Professional sources such as the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) and SAMSHA have reported what occurs when benzodiazepines are abused, misused, or mixed with other substances such as alcohol. Generally, benzodiazepines aren’t the primary drug of abuse. Most often, benzodiazepines are used in conjunction with various other drugs.
The most common drugs that are misused and abused together are benzos and other prescription pain medications such as opioids, and benzos and alcohol. The mixing of these two drugs can be extremely dangerous. Benzos are typically prescribed by a doctor and are not meant to be used in combination with alcohol.
Whenever benzos are prescribed, the physician must warn the user to not use benzos and alcohol simultaneously. When used together, these effects can become much more enhanced and in some cases can be fatal. Using benzodiazepines and alcohol at the same time can lead to increased chances of becoming addicted to both substances.
As a general rule of thumb: When taking any medications, it is important to talk with your doctor about the consequences of combining medications. Benzos aren’t any different and should only be used as prescribed.
What Are Benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines are drugs that are commonly used for treating anxiety. Anxiety is often caused by the nerves in the brain having an excessive amount of activity. Benzos work to reduce the amount of activity in these nerves.
They do so by affecting the neurotransmitters in the brain and working to calm these nerves. Benzos are also used for treating seizures, insomnia, depression, and nausea or vomiting.
Types of benzos include the following:
- Alprazolam (Xanax)
- Clonazepam (Klonopin)
- Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
- Estazolam (ProSom)
- Diazepam (Valium)
Several Reasons Benzos Are Abused
Individuals who misuse benzos are under the impression often that utilizing prescription medications with various drugs is considered a safer practice than utilizing illicit drugs in combination, such as benzos and alcohol, along with various other drugs.
Also, alcohol can be legally obtained by the majority of adults, and it is readily accessible in social situations or parties. Ideally, this makes a suitable companion drug for a person who abuses or misuses drugs.
What Is Alcohol Abuse?
Alcohol is classified as a depressant drug that is used commonly throughout the United States. It can be abused through excessive drinking and can cause many negative consequences. There are short-term consequences such as alcohol poisoning, loss of memory, and violent behavior.
Since alcohol is used so often, it is not uncommon for those who are prescribed benzos to also be alcohol drinkers. Alcohol, like benzos and other drugs, affects the brain’s central nervous system.
The effects alcohol has on the brain can lead to intoxication, impulsive behavior, violence, slower reflexes, and loss of memory. This happens because alcohol will block some of the signals that go between brain cells. While they both affect the brain, benzos and alcohol have different lingering effects on the body.
Does Alcohol Work the Same as Benzodiazepines?
Alcohol works the same as benzodiazepines. It affects the GABA-benzodiazepine-chloride ionophore complex and essentially has an agonist-like action. Furthermore, additive interactions should therefore be expected from the combination of benzodiazepines and alcohol.
Dangers of Mixing Benzos and Alcohol
Mixing benzos and alcohol can have very harmful consequences. People who are using prescription drugs are often told that they shouldn’t combine these drugs with alcohol. Many times though, they are unaware of the true danger of it.
Both substances cause side effects when used on their own. Combining these substances can greatly enhance the effects of each. Mixing substances can also have unpredictable effects. In other words, something could go wrong that would be very difficult to diagnose and treat.
Another risk includes harming personal relationships. The use of benzos and alcohol can lead to very risky decision-making and can become a priority over other important matters. This leads to the destruction of relationships with family and friends.
One of the most important dangers of mixing benzos and alcohol is the risk of death. Mixing drugs can lead to many health complications. In many cases, it can also lead to overdosing. Overdosing doesn’t always mean death, but it is a very likely consequence. Someone who is prescribed benzos should be well aware of the consequences of mixing them with alcohol.
Can Benzodiazepines Make Anxiety Worse?
While those who use benzos often do so to help treat some form of anxiety, in some cases they can make anxiety worse. When a person is prescribed benzodiazepines and uses them for an extended period of time, they will gain a tolerance. Then, they start to require more to achieve the same effect.
This can lead to increased anxiety and benzos can even become a source of anxiety. When used in the short term, they can be an effective treatment for anxiety, which is the most common mental health disorder in the world. However, if benzos are used for longer than two months, anxiety can begin to worsen.
If this is the case for you, look into developing a plan to discontinue benzo use. Withdrawal symptoms can be severe and lead to seizures. Therefore, speak with a doctor if you are experiencing any of these issues.
Can You Drink Alcohol While Taking Anxiety Meds?
It is best to avoid consuming alcohol while taking anxiety medication. Benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed to people who are struggling with alcohol withdrawal symptoms. This is because benzos and alcohol have a similar effect on the brain.
To combat these alcohol withdrawal symptoms, benzos can be of help. If the two are mixed, the effects of both will be greatly increased. When taken together, the risk of overdose and death greatly increases.
It is suggested that alcohol should only be consumed at least twenty fours hours after taking a benzodiazepine. In other words, anyone who is currently taking benzos should avoid alcohol, even though it can be used safely after a certain amount of time. Overall, it’s important to remember that drinking can and will counteract the effects of your anxiety medication.
Therefore, making any individual’s symptoms more challenging to treat. In the short-term realm, alcohol might seem to improve a person’s mood, but the anxiety and depression will be increased in the end. There are already side effects; combining the two makes it much worse.
The Risks of Combining Benzos and Alcohol
There are several risks of combining benzos and alcohol. Every warning label on the benzos containers warns against this practice. As previously mentioned, physicians will clearly instruct their patients to make sure to avoid alcohol when they are being prescribed benzodiazepines.
Overall, the risks of abusing these drugs, especially in combination are remarkably more severe than the risks of when an individual abuses them regularly. The most crucial risks of combining these drugs include the following:
Increased Risk of Overdose
When a person mixes two central nervous system depressants, they are at a major risk for overdose on one or both of them. An overdose can present serious or even deadly consequences, including brain damage due to the lack of oxygen as both of the drugs suppress a person’s breathing or significant organ damage. The two drugs mustn’t be mixed.
If an individual mixes two drugs that have the same mechanism of action, it can result in the improvement of the effects of the drugs. Overall, this means that the effects of both drugs are significantly increased compared to the use of either of the drugs by themselves.
Decreased Physical Reactions
Due to the enhanced effects of both drugs, individuals will experience remarkable reductions in their motor coordination, response times, and ability to perform complex or routine actions. Overall, these effects can result in numerous potentially high-risk situations.
Increased Reduction of Cognition
As a result of the intensified effects of both drugs, individuals mixing will undergo a remarkable reduction in their cognitive abilities. Overall, this can result in numerous different potentially weighty situations, such as the following:
- An ability to control one’s own emotions which can result in becoming hostile or aggressive
- Impaired judgment can lead to risky and poor decisions
- A loss of inhibitions can lead to accidents
- Remarkably reduced reasoning abilities
Some of the Other Risks of Combining Benzos and Alcohol
- Increased risk of mental health disorders
- Increased potential for unpredictable effects
- Higher risk of long-term physical conditions
- Increased potential to develop acute conditions
- Higher risk of developing a substance use disorder
- An increased risk to develop a physical dependence on one or two drugs
- Increased risk of issues with professional goals, educational goals, finances, and relationships
Treatment for Benzo and Alcohol Abuse at New Directions for Women
It’s essential to remember that any level of substance abuse is extremely dangerous. Individuals who abuse alcohol or benzodiazepines will often require long-term, intensive treatment programs to help them recover from their drug use. So if you or someone you know has been struggling with drug or alcohol abuse, now is the time to reach out for help.
Here at New Directions for Women, we offer addiction treatment programs to assist women who are suffering from substance use disorders. So, whether you are dealing with alcoholism or struggling with prescription drug dependence, we can help you. Our detox, residential, outpatient, and therapy programs can help you find the healing and hope you need as you recover from addiction. Contact us right away to begin receiving treatment. Allow New Directions for Women to point you toward an addiction-free life today.