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The Real Dangers of Mixing Benzos and Alcohol

Benzodiazepines are a form of sedative. When taken in specific doses, they can slow vital body functions such as breathing. Mixing benzos with alcohol multiplies the sedative effects. Nearly taking even small quantities of both simultaneously can cause even more powerful outcomes than consuming moderate amounts of just one of these substances alone. This is referred to as a synergetic relationship.

When prescribing benzodiazepines to a patient, the doctor and pharmacist should clarify to the patient not to consume alcohol while taking the medication. It will likely have a “Do not take with alcohol” sticker on the prescription bottle. However, some people may either purposely mix benzos and alcohol or take the warning seriously. Both of these substances are addictive and have sedative effects. Combining them is highly ill-advised due to the serious potential risks.

What are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines, sometimes known as benzos, are tranquilizers widely prescribed to treat anxiety, muscle tension, and insomnia. Benzos also help people relax before surgery or medical procedures. Benzos work on the central nervous systems and the neurotransmitter GABA to calm nerve impulses, which eventually helps calm anxiety. Generally, they produce a calming, well-being state that makes them addictive.

What is Clonazepam?

Clonazepam, also known as Klonopin brand name, is a prescription medication under the benzodiazepine category. Most people are familiar with the generic version of this drug. Overall, doctors use it to treat anxiety, panic disorders, seizures, and other mental health conditions. Klonopin exhibits properties similar to depressants, calming the central nervous system and suppressing nerve activity. 

Effects of Cross-Drug Use

The effects of taking one substance may change, decrease, or increase when consumed with other substances simultaneously. This is cross-drug use. Cross-drug use can be hazardous and can lead to life-threatening consequences. That is why is it is critical to honestly tell your doctor about all of the medications you are taking.

The effects of cross-drug use differ depending on the substances taken. For instance, some forms of birth control become ineffective when taken with antibiotics. On the other end of the spectrum, benzodiazepines and alcohol can spark an array of unpleasant effects when combined. Let’s look at some of this particular combination of drugs’ short-term and long-term effects and risks.

Since both benzos and alcohol have depressant effects, the combination of these substances intensifies their effects. In a mixture, benzodiazepines act as a central nervous system depressant, while drink strengthens this calmness and further reduces nerve activity. 

Short-term effects of mixing alcohol and benzos include:

  • Rapid blackout
  • Decreased coordination
  • Severe drowsiness
  • Memory loss
  • Vision troubles
  • Slow reflexes
  • Slowed or strained to breathe
  • Coma

Long-term effects of mixing alcohol and benzos include:

  • Cross-tolerance
  • Dependence
  • Addiction
  • Metabolic Changes

Read more: Learn more about polysubstance abuse

Overdose Risk

In addition to the effects listed above, the most significant risk of mixing benzos and alcohol is that it can lead to significantly reduced breathing that causes an overdose and possibly death. As breathing slows to a certain degree, oxygen is no longer efficiently carried to the brain and the rest of the body. Without oxygen, the organs begin to shut down. Without immediate medical attention, the risk of death is significant. The only way to avoid an overdose for sure is to avoid this combination of drugs. 

What Would Overdose Look Like?

Researchers know that benzos increase dopamine levels instantly, which fills your brain with feel-good neurotransmitters. There’s evidence that benzos’ addictive power is similar to opioids and cannabinoids, substances with strong addictive qualities. 

Unfortunately, choosing to quit benzos isn’t as straightforward. First of all, cutting the medication cold-turkey can result in severe physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms. Those with high doses of the medication can experience psychosis and seizures during withdrawal. 

In essence, an overdose is characterized by dangerously decreased breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, and a loss of consciousness. Other symptoms include blurred and double vision, loss of motor skills, hallucinations, unresponsiveness, vomiting, and disorientation.

Even if people use low doses of the medication, they can still experience severe withdrawal symptoms. People often mix benzos with alcohol, leading to alcohol withdrawal symptoms when they try to get sober. People who want to stop taking benzos should always seek medical attention and only through medical supervision. 

Benzodiazepines and Alcohol Withdrawal

People can experience withdrawal symptoms in as little as one month of use. Besides, those who take benzos for over six months, close to 40%, will experience moderate to severe symptoms, and the other 60% will suffer mild symptoms. 

Initially, people struggle with “rebound” effects or the initial short-term withdrawal symptoms. These often include:

  • Sleep trouble
  • Tension
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Sweating
  • Heart palpitations
  • Muscular pain
  • Mild to moderate changes in perception
  • Cravings
  • Tremors

Then, those who abuse higher doses of benzos or used the drug for longer might experience less common yet more severe symptoms. Some of these side effects include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Psychosis episodes
  • Seizures
  • Suicidal ideation risk

Benzo detox often involved tapering down from the drug. In this case, a physician will manage the dose reduction or prescribe a lesser potent benzo. The goal here is to determine the severity of addiction rather than the drug to understand the treatment plan fully. 

However, many times, doctors use clonazepam for alcohol withdrawal symptoms. This is due to its long half-life. Besides, clonazepam takes longer to reach peak effects and is metabolized by the body slower. This makes it, in theory at least, less abusable and better suited for detox.

Read more: Learn more about Benzodiazepine Addiction Treatment

How to Recognize an Alcohol Use Disorder?

Unlike other disorders, alcohol abuse is a chronic disease with diagnosis criteria by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). 

Alcoholism, in particular, refers to a pattern of alcohol use that involves problems controlling drinking. People with alcohol use disorder are preoccupied with alcohol, continue their service even after consequences, and drink more to get the same effect they once felt. Also, they’ll experience withdrawal symptoms when they decrease or stop their drinking habits.

In short, many warning signs point to someone struggling with alcohol use disorder. It’s paramount to keep an eye on these warning signs for early intervention, including: 

  • Drinking alone and in secrecy
  • Losing interest in other activities
  • Alcohol cravings
  • Prioritizing drinking over other behaviors
  • Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome
  • Liver failure
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Feelings of guilt associated with drinking
  • Continuing to drink despite health, family, and personal problems
  • Inability to stop or control alcohol consumption

Read more: Take this quiz to find out if you might be struggling with an alcohol use disorder (AUD)

Polysubstance Addiction Treatment

Polysubstance abuse was part of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but it was eliminated from the DSM-5 criteria. Today, even those who abuse multiple substances fall under the category of struggling from a substance use disorder. Also, some studies report that prescription drug abuse was 18 times higher in participants with alcohol abuse. However, polysubstance abuse also causes:

  • Worsened side effects that could be life-threatening
  • Lead to acute health problems with long-lasting consequences
  • Increases the risk of a fatal overdose
  • Increases the chances of co-occurring mental health disorders
  • It makes addiction treatment more complex and difficult to assess

Anyone mixing benzos and alcohol struggling with drug abuse need treatment at a dual diagnosis recovery center. If someone has a valid prescription for benzodiazepines, odds are they have an existing condition that requires further treatment. At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, we believe in creating comprehensive addiction treatment options that address every aspect of our patient’s addiction. 

Drug and Alcohol Detox

The first step toward recovery is detox. When people start mixing Percocet and alcohol, attempting to quit on their own, they can experience side effects that can be life-threatening. To avoid overdose and fatal withdrawal symptoms like seizures, checking into a detox rehab center is paramount. With supervision from a medical professional, recovering drug addicts can have a better chance of sobriety. 

Drug and Alcohol Rehab

Then, most patients will move either to an inpatient treatment program that offers structure and support 24/7. Others, mostly those with less severe addictions, might be able to choose an intensive outpatient program that provides more flexibility so that they can continue daily responsibilities like work, school, and family. 

Group Therapy

Part of most drug and alcohol rehab programs incorporate group therapy sessions. The setting is meant to encourage support, a sober-friendly network and offer a safe space to voice struggles, concerns, and hopes. Through group therapies, patients also attend 12-step programs to continue their path to sobriety. 

Aftercare Recovery Programs

Unfortunately, addiction is a life-long condition. Aftercare recovery programs offer continuing support once people leave a rehab facility. Here, patients focus on building life development skills that help them integrate back into society. Most people keep working on relapse prevention coping mechanisms that allow them to sustain long-term sobriety. 

Getting Addiction Treatment

As mentioned above, both benzos and alcohol are addictive substances. Although there are non-addictive alternatives to benzodiazepines for treating anxiety and depression, for some, it is too late for that. Once someone becomes addicted to these substances and actively mixes benzos and alcohol, the best thing is to get help from a licensed dual diagnosis treatment program. 

At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, our substance abuse programs to treat alcohol and drug addiction are designed to help you and your family members win the battle against addiction. If you’ve noticed you or someone you know is taking a higher dosage of their medication or starts abusing alcohol, it might be time to seek help. Also, our treatment centers count on detox facilities and inpatient or outpatient settings to help you start walking the way to recovery.

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