Posted on Sep 19, 2022, 5 p.m.
Widespread substance use disorders (SUDs) commonly involve benzodiazepines and alcohol in the United States. Chances are, we know someone with an addiction to one of these substances, and we also probably have a general idea of the dangers surrounding each one. However, what happens when someone mixes these substances? Here’s what you need to know about the danger of mixing benzos and alcohol.
The Compound Interest of Depressants
The first thing to know about benzodiazepines and alcohol is that both substances are central nervous system (CNS) depressants. This class of drugs includes sedatives, tranquilizers, and hypnotics. These drugs are depressants because they slow down activity in the brain. This is an effective way to treat symptoms like anxiety, panic, stress, and some sleep disorders. With this in mind, it also explains how people can abuse alcohol when they experience these symptoms.
Since these drugs slow down brain activity and the organ’s communication with the body, some of the expected side effects of CNS depressants include drowsiness, lightheadedness, dry mouth, headache, and poor concentration. These can happen whether people use CNS depressants as prescribed or if they abuse them intentionally or unintentionally. However, more extreme side effects can include memory loss, lowered blood pressure, and slowed breathing. Again, when we think about how alcohol use is characterized, or maybe how we experienced alcohol use ourselves, it’s easy to see these are all symptoms of a CNS depressant at work in the body.
This is why mixing benzos with alcohol is a dangerous decision. It becomes a similar risk to taking too much of a benzodiazepine drug or drinking too much alcohol. We know that someone who takes twice the amount of their Xanax prescription (or any benzo) is at risk of overdosing, as well as someone who decides to drink a case of beer instead of one glass. If we hear about someone doing that, we recognize that there is a dangerous likelihood of overdosing. However, many of us don’t realize this is exactly what we are doing when we mix benzos and alcohol together; we’re “compounding the interest” of CNS depressants at work in our bodies, and we run a high risk of overdosing.
Paying Attention to the Warnings
As stated before, it is true that mixing alcohol and benzos can happen intentionally and unintentionally. However, even people who combine alcohol and benzos are probably not thinking about mixing two CNS depressant drugs; they are probably trying to experience euphoria from different sources at once. Others might think nothing of drinking a few glasses of wine or beer while they already have benzodiazepines in their system. Either way, the updated Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warning for benzodiazepine use suggests this is a widespread problem. “While benzodiazepines are important therapies for many Americans, they are also commonly abused and misused, often together with opioid pain relievers and other medicines, alcohol, and illicit drugs,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn in February 2020,
When we take the statement that of the 92 million benzodiazepine prescriptions dispensed in 2019, the drug is “commonly abused and misused,” we realize this is certainly not an isolated incident.
But besides authorities such as the FDA telling us the warning signs, we must recognize the warnings we can see when benzos and alcohol are used together. This means we need to know how to identify the signs of an overdose because this can save our lives or the lives of others. While some social signs might point to a benzo-alcohol combination (antisocial behavior, aggression, irritability), the big takeaway is that we should look for the kind of symptoms we might expect in an alcohol overdose or a benzo overdose. CNS depressants can have the same overdose symptoms, but mixing the two can worsen the conditions of both to life-threatening levels.
Don’t Ignore What You See
If you know someone who uses alcohol or benzos, don’t downplay their outward symptoms just because they are frequent users; it could be that those outward symptoms are signs of multiple CNS depressants at work in their body at the same time. It’s always important to remember that outward symptoms point to inner symptoms of the brain and the vital organs in the body. They’re warning signs we can’t afford to ignore.
This article was written for WHN by Kevin Morris from the Delphi Behavioral Health Group, a dedicated family of facilities committed to offering individualized treatment for all levels of addiction working to treat it at its core to provide those suffering with the tools to start a journey of long-lasting recovery.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine.
Content may be edited for style and length.
Materials provided by:
Yale Medicine. (2019 Dec 11). Are Benzodiazepines the New Opioids? Retrieved https://www.yalemedicine.org/news/benzodiazepine-epidemic
SingleCare. (2022 Feb 24). Alcohol Statistics 2022. Retrieved https://www.singlecare.com/blog/news/alcohol-statistics/#:~:text=More%20than%2014%20million%20U.S.,By%20Lindsay%20Modglin%20%7C%20Feb
Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Guide to Benzodiazepine Addiction and Treatment. Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/benzodiazepines/
Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Alcohol Abuse and Addiction Treatment Guide. Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/alcohol/
NIH. (2018 Mar.) What Are Prescription CNS Depressants? Retrieved https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-cns-depressants
NIH. (2017 Feb 13). Intentional vs. Unintentional Overdose Deaths. Retrieved https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/treatment/intentional-vs-unintentional-overdose-deaths
Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Guide to Alcohol Detox: Severity, Dangers, and Timeline. Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/alcohol/detox/
Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Overdose Risk of Mixing Benzodiazepines with Alcohol. Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/alcohol/mixing-with-benzos-overdose/
Delphi Health Group. (n.d.) Xanax Addiction Treatment Guide. Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/benzodiazepines/xanax/
FDA. (2020 Feb 23). FDA Requiring Labeling Changes for Benzodiazepines. Retrieved https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-requiring-labeling-changes-benzodiazepines
University of California San Francisco. (2019 Dec 13). Problem Drinkers Have Higher ‘Benzo’ Use, UCSF-Kaiser Permanente Study Shows. Retrieved https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2019/12/416196/problem-drinkers-have-higher-benzo-use-ucsf-kaiser-permanente-study-shows
Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Alcohol Overdose – Symptoms, Effects on the Body, and Risk of Death. Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/alcohol/overdose/
NIH. (2022 June 27). Benzodiazepine Toxicity. Retrieved https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482238/