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When abused separately, alcohol and Xanax can have dangerous side effects. When the 2 substances are abused in tandem, their individual negative consequences are intensified. To explore the risks of mixing alcohol and Xanax, it is important to understand their independent properties and the dangers that accompany the abuse of these substances.
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Although a legal substance, alcohol can still be highly addictive with adverse effects. Many people drink alcohol to lower inhibitions and relieve stress. Along with a feeling of euphoria, most will experience some combination of alcohol’s short-term side effects. These include:
Because of alcohol’s social acceptability and customary negative side effects, it can be very difficult to determine when one is abusing the substance. An alcohol use disorder (AUD) is present when a person has constant alcohol cravings, develops a tolerance, ignores responsibilities to drink, drinks despite negative effects, wants to stop drinking but is unable to, and feels withdrawal symptoms when not drinking.
Xanax, or Alprazolam, is a commonly prescribed medication that falls into the Benzodiazepine drug classification. Although Xanax can be highly addictive, the substance is often prescribed to treat generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorders, insomnia, and premenstrual disorder. These types of disorders typically feature low levels of the neurotransmitter gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), which blocks impulses between nerve cells in the brain. In response to this, Xanax slows down the central nervous system to create a calming feeling. The side effects of using Xanax are:
Despite being the most prescribed Benzodiazepine in the US, it can be very easy to become addicted to Xanax with long-term or heavy use. Tolerance develops very quickly. It is the 2nd most common prescription medication involved in overdose visits to emergency rooms and Benzodiazepines are present in 1/3 of intentional overdoses or suicide attempts.
Because alcohol and Xanax can both act as Depressants, they slow down the central nervous system. This fact creates a synergistic action called “potentiation.” Drug potentiation is defined as an instance of 2 substances being taken simultaneously and their combined results being more intense than if taken separately. This means that drinking alcohol while using Xanax magnifies effects such as drowsiness, lightheadedness, headaches, fatigue, and impaired coordination. Despite Xanax’s typical intent, using it while drinking alcohol can cause intense panic attacks and unstable mood swings.
The feelings and accelerated intoxication associated with the combination of alcohol and Xanax can cause individuals to become addicted. Mixing alcohol and Xanax can also bring the risk of comas, difficulty breathing, and even death; the likelihood of cardiac or respiratory arrest is increased. The impact of mixing alcohol and Xanax depends on several factors. An individual’s body weight, age, food eaten, speed at which substances are consumed, dose of Xanax, or amount of alcohol can all determine the severity of the combination.
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In general, women are at a higher risk than men for the negative outcomes of a substance use disorder. Women have less water in their bodies than men do. This means that the amount of alcohol consumed becomes more concentrated when mixed with water in the body, which causes a higher level of alcohol in the bloodstream. For women taking Xanax concurrently with alcohol, it can be more intense. Older people are also at a particularly high risk. As aging occurs, the body’s ability to break down alcohol is slowed. This means that alcohol stays in the system longer. Additionally, it is common for this age group to be prescribed medications. If Xanax is a regular prescription, the effects can be considerably more unsafe when coupled with alcohol.
College students are the most likely group to abuse Benzodiazepines like Xanax. The number of students in the United States using such substances increased by 450% between the years 1993-2005. Because Xanax has been labeled as a drug with a low potential for abuse and low risk of dependence, it has been classified as a schedule IV substance. This causes many to think it is safer to use than Marijuana, which is a schedule I. This comparison likely led to Xanax’s increased recreational use.
Along with its drug classification, the normalization of Xanax amongst college students has a lot to do with how friends and peer pressure affect the brain. It is during this age that young people stop turning to their parents and family for attachment and their friends become the focus of their relationships. A young person’s friendships can directly influence their decisions. When with their friends, teenagers are more likely to take risks that they ordinarily would not. This is because taking risks and gaining approval from their peers activates the brain’s reward center.
Heavy drinking is defined as consuming 15 or more drinks per week for men and 8 drinks or more per week for women. Those who drink this amount regularly are 15% more likely to use Benzodiazepines like Xanax than non drinkers or moderate drinkers. A 2019 study in the American Journal of Managed Care reviewed records of 2 million primary care patients. Of the 4% of people who fell into the heavy drinking category, 7.5% had filled a Benzodiazepine prescription in the last 12 months. Extended heavy drinking and Xanax use has been linked to an increased chance of dementia. Additionally, from 1996-2013, alcohol was a factor in 1 in 5 Benzodiazepine related deaths.
Xanax’s clinical use alone has been a point of contention among specialists for years. Many believe it is highly addictive and prescribed for longer periods than is necessary, which also increases the likelihood of addiction.
Because alcohol has similar properties to Xanax, using the substance while drinking alcohol can be extremely harmful; the effects of both are heightened. If you would like more information about Xanax, alcohol, addiction, or treatment, contact a treatment provider today.
Emily Murray is a Digital Content Writer at Addiction Center. She earned a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies with Behavioral/Social Sciences and Art concentrations along with a Journalism minor from the University of Central Florida. Dedicated to creativity and conciseness, Emily hopes her words can be of service to those affected by addiction.
Reviewed by Certified Addiction Professional
A survivor of addiction himself, David Hampton is a Certified Professional Recovery Coach (CPRC) and a member of the National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC).
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