Mixing Benzos and Alcohol

Mixing Benzos and Alcohol

Those who mix prescription benzodiazepines and alcohol often do so in hopes of increasing the effects of both chemical substances which can have dangerous results.

Mixing benzos and alcohol is a dangerous practice that ends in death every day for many Americans. Whether a person mixes these powerful drugs with alcohol in an attempt to boost their intoxicating effects or accidentally combines them, the interaction between these two central nervous system depressants is always toxic and can easily lead to death by overdose.

Mixing Benzos and Alcohol

What Are Benzos?

Benzodiazepines, also called benzos, are sedatives that are used to treat moderate to severe anxiety-related disorders. They are effective for the short-term treatment of anxiety disorders but using them for more than 4 weeks consecutively carries a high risk of abuse and addiction.

Benzos work by increasing the effects of a chemical found in the brain called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA slows the activity and reactiveness of nerves in the brain, promoting a sense of relaxation and calmness. This effect makes benzodiazepines useful in relieving the high degree of distress found in both acute and chronic anxiety disorders. They’re also given for sleep problems, seizures, and muscle relaxation. Benzos vary by how fast they take effect and how long those effects last, which makes them suitable for different purposes.

Benzos can also prompt feelings of euphoria, which can be intensified when combined with other drugs, such as alcohol or opioids.

Commonly given benzodiazepines include:

  • Xanax (alprazolam
  • Valium (diazepam)
  • Ativan (lorazepam)
  • Klonopin (clonazepam)
  • Restoril (temazepam)

Combining Benzos and Alcohol

Benzodiazepines and alcohol are frequently abused in the US. Over 17 million American adults abuse benzodiazepines, while according to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 14.4 million American adults struggle with an alcohol use disorder. Many of these millions abuse both benzos and alcohol simultaneously.

Alcohol and benzos affect the same nerve cells and systems in the brain, and they do so in a similar fashion. Both benzos and alcohol slow down nerves within the brain. Unfortunately, many of these nerves are also part of the vital processes that keep us alive and regulate our breathing, heart rate, and body temperature. Other areas of the brain that are slowed by both alcohol and benzos include those nerve bodies responsible for our ability to learn, form memories, think, and feel.

As well, benzodiazepines and alcohol are digested, metabolized, and excreted by the same systems in the body, meaning that when taken together benzos and alcohol slow down the rate at which they’re processed out of the body, leading to a toxic buildup of both substances in the bloodstream, magnifying the most harmful effects of benzos and alcohol.

Some of the typical results of mixing benzos and alcohol together include:

  • Memory problems
  • Blackouts
  • Dizziness
  • Impaired coordination, total loss of coordination
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of bowel and/or bladder control
  • Unconsciousness
  • Organ failure
  • Coma
  • Death

The greatest risk of mixing benzos and alcohol is a greatly slowed breathing reflex, which causes less and less oxygen to get to a person’s brain, leading to brain damage or death from a lack of oxygen (hypoxia).

Absolute Awakenings and Polysubstance Abuse

When people abuse two or more substances together, it’s referred to as polysubstance abuse. Absolute Awakenings is dedicated to treating those who have struggled with alcohol abuse and the abuse of prescription sedatives such as benzodiazepines. If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to substances, alcoholism, or both, our specialists are available around the clock to assist you. 

Absolute Awakenings follows an evidence-based approach to treating alcohol and substance abuse disorders. We are committed to providing long-term recovery for those struggling with addiction. Recovery is not a one size fits all approach, so every person that walks through our doors is provided with unique and individualized care. Call us today. Our recovery specialists are waiting to assist you or a loved one in your fight against addiction.

References

2018 National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) releases. SAMHSA.gov. (n.d.). Retrieved July 7, 2022, from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/release/2018-national-survey-drug-use-and-health-nsduh-releases

GABA Neurotransmitter. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory DNA Learning Center. (n.d.). Retrieved July 7, 2022, from https://dnalc.cshl.edu/view/485-GABA-Neurotransmitter.html

Linnoila MI. Benzodiazepines and alcohol. J Psychiatr Res. 1990;24 Suppl 2:121-127. doi:10.1016/0022-3956(90)90043-p. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1980691/

Longo, L., & Johnson, B. (2000, April 1). Addiction: Benzodiazepines-side effects, abuse risk and alternatives. American Family Physician. Retrieved July 7, 2022, from https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2000/0401/p2121.html

Maust DT, Lin LA, Blow FC. Benzodiazepine Use and Misuse Among Adults in the United States. Psychiatr Serv. 2019;70(2):97-106. doi:10.1176/appi.ps.201800321

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Understanding alcohol use disorder. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Retrieved July 7, 2022, from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/understanding-alcohol-use-disorder