Soma is the brand name for the muscle relaxant carisoprodol. The drug is designed to alleviate pain from muscle spasms, and it was approved for prescription use by the Food and Drug Administration in 2007.
While Soma has some medical benefits, it also has a high potential for abuse, in part because the effects set in quickly and last between four and six hours.
The Drug Enforcement Administration lists Soma as a Schedule IV drug, meaning there is some oversight in how the medication is prescribed and consumed; this is to help keep it off the black market. However, many people still illicitly purchase and abuse Soma, particularly by mixing the drug with other intoxicating substances.Alcohol is a legal recreational substance in the United States for people ages 21 and older. Although it is legal to purchase and consume at a certain age, numerous people struggle with addiction to this substance. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that, in 2012, 17 million people ages 18 and older struggled with alcohol use disorder. Even more people participate in binge drinking and heavy drinking, which can be very dangerous.
Alcohol is frequently consumed in combination with other intoxicating substances, to change, enhance, or regulate the intoxication that a person experiences. For example, alcohol enhances the effects of opioid drugs while moderating the anxiety associated with cocaine. However, combining alcohol with other drugs can lead to very dangerous, serious side effects.
Although Soma is more commonly mixed with Xanax and hydrocodone, some people take the drug with alcohol for recreational purposes. Warnings on carisoprodol state that a person taking the medicine as prescribed should limit their consumption of alcohol, but it is not as important as with drugs like OxyContin to avoid drinking altogether. The warning states that mixing alcohol and carisoprodol will worsen drowsiness, reduce cognitive ability, and impair motor functioning.
Some people mix Soma and alcohol because it induces a relaxing euphoria, or high. While it is likely to cause the person to pass out, since the combination enhances slowed brain activity and sleepiness, it may also make the person feel very good when the two drugs are combined.
While the high may be relaxing and pleasant at first, the combination of central nervous system depressants is more likely to cause an overdose than either substance alone.
Both Soma and alcohol interact with the GABA receptors in the brain. Much like fast-acting anti-anxiety medicines like benzodiazepines, these drugs slow down the brain’s reaction to stimuli by interacting with the GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptors; unlike benzodiazepines, however, both alcohol and Soma work indirectly on these receptors. Rather than binding directly to them and preventing the reuptake of neurotransmitters to cause relaxation, they indirectly stimulate this system.
Soma also likely causes relaxation in the skeletal muscles – which is what the medication is prescribed to do, to treat back pain or other muscle system injuries – by interrupting neural communication around this system. The combination of partial GABA agonist and interrupted neural communication leads to full body relaxation, with a great potential for the person to feel high from taking Soma, even when taken as prescribed. Mixing alcohol with Soma will likely enhance this experience.
Since both of these drugs act similarly on the brain, they will compound each other’s effects. This can lead to a sense of euphoria, pleasing relaxation, and sleepiness. However, it can also be very dangerous because this combination increases the risk of overdose, long-term physical harm to major organ systems, and memory loss.
Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports that 2.3 million people, ages 12 and older, in the United States have abused Soma for nonmedical reasons at least once in their lifetime. The drug is diverted illicitly through abuse of prescriptions in the United States, and it can also be purchased easily in Mexico without a prescription. Nearly anyone can purchase and abuse carisoprodol, and they often do so alongside alcohol or other drugs.
It is possible that a person can accidentally mix Soma and alcohol at too high a concentration. Someone who has a legitimate prescription due to pain from an injury may take their regular dose but follow that dose quickly with a few drinks. Carisoprodol’s effects end after six hours, so a person could potentially take the drug earlier in the day, then safely drink at night; however, taking the drug and then consuming alcohol on top of it can be dangerous. Still, mixing alcohol and prescription medications is a common cause of overdose among adults.
An older study, ranging from 1986 to 1997, found that 24 deaths from overdose involved a combination of Soma, alcohol, and, sometimes, benzodiazepines. This study was part of what led to the DEA placing carisoprodol in the Schedule IV classification.
Soma is consistently one of the top 25 drugs identified in forensic laboratories in the United States, indicating how often it is abused and seized. In 2012, the American Association of Poison Control Centers reported two deaths from carisoprodol exposure.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that people who take Soma, especially at accidentally large or recreational doses, are likely to experience driving impairment. The drug’s effects on driving are similar to alcohol’s effects, although Soma is not detectable through a Breathalyzer test.
Dangerous side effects from abusing Soma, which can be made worse in combination with alcohol, include:
Long-term effects from abusing carisoprodol include:
Mixing any drug with alcohol can cause rapid damage to the liver and kidneys. Abusing alcohol for years can cause damage to the liver, which can lead to loss of energy, fatigue, poor appetite, weight loss, belly pain, nausea, jaundice, and trouble processing toxins through the body. As the liver fails, the kidneys attempt to filter out the toxins it misses. Since they don’t normally perform this function, this extra work can also lead to kidney damage and failure; both of these conditions can be fatal.
When a person mixes drugs with alcohol, including Soma, the liver has to process additional chemicals. This can more rapidly cause damage to this organ, which can then more quickly cause kidney damage as well. Additionally, both Soma and alcohol can cause memory problems, so memory loss is more likely when taking both substances for recreational purposes.