Mixing Xanax and Alcohol

Mixing Xanax with alcohol is extremely risky. Both substances act like depressants, slowing activity in the brain and causing drowsiness, impaired coordination, difficulty thinking, and other side effects. Both also cause heart rate and breathing to slow. Combining Xanax and alcohol multiplies these dangerous effects and can lead to an overdose more quickly. The combination can be fatal, causing the heart to stop or breathing to cease completely.

The combination of Xanax and alcohol is very dangerous and can lead to overdose and death.

Xanax is a benzodiazepine prescribed to treat anxiety but also often misused by people who are trying to experience relaxation or euphoria. Alcohol is legal but also dangerous and commonly misused for similar reasons. Some people may combine the two with disastrous results.

Taking Xanax with alcohol is so dangerous because the two substances have similar effects on the brain and body. When combined, these effects are additive and can lead someone to accidentally overdose. With prompt medical attention the overdose can be reversed, but without treatment it can easily be fatal, causing breathing and the heart to stop.

What is Xanax?

Xanax is the brand name for a drug called alprazolam. It belongs to the benzodiazepine class of drugs, and it is approved to treat anxiety disorder and panic disorder. Although not technically approved for other uses, doctors may prescribe Xanax to treat sleeping disorders and alcohol withdrawal. Benzodiazepines are depressants, also known as sedatives. They slow the activity of the central nervous system, which leads to relaxation and reduced anxiety.

Xanax is generally considered safe when used as directed, but there are risks of side effects. These include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Headaches
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Nausea
  • Dry mouth or salivation
  • Constipation
  • Changes in appetite
  • Irritability

Because of the depressant effects of Xanax and the possible side effects, there are important precautions when using this drug. Driving and operating machinery may not be advisable, for instance. Xanax is also not intended for long-term use, because it is habit-forming and can cause serious withdrawal. It is also important to not combine Xanax with other substances that produce similar depressant effects. This includes opioids and alcohol.

Xanax Abuse

Benzodiazepines like Xanax are listed as Schedule IV controlled substances by the Drug Enforcement Administration. This is because they are susceptible to abuse and may be habit-forming. People may abuse Xanax to feel more relaxed or to get a feeling of pleasure or euphoria. Abuse is risky for several reasons, including the fact that it can lead to addiction. Abusing Xanax also increases the risks of having side effects or experiencing an overdose.

Abuse of Xanax is any misuse of this drug. This includes using Xanax without a prescription, or having a prescription and using the drug in a way other than directed. For instance, someone with a valid prescription may use a higher dose than recommended or may continue to use it after being directed to stop. Any time someone uses Xanax to get high instead of as a medical treatment, it is considered abuse and it is risky.

Xanax Overdose

A big risk of abusing Xanax or other benzodiazepines is the risk of overdose. An overdose on this type of drug can be fatal. As a depressant, Xanax can lead to slowed respiration, blood pressure and heart rate. Taking too much Xanax can increase these effects to the point that respiration stops completely, and this can lead to a coma or death. Signs of a Xanax overdose include extreme tiredness or drowsiness, confusion, severe loss of coordination, the inability to move limbs, severely slowed breathing and pulse, and loss of consciousness. An overdose should be treated as a medical emergency to prevent a fatality.

Alcohol Effects and Abuse

Although alcohol is legal, it is also a substance of abuse that has mind-altering effects, that can cause serious damage, and that is habit-forming. Alcohol is actually both a depressant and a stimulant. It acts directly as a depressant, but also stimulates the brain in indirect ways. Alcohol in the brain suppresses the neurotransmitter glutamate, an excitatory brain chemical. This has the effect of slowing down brain activity. Alcohol also increases the amount of another chemical in the brain called GABA. This chemical causes relaxation and sedation.

On the other hand, alcohol also causes a release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, a chemical that is part of the pleasure and reward pathway in the brain. The rush of dopamine that comes with drinking is stimulatory and causes the pleasant sensation or euphoria of being buzzed or drunk. Whether a person is more stimulated or sedated by alcohol depends on individual factors, but research suggests that those who are more stimulated are at a higher risk for abusing and becoming addicted to alcohol.

Alcohol abuse is a dangerous and risky habit. Alcohol causes lowered inhibition, poor coordination, confusion, memory problems, mood changes, behavioral changes, nausea, vomiting, sedation, sleepiness, loss of consciousness, and other issues that may be mild but also serious. Drinking too much can cause long-term health problems, such as heart disease, cancer, injuries from accidents, and liver failure. Alcohol abuse can also lead to addiction, and it is possible to overdose and die from drinking too much at once.

Alcohol Overdose

Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to an overdose, also referred to as alcohol poisoning. This is very dangerous because it can be fatal. As someone continues to drink and the blood alcohol content rises, the effects of alcohol on the body increase to dangerous levels. Alcohol poisoning occurs when there is so much alcohol in the blood that the body cannot keep up and is unable to metabolize and clear it from the bloodstream. This can lead to breathing and heart rates slowing and stopping. Signs of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Extreme confusion
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Vomiting
  • Clammy skin
  • Slowed breathing
  • Irregular breathing
  • Low body temperature, and pale or blue skin
  • Dulled reflexes, including the gag reflex

Alcohol poisoning is potentially fatal and should be treated as a medical emergency. An overdose can be treated and a person may survive, but there can also be lasting consequences, such as brain damage.

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Why People Mix Alcohol and Xanax

Xanax is most often prescribed to treat anxiety. People who abuse Xanax may turn to it as a way to self-medicate anxious feelings. Alcohol is also a substance that can temporarily relieve anxiety, so someone who uses Xanax for that reason is more likely to also use alcohol. If someone is feeling more anxious than usual or struggles to get relief other ways may combine alcohol with Xanax to increase the sedative and relaxing effect. Abuse of these two substances is not limited to people with anxiety disorders. Anyone feeling stressed may abuse either or both of them to get relief.

The Dangers of Mixing Xanax and Alcohol

Anyone prescribed Xanax is warned to avoid alcohol. Mixing these two substances is very risky. They have similar effects on the body, including side effects, and these are additive when the Xanax and alcohol are combined. For instance, someone who uses Xanax may not get drowsy from the drug alone, but does get very sleepy when taking Xanax and drinking.

Both Xanax and alcohol act as depressants, slowing activity in the brain, which in turn can slow down other systems, like breathing and heart rate. Specifically, they act in a similar way by increasing GABA in the brain. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, so by increasing it in the brain, both substances slow down activity, along with heart rate and respiration.

Mixing the two substances is most dangerous because of the possibility of an overdose that could be fatal. Either substance can cause respiration and heart rate to slow and stop, so using both increases the risk that this will happen and that it will be deadly. There is no safe amount of Xanax and alcohol to take together, and they should never be combined. Xanax is also riskier in combination with alcohol than other benzodiazepines because it is a faster-acting drug—the effects kick in more quickly.

People who use Xanax often falsely assume that it is always safe, that it is a low-risk substance, and that overdose is not a big risk. This is because overdosing on Xanax does require a very large dose. However, this feeling of safety can make it even more likely someone will use Xanax with alcohol. The assumption that Xanax is safe may lead to the assumption that using it with alcohol is also low risk.

Xanax and Alcohol Effects Vary by Individual

A person may also falsely assume the combination of alcohol and Xanax is low-risk if they see someone else do it without serious consequences. For some people, the impact of this combination is more severe than for others. How it affects someone depends on factors like age, body weight, rate of drinking, amount of food eaten before drinking, and a person’s overall health. It is impossible to know in advance how severe the reaction to Xanax and alcohol will be, so it is best to be safe and always keep these substances separate.

There is never a safe way to combine alcohol and Xanax. Using the two together can quickly lead to a fatal overdose. Many people who use these substances together are struggling from substance abuse or addiction, and treatment can help. Residential care with detox, therapy, and other types of treatment can help a patient recover and avoid the risks associated with misusing alcohol, Xanax, or both.