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Alcohol and Medications

The Dangers of Combining Alcohol and Benzodiazepines

August 4, 2023
10 min read
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A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
August 4, 2023
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
August 4, 2023
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
August 4, 2023
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Reframe Content Team
August 4, 2023
10 min read

Xanax. Valium. Ativan. Many of us have heard of these powerful anti-anxiety medications, which fall under the class of drugs known as benzodiazepines. While these drugs, when properly prescribed, can be lifesavers, they aren’t without their dangers. This is especially true when alcohol is involved. Unfortunately, the life-threatening (and, in many cases, fatal) effects of combining alcohol and benzodiazepines is all-too-common. Here’s exactly what’s going on and how to avoid this dangerous duo.

Alcohol and Benzodiazepine Consumption

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Alcohol is one of the most widely-consumed beverages in the world. According to the World Health Organization, 2.3 billion individuals across the globe drink alcohol. The human relationship with alcohol is complex, spanning the range from casual consumption to dependence, with some serious health risks involved.

Benzodiazepines fall into a class of prescription drugs often used in the treatment of conditions like anxiety, insomnia, and certain types of seizures. They work by slowing down the activity of the central nervous system and inducing a calming effect. Here’s a brief overview of the different types:

  • Chlordiazepoxide (Librium). The first benzodiazepine on the scene, Librium is mostly used to treat alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
  • Diazepam (Valium). A long-acting benzodiazepine, Valium is the go-to med for anxiety, muscle spasms, seizures, and alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin). Another long-acting benzodiazepine, Klonopin is also used to treat anxiety and seizure disorders.
  • Alprazolam (Xanax). Xanax acts more quickly than its counterparts — a property that makes it useful for treating panic attacks.
  • Lorazepam (Ativan). Used for pre-surgery sedation and seizure control, Ativan kicks in more quickly than Valium or Klonopin, but isn’t quite as fast-acting as Xanax.

While both alcohol and benzodiazepines might be consumed for entirely different reasons, they share a crucial trait: both are central nervous system depressants. They slow down the brain's activity and can have deleterious consequences when combined.

The Dangers of Mixing

The consumption of alcohol and benzodiazepines together can lead to a dangerous interaction that magnifies each substance's individual effects. Both alcohol and benzodiazepines are depressants, acting on the central nervous system (CNS) to induce feelings of relaxation, sedation, and decreased anxiety. When taken concurrently, the effects are not merely additive; they synergize, leading to an intensified result. This amplified sedation can result in pronounced disorientation, sluggish thought processes, and difficulty in coordination, impacting the person's ability to perform everyday tasks and increasing the risk of accidents.

The Risk of Respiratory Depression

The effects of this combination are not confined to cognitive impairment. Physically, there is potential for slowed breathing and a drop in blood pressure. The most serious risk associated with the concurrent use of alcohol and benzodiazepines is respiratory depression. This condition involves a reduced rate and depth of breathing, leading to decreased oxygen levels and increased carbon dioxide levels in the body. Organs, especially the brain, can be severely damaged by this imbalance. In extreme cases, it can lead to unconsciousness, coma, or even death if immediate medical attention is not received.

The Hazards of Mixing Alcohol and Benzodiazepines

Chronic Usage and Dependence

The dangers of alcohol and benzodiazepines are not limited to acute use. Over time, chronic consumption can lead to physical dependence. The body adapts to the continuous presence of these substances, essentially requiring them to function normally. This state of dependence can make it difficult for the person to stop using these substances, perpetuating a cycle of addiction.

The Challenges of Withdrawal

When the body becomes dependent on alcohol and benzodiazepines, withdrawal can present a significant challenge. The abrupt absence of these substances can trigger a rebound effect, resulting in severe and distressing symptoms. These can range from psychological effects like anxiety and restlessness, to physical symptoms including tremors, nausea, and even life-threatening seizures. This condition underscores the importance of not attempting to withdraw from these substances without medical supervision.

The Importance of Supervised Treatment

Detoxification from alcohol and benzodiazepines should always be undertaken under the guidance of healthcare professionals. This approach ensures the process is as safe as possible, with professionals available to manage withdrawal symptoms and monitor for severe complications. With careful management and appropriate support, recovery from dependence on alcohol and benzodiazepines can be achieved, leading to improved health and quality of life.

Making Healthier Choices and Staying Safe

To protect ourselves and our loved ones from the dangers of combining alcohol and benzodiazepines, here’s what we can do:

  • Build awareness: Always be aware of the substances you're ingesting. If you're taking a prescription medication, it's best to avoid alcohol.
  • Maintain an open dialogue: Maintain an open dialogue with your healthcare provider. If you consume alcohol, even occasionally, let your doctor know, especially when prescribed a new medication.
  • Establish a support system: It’s challenging to break dependence alone. It's crucial to build a supportive network of friends, family, or professional services to help you through this journey.
  • Incorporate healthy habits: Introducing healthy habits, like a balanced diet and regular exercise, can help manage stress levels, reducing the need for substances.
  • Engage in substance-free fun: Participate in hobbies or activities that don't involve alcohol or drugs. This helps establish new patterns and memories, breaking the cycle of substance use.
  • Seek professional help: If you find it hard to stop the combined use of alcohol and benzodiazepines, don't hesitate to seek professional help.

Combining alcohol and benzodiazepines can do much more harm than good. Both substances, when mixed, can exacerbate dangerous symptoms, such as central nervous system depression, sedation, and even breathing issues. However, we can avoid the dangers of mixing these two substances, and ultimately, maintain our overall well-being.

We have the power to cultivate habits that support our well-being. Small changes can lead to major transformation over time. By developing a greater level of self-awareness and learning to lean on others in difficult times, we can learn to cope with our challenges in ways that don’t resort to substance misuse and mixing.

Remember, none of us is alone in this journey. And we all have the power to chart a course towards a healthier future! Take the first step today and allow yourself to thrive and flourish — you deserve to feel your best, always!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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