When Your Son or Daughter is Mixing Benzodiazepines and Alcohol: The Heightened Risks of Co-Abuse

Benzodiazepine and alcohol abuse is a dangerous combination. If you believe that your adult son or daughter has fallen into a pattern of substance abuse, you need to understand why concurrent treatment is necessary. Ultimately, by guiding them toward seeking help in an appropriate setting, you can provide them with a second chance and aid them in understanding the necessity of learning to move forward without drugs.

Years ago, Steve was temporarily prescribed Valium for restless leg syndrome and had no problems. So when his doctor recommended Xanax for his son’s panic disorder, he didn’t bat an eye.

Steve came from a time when benzodiazepines were frequently prescribed and their dangers not well-known. But over the years, he watched his son slip into substance abuse and lose motivation for life, slipping into a toxic dependency on alcohol and benzodiazepines. 

Depressants like alcohol and benzodiazepines are very easy to abuse, especially if you struggle with underlying mental health issues. They offer a wave of relief that slips away as fast as it comes, inviting dependency and amplifying existing problems. As you continue to chase that elusive relief, combining them can seem like the inevitable next step in the face of tolerance.

If you notice signs that your adult child is struggling with benzodiazepines and alcohol abuse, getting them professional help is crucial. Although it’s not rare—the American Journal of Psychiatry study suggests that up to 41 percent of alcoholics report abusing benzodiazepines at some time—it’s a particularly dangerous mix that can cause damage at an alarming rate. Given that withdrawals can be fatal, medical detox and residential treatment is the best path to pursue.

Benzodiazepines and Alcohol: A Dangerous Combination


Combining two substances that act in the same way is always a risk. And since benzodiazepines and alcohol both act on GABA receptors, taking one potentiates the effects of the other. This is dangerous for many reasons. One is that it increases harmful effects such as drowsiness, memory loss, and lack of inhibition, which can severely disrupt your child’s life. The decisions that your son or daughter makes and the things they say are likely without the foresight and thought that they would have if they weren’t struggling with abuse.

Another danger is the impact that this combination has on tolerance. Tolerance to alcohol and benzodiazepines develops quickly when taken alone. But when taken together, it develops even faster. You need more and more to achieve the same effects, which creates a cycle of drug use that can easily lead to addiction. As doses increase, so do the chances of losing consciousness, as combining these chemicals can slow your nervous system to a crawl. In extreme cases, this can be life-threatening.

Why Concurrent Treatment is Necessary


One of the hardest parts of overcoming addiction to these substances is getting past the pain of withdrawal. Removing either drug from the body too fast shocks the system and sends many people back to using. This is why cold turkey doesn’t work, and also why professional programs are so crucial for a healthy recovery. With a medically supervised detox, your adult child will work with professionals that will guide them through a treatment plan based on their unique individual needs and well-being.

Realistically, recovering from addiction to benzodiazepines and alcohol is a long process that often takes months or years. But the earliest moments are very important, as they set the foundation for long-term recovery. It’s the time when your child needs to focus on the roots of their abuse and resolve them to prevent relapse and foster personal growth. It takes the right professional support, flexible therapies, and strong personal support networks, which are all available in professional treatment programs.

Some common treatment modalities include:

  • Peer support groups that reduce isolation and pave the way for establishing bonds that last outside of treatment. By connecting with others experiencing similar struggles, your child will give the recovery process more meaning and feel less isolated during the toughest moments.
  • Traditional therapies are great for digging deep into the triggers of substance abuse and developing proper coping skills. It can be hard for your child to see a future when they’re in the midst of substance abuse. But when they have a chance to focus inward in a comfortable setting, they will start to see the connections between their actions, emotions, and drug use.
  • Holistic therapies can be used to augment the more standard therapies. Mindfulness meditation can be used to manage the anxiety that often shows its face during alcohol and benzodiazepine withdrawal. And acupuncture, known for its pain-reducing effects, can ease the migraines, muscular pain, and sleep disturbances that can hinder recovery.

What works for one person might not for another, so individual treatment will evolve and adapt as treatment progresses. But ultimately, your son or daughter will have the resources and tools to take control of their addiction and move toward the future.

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Learning to Move Forward


A comprehensive residential treatment program will help your child realize how much their substance abuse has held them back from being the person they can be. Learning to move forward can be difficult at first, especially without the usual safety nets of alcohol and benzodiazepines. But in the long run, your child will realize that these substances do more harm than good and see how much happier and more productive they are leaving them behind.

After an extended stay in treatment, Steve’s son was able to take control of his substance abuse. He remains connected to friends and therapists he met in the treatment program and still attends weekly sessions with his psychiatrist, who is addressing the panic disorder that initially spiraled into benzodiazepine and alcohol abuse.

Alta Mira offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction as well as co-occurring mental health disorders and process addictions. Contact us to learn more about our renowned programs and how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward recovery.