Benzodiazepines (benzos) are central nervous system (CNS) depressants commonly used to treat anxiety, seizures, and sometimes alcohol withdrawal. Alcohol is also a potent depressant, and under no circumstances is it considered safe to use these two substances in combination.
Effects of Benzos and Alcohol
When consumed in excess on its own, alcohol can lead to a variety of adverse effects, including the following:
- Slurred speech
- Aggression and violence
- Impaired coordination
- Memory loss
- Nausea and vomiting
- Erratic or slow breathing
- Increased heart rate
Consuming alcohol heavily for a prolonged period can lead to many health complications, including liver disease, heart arrhythmia, pancreatitis, high blood pressure, and an increased risk of several forms of cancer, including those of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and breast.
Benzos are prescription medications that should only be used as directed by a health professional. Popular brands include Ativan, Klonopin, Valium, and Xanax. Misuse, including taking them too frequently or in doses over and beyond directed by a prescription, can result in many side effects, which may include the following:
- Drowsiness or sleepiness
- Blurry vision
- Slurred speech
- Memory loss
- Impaired concentration
- Poor coordination
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sleep disturbances
It’s important to note that symptoms of alcohol abuse tend to overlap with those of benzo misuse. This overlap occurs because benzos and alcohol are both depressants and impact the CNS in similar ways.
It is certainly possible to responsibly use either one of these substances on their own. As noted, however, the two should never be used together, even when an individual has a legitimate prescription for a benzo and is taking the medication as prescribed. Their combined use can quickly compound the effects of each other, which dramatically increases the risk of serious health consequences, overdose, hospitalization, and death.
The Dangers of Mixing Benzos and Alcohol
As noted, one of the most significant risks associated with using benzos and alcohol is that they are depressants and are both very effective as such. Benzos, when taken in prescription doses, can decrease CNS activity, and therefore help those who suffer from anxiety or seizures to function more normally. A standard-size drink (e.g., 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, 1 ounce of liquor) or two of alcohol can also mitigate a person’s anxiety or induce relaxation and drowsiness.
However, when taken in combination, CNS depressants can cause extreme sedation as well as perilously reduced respiration and heart rate. Moreover, when these two substances are used in combinations, even in relatively small amounts, the overall amplified effect can result in many hazards and health risks.
If either substance is abused, an individual may experience extreme drowsiness, profoundly impaired coordination, and face an increased risk of suffering from a serious fall or injury. The compounded effects can also cause the person to become unresponsive and ultimately result in coma, brain damage, or death.
Depressed, erratic, or labored breathing can be the result of using these substances and has a very high potential to be lethal. When this occurs, the individual is not receiving enough oxygen, and even if he or she survives, irreversible brain damage may be incurred. One tell-tale symptom of a lack of oxygen is pale, clammy skin that is bluish or purplish around the lips or fingernails. If emergency medical intervention is not performed, the victim is at high risk for respiratory arrest and death.
Treating Alcohol Withdrawal with Benzos
When a person is attempting to recover from alcoholism, a health or addiction professional may prescribe a benzo, such as Klonopin or Ativan. This is done to prevent certain symptoms of withdrawal, such as anxiety and seizures. Temporary and responsible use of this medication can make an individual’s transition away from alcohol addiction safer and less uncomfortable.
Benzos are not really intended for long-term use, however, as they do have a high potential for abuse, tolerance, and addiction. For this reason, a doctor who oversees a patient needs to watch for signs of an emerging physical and/or psycho-emotional dependence. A new addiction to a drug that produces effects similar to alcohol is especially risky if the person relapses and starts to combine these two substances.
Getting Help for Alcohol or Benzo Addiction
Those who suffer from polysubstance abuse are urged to seek professional treatment as soon as possible. If these conditions are left untreated, a person may continue to increase their use. Moreover, there is the possibility that an ever-worsening substance abuse problem may occur, from which life-threatening conditions can develop.
Addiction specialists generally consider comprehensive addiction treatment to be the most effective way to treat polysubstance abuse. Emotional support from counselors, therapists, and peers can help individuals examine the factors that contribute to their substance abuse issues.
Just Believe Recovery is a licensed, specialized treatment center that is dedicated to helping clients achieve abstinence and maintain long-lasting sobriety. Through psychotherapy, counseling, group support, and holistic and experiential activities, our treatment programs aim to provide those we treat with the tools and education they need to prevent relapse and make better decisions related to their health and well-being.
If you are motivated to reclaim your life once and for all, we urge you to contact us as soon as possible to discuss treatment options and begin your recovery journey!