Alcoholism (alcohol use disorder) is a condition hallmarked by excessive alcohol consumption despite the harmful effects it has on one’s life and relationships. Similarly, Xanax use disorder is a condition in which the user becomes dependent on the anti-anxiety benzodiazepine (generic name alprazolam).
Xanax and alcohol are both CNS (central nervous system) depressants, meaning that they work to reduce activity in the body and brain. This depressant effect can lead to life-threatening complications, including coma, respiratory failure, and death.
The use of alcohol, in addition to Xanax, significantly increases these risks and is far riskier than the overuse of either substance is on its own. Many overdoses related to benzos also involve other alcohol or other drugs and are currently one of the leading causes of accidental death in the U.S.
Long-Term Effects of Xanax and Alcohol
Those who abuse Xanax and alcohol in combination and consistently for a prolonged period increase their risk of severe adverse effects, including as the following:
- Anxiety and depression
- Accidents and injuries
- Interpersonal problems
- Poor work/school performance
- Impaired memory
- Shallow breathing
- Anoxic brain injury
- Low blood pressure
- Faint heartbeat
- Liver cancer or cirrhosis
- Alcoholic hepatitis
- Heart disease
- Mouth, throat, and breast cancers
Alcohol and Xanax Addiction
Xanax is indicated to treat conditions such as anxiety, panic disorder, and insomnia. Due to its high potential for addiction, it is often abused. The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN, 2011) reports that nearly 1 in 10 of all emergency room visits involving prescription drug abuse included the use of Xanax.
Indeed, Xanax can be very dangerous when ingested in large or frequent doses or in combination with alcohol or other drugs. When used with alcohol, even a small dose has the potential to be life-threatening. People who become dependent on Xanax and other benzos display symptoms which may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Sleeping for long periods
- Cognitive impairments
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dry mouth
- Slurred speech
- Impaired motor skills
The development of tolerance and dependence also hallmarks Xanax addiction. Tolerance occurs when a person is forced to use ever-increasing amounts of a drug to achieve the desired effects.
Dependence occurs when the brain grows accustomed to a drug’s presence and can no longer function correctly without it. At this stage, withdrawal symptoms will onset when the user tries to discontinue use.
Xanax withdrawal symptoms can manifest within a few hours of the last dose and tend to peak in intensity within 1-4 days. Symptoms of withdrawal include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Blurred vision
- Muscle aches and pain
- Sensitivity to light and sound
- Loss of appetite
- Insomnia and sleep disturbances
- Heart palpitations
- Elevated heartbeat
- Excessive sweating
- Anxiety and panic
Persons who do not promptly seek treatment for Xanax addiction risk injury and illness due to drug-related causes. Xanax use can lead to heavy sedation that can cause fainting spells, and is particularly dangerous when operating machinery or a motor vehicle.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2014), alprazolam was the fourth most-commonly involved drug among lethal overdoses, having been found in the systems of more than 4,200 decedents.
Signs and symptoms of severe CNS depression and overdose include the following:
- Memory problems
- Shallow or labored breathing
- Low blood pressure
- Faint heartbeat
- Extreme drowsiness
- Impaired coordination
- Respiratory arrest
Treatment for Xanax addiction may include a taper down method or “weaning” as directed by a physician to lessen cravings and symptoms of withdrawal. More severe addictions often require a medically-assisted detox and participation in inpatient residential treatment as well as long-term aftercare. Addiction treatment, at minimum, should consist of several weeks of cognitive-behavioral therapy, individual and family counseling, and group support.
Symptoms Throughout the Stages of Alcoholism
Alcoholism is a chronic, complex condition, and those who do not receive treatment will likely continue to incur consequences that tend to get worse over time. Heavy, long-term alcohol abusers are at an increased risk of serious illness and death due to alcohol-related causes.
According to the CDC, excessive alcohol use led to an estimated 88,000 deaths and 2.5 million years of potential human life lost each year from 2006–2010 in the U.S., thereby shortening the lives of persons affected by an average of 30 years.
Because it works on the brain similarly, alcohol can cause many of the same mental, physical, withdrawal, and overdose symptoms as Xanax addiction. And as noted, mixing the two substances can result in effects that are both intensified and unpredictable.
The Early Stage
The early stage of alcoholism always begins with experimentation. Most people first drink alcohol in their teens or early adult years. Indeed, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIDA), 60% of teenagers have tried alcohol by age 18.
Experimentation tends to be sporadic, with drinking occasionally that occurs at parties, concerts, or other social events. Some young people, however, move quickly from their first use into regular consumption that can rapidly result in adverse consequences. Others may never leave this stage and either continue to drink infrequently or abstain altogether.
The Middle Stage
The middle stage occurs when alcohol use has progressed into binge drinking (characterized by more than five drinks in one sitting) or everyday drinking. Problems will likely begin to happen on a regular basis. They may involve legal issues such as driving under the influence or work and school obligations missed due to hangovers or being intoxicated. Interpersonal relationships with friends and family may also become strained.
The middle phase is sometimes referred to as high-functioning alcoholism. Moreover, the person is drinking heavily but still manages to function reasonably well in daily life despite a few problems that crop up.
During this phase, however, tolerance can begin to develop, and drinking patterns may continue to escalate. At this point, many people will attempt to quit or cut back. Some will succeed, but those who do not will be at an increased risk for long-term mental and physical health issues and other challenges related to alcoholism.
The Late Stage of Alcoholism
Late-stage alcoholism occurs when a dependency has developed, and withdrawal symptoms manifest if the user stops drinking abruptly or “cold turkey.” He or she has now likely developed a high tolerance, and increasing amounts of alcohol are needed to achieve the desired effects. The brain has, at this point, basically been hijacked by alcohol and can’t function normally without it.
Alcohol abusers at this stage almost always require intense, long-term treatment to recover and sustain long-term sobriety. Those who choose to seek treatment have the opportunity to undergo a medically-assisted detox and engage in either inpatient or outpatient therapy, individual and family counseling, and other activities that encourage healthy behaviors and decision-making.
Getting Treatment for Addiction
Engaging in the combined use of Xanax and alcohol exponentially increases both short- and long-term risks associated with either substance, as well as the possibility of severe injury, illness, or death. We cannot stress enough how dangerous this habit is, and that the odds that something tragic will eventually happen are not insignificant.
If you or someone you love is addicted to alcohol or Xanax, we urge you to contact us as soon as possible to discuss treatment options! Addiction is a devastating and potentially life-threatening disease, but it can be treated, and those who recover may go on to live long, healthy, and fulfilling lives! Call us today!