Dangers of Mixing Benzodiazepines and Alcohol


A survey of 393 people found that approximately 84% of respondents who consumed alcohol at least once a month mixed it with medication. These included over-the-counter (OTC) medications as well as prescriptions such as antibiotics, muscle relaxants, and central nervous system (CNS) depressants.

These CNS depressants include benzodiazepines. This is quite alarming as mixing benzodiazepines and alcohol can slow down the central nervous system and your body’s organs, because both substances are depressants. Someone who consumes both may start breathing slower and eventually die.

However, there’s no need for alarm if you currently have a prescription for benzodiazepines. Awareness is the key to ensuring you don’t consume any substance that may interact with your medication, or cause you harm.

Read on to find out the side effects of taking benzodiazepines and the dangers of mixing them with alcohol.

What Are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines are a type of prescription drug known as a central nervous system depressant or tranquilizer. This class of drugs includes Ativan, Xanax, and Valium.

Doctors prescribe benzodiazepines at roughly 66 million appointments every year. That means they’re prescribed at about 27 out of every 100 doctors’ office visits. They treat both physical and mental health conditions, including the following:

  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Seizure disorders
  • Panic disorders
  • Insomnia

They can also help with a host of other nervous disorders. Ironically, doctors also use them to assist with alcohol withdrawal.

Side Effects of Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines can improve the quality of life of many patients. However, doctors prescribe the recommended dosage for less than two to four weeks. They can be highly addictive if abused or combined with alcohol, despite their ability to relieve symptoms quickly. 

Some other side effects of benzodiazepines include the following:

  • Drowsiness
  • Euphoria
  • Confusion
  • Erratic or hostile behavior
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Headache
  • Slowed heartbeat and breathing
  • Insomnia
  • Tremors
  • Memory loss
  • Slurred Speech
  • Impaired thinking and bad judgment
  • Depression

Using benzodiazepines and alcohol can exacerbate these side effects.

Mixing Benzodiazepines and Alcohol

Benzodiazepines and alcohol have similar side effects. Using them together amplifies the body’s response. This results in worsened symptoms. Their consumption can cause breathing to completely stop or lessen oxygen to the brain. This can result in brain damage as the patient suffers from hypoxia.

Their effects on the brain can also affect its memory centers. This minimizes the brain’s ability to develop new long-term memories. Some research also suggests it can cause certain forms of dementia. Together they can destroy the normal functions of your brain, including those responsible for memory.

Because they move along similar paths throughout your body, detoxification slows down. This increases the chance of overdosing, as the liver has to work harder to flush both substances from your body. When the liver is unable to do this, both substances build up in your body.

Using Alcohol

Some schools of thought believe alcohol use in moderation isn’t harmful, especially for healthy adults. This level of intake results in mild intoxication that relaxes the person consuming it. 

Moderate drinking is often translated as one drink a day for women and two for men. However, alcohol abuse can result from chronic use. In America, alcohol is one of the most used and abused drugs.

This abuse can adversely affect a person’s physical and mental health. It can also lead to the death of the person abusing it. Their impaired judgment while under the influence of alcohol can also result in injury or death to others.

There’s a link between long-term alcohol abuse and the development of certain conditions. These include the following:

  • Gastrointestinal diseases
  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Liver disease

Binge drinking can also have adverse effects on a person’s health. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defined binge drinking as drinking four or more alcoholic beverages during a short period for women and five or more for men. The NIAAA also defines heavy drinking as binge drinking that’s done five or more days for the month.

Benzodiazepines as a Treatment for Alcoholism

Benzodiazepines are often used to treat alcoholism because it affects the brain in a similar way as alcohol. The changes in your nervous system that occur during alcohol withdrawal can result in the following:

  • Delirium tremens (DTs)
  • Tremors
  • Difficulty balancing or walking
  • Sweating
  • Depression
  • Weakness
  • Racing Heart
  • Headache
  • Seizures
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Nightmares

Benzodiazepines can lessen agitation, anxiety, and the risk of seizures when administered intravenously. A patient may require a higher dosage administered at an intensive care unit (ICU) if he/she experiences DTs. Of all the withdrawal symptoms, this is the most severe.

Doctors will usually only recommend benzodiazepines for short-term usage. This is usually long enough for the patient to overcome the worst period of symptoms. If used any longer, they can defeat the purpose of the treatment and become a replacement for alcohol instead.

A Journey to Better Health

It can often be difficult to remember the things you can and cannot take when prescribed a new drug. It’s important to arm yourself with information on all of your prescriptions. This should include its side effects and any substances that may cause a negative interaction.

This can help in reducing any fear you may have when taking the drug. It also provides a good reminder of substances you should avoid while taking the drug.

It’s never a good idea to mix prescription drugs with alcohol. Mixing benzodiazepines and alcohol is no exception.

However, if you find yourself becoming dependent on either, No Matter What Recovery can help. We provide drug and alcohol rehab, as well as holistic therapy, and an intensive outpatient program. Contact us to start your journey to recovery today.