What Happens If I Mix Alcohol And Benzodiazepines?

Alcohol is a depressant of the central nervous system that can cause sedation, reduce anxiety, and promote relaxation, much the same way as benzodiazepines (also known as benzos) can. Combining these substances, which have similar actions, can easily lead to negative effects.

Mixing alcohol and benzodiazepines can result in disinhibition, amnesia, and sedation, which may include severe loss of motor function and altered mental status. Due to varying tolerance levels, these effects can differ between individuals.

What Are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines are a class of medications that work as depressants of the central nervous system to help reduce anxiety and promote relaxation. Many benzodiazepines can produce almost immediate effects and are effective for short-term or intermittent use.

Some of the most commonly prescribed benzodiazepines include:

  • Flurazepam
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)
  • Midazolam
  • Oxazepam
  • Temazepam
  • Triazolam (Halcion)
  • Remimazolam

Benzodiazepines vary in their onset of action, duration of action, form, and absorption and metabolism characteristics. Benzodiazepines are known medications of abuse but are rarely misused alone; almost 80% of benzodiazepine abuse is linked to polysubstance abuse.

Do Alcohol And Benzodiazepines Have The Same Effects On The Body?

Alcohol and benzodiazepines do have some similar effects on the body. Both benzos and alcohol are associated with impacts on the GABA receptor complex. This explains some of the synergistic effects and cross-tolerance between the two. Both agents can cause respiratory depression, confusion, slurred speech, sleepiness, loss of coordination, and amnesia. Additionally, both substances can lead to physical and physiological dependence when taken over long periods of time or in large amounts.

A study in the American Journal of Managed Care found that people who misused alcohol had higher rates of benzodiazepine use. Both alcohol and benzodiazepines can be abused to obtain feelings of euphoria or disassociation from reality. When these agents are taken together, it can result in a synergistic effect that compounds the effects of either substance individually. This is done at times to feel an increased high or to maximize the euphoria.

Due to these similar effects, when someone with an alcohol use disorder (AUD) enters a detoxification program, benzodiazepines may be used in a highly monitored setting to mimic alcohol’s effect on the brain due to the similarity of benzodiazepine effects on the GABA receptor. In addition, benzodiazepines are preventative agents against the development of seizures, which are possible during alcohol withdrawal.

What Are The Risks Of Mixing Alcohol And Benzodiazepines?

The risks of mixing benzodiazepines and alcohol involve the risk of serious harm and death. The most dangerous risk is significant respiratory depression, leading to unresponsiveness, progression to a comatose state, and death.

Other risks include disinhibition combined with amnesia, resulting in a significant risk to well-being. Automobile accidents, sexual assault, vehicular manslaughter, falls resulting in head injury, vomiting with aspiration, and physical harm due to loss of motor function are some examples.

The combined effects of these two substances are especially dangerous for someone who feels they are tolerant to one of the substances and wants to enhance their high. The threshold for intoxication is lower when combined, as the effects are doubled when taken together.

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Effects Of Mixing Alcohol And Benzodiazepines

The concurrent use of alcohol and benzodiazepines can be especially dangerous, as the two interact with the body in similar ways. Because of this, the combination of the two can have compounding effects, particularly on the body’s central nervous system, which regulates many essential bodily functions, like breathing.

Dangerous side effects of combining alcohol and benzodiazepines include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Impaired motor control
  • Slow or difficult breathing
  • Increased risk of alcohol or substance use disorders
  • Enhanced risk of injury, falls, driving accidents
  • Increased risk of overdose, damage to the brain and other organs, chronic disease, and death
  • Unusual behavior
  • Memory problems

How Long After Taking A Benzodiazepine Can You Drink Alcohol?

Someone prescribed benzodiazepines should not ingest alcohol in any combination. The variety of individual patient effects, tolerance, dependence, body type, liver function, and kinds of benzodiazepines available makes it impossible to recommend any circumstance where this combination is safe.

For some prescribed benzodiazepines, effects can last up to 72 hours, meaning someone taking longer-acting benzodiazepines should avoid alcohol for at least that length of time.

Can You Overdose On Benzodiazepines And Alcohol?

Yes, both alcohol and benzodiazepines can lead to respiratory depression, excessive drowsiness, and depressed brain activity. Death or significant harm can result from respiratory depression, seizures, or environmental effects such as physical injury from falls or motor vehicle accidents.

Symptoms of a fatal alcohol and benzodiazepine overdose include:

  • Stopped or slowed breathing
  • Weak pulse
  • Altered mental status
  • Confusion

If you or someone you know is overdosing or suspects a potential overdose, contact 911 immediately and stay with the person until help arrives.

The Time To Get Help Is Now

Any substance misuse, whether it be alcohol, benzodiazepines, or both, can disrupt your life and stop you from living the life you want to live. However, recovery is possible.

Contact a treatment provider today. They can answer any rehab-related questions and discuss available treatment options.