcohol together. 

Many combine these two substances to enjoy the intensified effects of alcohol. Such people claim that mixing even a very small dose of kratom with a small quantity of alcohol intensifies the effects. However, as with all drug combinations, it is not safe nor advisable to use even small doses of kratom with alcohol. This is because the depressant effects of alcohol can cancel out the stimulant effects of kratom and cause a person to increase their kratom dose. When the person then indulges in more kratom, the depressant effects of kratom predominate and lead to an even more dangerous situation.

Some of the symptoms of kratom and alcohol-related overdose are:

  • Slow or shallow breathing 
  • Irregular heart rate 
  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Agitation 
  • Confusion 
  • Pale and clammy skin 
  • Hallucinations 
  • Loss of consciousness 
  • Seizures 

According to a 2017 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), kratom was present in the bodies of around 152 people who died of a drug overdose. And of this, around 19 people also had alcohol in their bodies. Although there isn’t enough data to confirm the role of kratom in such deaths, the possibility cannot be ignored. As such, it is highly advised to avoid combining kratom with alcohol. 

Kratom and Alcohol – The Risk of an Overdose

Other Risks of Combining Kratom and Alcohol 

In addition to the risk of overdose, the combination of kratom and alcohol can also increase the risk of seizures, hypertension, and strokes. The combination also has the possibility of generating a few adverse side effects.  Some of such side effects are: 

  • Sleepiness 
  • Increased heart rate 
  • High blood pressure 
  • Anxiety 
  • Dizziness 
  • Loss of muscle control or coordination 
  • Tremors 
  • Altered perception

Another risk of combining these two substances is contamination. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently issued a warning regarding kratom after its products tested positive for heavy metals, including lead, nickel, and salmonella concentrate. As such, combining contaminated kratom with alcohol can cause side effects that are unrelated to the effects of both drugs.

The use of kratom products that contain heavy metals can increase the risk of heavy metal poisoning and result in:

  • High blood pressure
  • Kidney damage
  • Nervous system damage 
  • Certain cancers
  • Anemia

The use of kratom products that contain salmonella concentrate can cause: 

  • Vomiting 
  • Severe diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain and cramping 
  • Fever 
  • Muscle pain 
  • Bloody stool 
  • Dehydration 

Kratom use in people with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) will further complicate the disorder. As AUD results in many long-term consequences, such as liver disease and stomach bleeding, combining alcohol with another substance will only add more complexity to the disorder and make it difficult to treat AUD. As such, it is best to avoid alcohol with any drug, including kratom. 

Since kratom and alcohol are both habit-forming, the prolonged use of both substances can lead to addiction and dependence. And so, the sudden cessation or reduction of both substances can trigger withdrawal that can be particularly intense

Some of the overlapping symptoms of kratom and alcohol withdrawal are: 

  • Muscle or body aches
  • Insomnia 
  • Aggression
  • Emotional changes 
  • Irritability
  • Tremors 

More research is required to fully comprehend the negatives of combining kratom with alcohol. However, considering the risk of overdose and the other dangers of combining alcohol with kratom, it is best to avoid combining them until more reliable information is established.

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