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Ativan and Alcohol: Dangers of Mixing

Authored by Granite Recovery Centers    Reviewed by James Gamache    Last Updated: September 22nd, 2021


James Gamache Medical Reviewer
Jim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) and Licensed Masters Level Addictions Counselor (MLADC). He has been working in the field of mental health/addiction treatment since 1995. Jim earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Services from Springfield College in 2000, and a Masters Degree in Social Work from Boston University in 2002. In 2002 Jim was hired by the Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester holding the position of Clinical Case Manager. From 2004-2019, Jim was employed at WestBridge Inc. During his time at WestBridge, Jim held the following positions; Clinician, Team Leader, Director, & Chief Operations Officer. In 2019 Jim transitioned employment to GateHouse Treatment Center as the Clinical Director for 10 months. In October of 2020 Jim transitioned to Granite Recovery Centers and is currently serving as the Senior VP of Clinical Services and Quality Assurance.

When starting a new medication, it’s important to understand how to use it safely and effectively. Many medications include warnings about not using them with other substances, and that’s definitely the case when it comes to lorazepam. Better known by the brand name Ativan, lorazepam is a benzodiazepine – a class of drugs often used to treat anxiety. Like alcohol, this drug acts as a depressant on the central nervous system (CNS). Therefore, if you use Ativan and alcohol at the same time, you’re intensifying the overall effect, which can be very dangerous.

Warning labels on prescription bottles of Ativan clearly state that the drug should not be used with alcohol, so why do people mix the two? Sometimes, it happens by accident. For example, perhaps you go out for a few drinks during the evening. After getting home and feeling anxious, you might decide to take an Ativan to relax. Since the alcohol is still in your system, its effects will be intensified – and so will the effects of the Ativan. 

On the other hand, people often purposely take drugs like lorazepam in conjunction with alcohol. People with substance use disorders may deliberately take Ativan while drinking despite being aware of potential risks. Sometimes, they do so to intensify the effects of the alcohol or to get a “better high.” Other times, people may take lorazepam prior to drinking so they can drink less while still feeling very intoxicated. Regardless of a person’s reasons for purposely taking Ativan and alcohol at the same time, the reality is that doing so can be extremely dangerous, leading to overdose or even death.

What Is Ativan?

Ativan, or lorazepam, is in the same class of drugs as Valium, Klonopin, and Xanax. People often believe that Ativan is safer than Xanax, but it actually carries about the same level of risk; Xanax is just easier to find. Lorazepam is not intended for long-term use because of its potential for physical dependency. Instead, it is designed to help individuals cope with periods of extreme anxiety. This medication is also commonly prescribed for the treatment of epilepsy. Most people who use Ativan have a prescription for it.

To understand how drugs like Ativan work, it helps to understand the negative feelings that they help to address. In the central nervous system, receptors called gamma-aminobutyric acid receptors, or GABA receptors, release GABA neurotransmitters into the brain. These GABA neurotransmitters help neurons in the brain communicate.

When there aren’t enough of them, neurons start firing rapidly, which can cause unpleasant symptoms. Insufficient GABA receptors can make it difficult to sleep, causing you to toss and turn throughout the night. They can make feelings of anxiety spike, even causing panic attacks in some cases. Low GABA levels may also increase the risk of convulsions in those who are susceptible to having them, such as people with epilepsy.

Drugs like Ativan act upon GABA receptors in the CNS, prompting them to release GABA neurotransmitters into the brain. This release causes feelings of anxiety to decrease, and it can even make you feel sleepy. Since it is fast-acting, peaking in one to six hours, it is an effective option for people who want immediate relief from high anxiety and related issues. It decays at a half-life of 14 to 15 hours; the high can be powerful, but it doesn’t tend to last as long as other types of benzodiazepines.

Is Ativan Addictive?

Ativan carries a high potential for addiction, physical dependency, and abuse because it acts quickly and powerfully on the CNS. Even if you use it as prescribed, you can develop a physical dependency in as little as two weeks. At that point, if you quit taking Ativan suddenly, severe withdrawal symptoms may occur. Therefore, to protect yourself while discontinuing it, it’s wise to sign up for help at a benzo detox program. In New Hampshire, Granite Recovery Centers offers this type of service, and it’s a safe, effective way to stop using lorazepam safely.

In addition to becoming physically dependent upon Ativan, you may also become psychologically addicted to it.  You may find yourself compulsively taking the drug without following your doctor’s orders. You may try to find ways to make it act more quickly by chewing the drug or crushing and snorting it. When you become psychologically dependent on a benzo like Ativan, you will almost certainly feel compelled to take more of it than you should. You may even be tempted to mix it with substances like alcohol to intensify its effects – a potentially dangerous move.

So, is Ativan addictive? Yes, it is. However, it is rare for people to overdose on lorazepam alone. Most overdoses involving the drug also include the use of alcohol, opioids, or both. Therefore, if you find yourself wanting to mix Ativan with other drugs because it doesn’t give you the effects that you want, it may be a warning sign of an impending substance use disorder. 

The Dangers of Mixing Ativan With Alcohol

Many people don’t realize that Ativan works very similarly to alcohol. Like lorazepam, alcohol is a tranquilizer, or a CNS depressant. Both substances prompt the release of GABA neurotransmitters into the brain, causing feelings of relaxation and sleepiness. Drinking too much alcohol at one time can be lethal, and taking too much Ativan at one time can be too. When the two are used simultaneously, things are especially precarious, as each drug intensifies the effects of the other. This effect is enhanced by the liver, which struggles to filter the alcohol and the drug at the same time, leading to increased intoxication.

If you take Ativan and alcohol at the same time, the functioning of your central nervous system may slow to a dangerous point, making it easier for you to overdose. You may seem like you are drunk and appear confused if you overdose on Ativan. Your blood pressure will drop dangerously, and your breathing will slow considerably. In some cases, you may even black out.

Signs of Ativan Abuse

Some signs of a possible Ativan addiction include:

  • Using the drug in a manner that is inconsistent with your doctor’s orders
  • Chewing, snorting or injecting pills so that you can feel the effects of the drug faster
  • Compulsively taking the drug even when you aren’t supposed to be using it
  • Mixing the drug with other substances, including alcohol, to intensify its effects

Signs of Alcohol Abuse

Similarly, you’re more likely to combine lorazepam with alcohol when you have an addiction to alcohol. Some common signs of alcohol abuse include:

  • Being unable to stop drinking even after you feel intoxicated
  • Drinking alone to hide how much you are drinking from others
  • Engaging in drinking binges in which you drink excessively for extended periods
  • Experiencing blackouts regularly
  • Wanting to control how much you drink but being unable to do so
  • Bargaining with yourself to drink less or to drink different things to get the situation “under control”

Withdrawal Symptoms of Ativan

If you start experiencing discomfort when you stop taking Ativan, you may be physically dependent and could be experiencing withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms may prompt you to reach for other drugs, including alcohol, to help you feel better. However, if you are physically dependent on Ativan, it’s crucial to seek qualified care at a detox center. Granite Recovery Centers offers benzo detox treatment, and we also have inpatient and outpatient programs for substance use disorders of all kinds. Granite Recovery Centers provides medical detoxification for people who do not need immediate medical intervention, are not a danger to themselves, and are capable of self-evacuation in the event of an emergency.

Some of the top symptoms of withdrawing from Ativan include:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Irritability
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Blood pressure changes
  • Seizures

More Risks of Mixing Alcohol and Ativan

Since alcohol and lorazepam intensify each other’s effects, using them simultaneously can be extremely risky. Alcohol is one of the most widely used drugs in the world. Every year, around 95,000 people in the U.S. die from the effects of alcohol, including overdoses and liver diseases. At the same time, benzodiazepines are widely prescribed and readily available. Between 2005 and 2011, more than 1 million emergency room visits were directly attributable to benzo overdoses. In most cases, patients were using benzos in conjunction with alcohol and opioids, so it’s easy to see why this is such a serious issue.

It has been estimated that nearly 30% of overdose deaths involve benzodiazepines, causing the abuse of these drugs to be called a “shadow epidemic.” Many of these overdoses involve the use of benzos and other substances, especially alcohol. Sadly, older adults are particularly susceptible to medication misuse and abuse, resulting from facing senility and other issues.

What to Do If You Overdose on Ativan and Alcohol

After combining alcohol and Ativan, which are both tranquilizers, you face an increased risk of overdose. If you take both drugs and fear that you may have overdosed, it’s crucial to act quickly. In the case of an Ativan overdose, you should call 911. You will likely need to be administered a drug called flumazenil, which is only available via intravenous care at the hospital. If you’re unsure what to do, you can also call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 for advice.

How to Overcome an Addiction to Ativan or Alcohol

Purposely using Ativan and alcohol at the same time may be a sign of a substance use disorder. Whether you are addicted to lorazepam specifically or benzos generally, it is crucial to get the help and support you need. Likewise, if you are abusing alcohol and have concerns that you may be addicted, it’s vital to seek treatment right away. The first step in overcoming an addiction is admitting that you have a problem.

Fortunately, help is available. Granite Recovery Centers in New Hampshire offers an array of treatment options for substance use disorders of all kinds, including benzos and alcohol. Our team can help you explore alternative ways to treat anxiety and depression besides relying on drugs like Ativan.

We offer a variety of evidence-based treatments, including cognitive-behavioral therapy. Our facility also offers services for patients with dual diagnoses, such as an alcohol or benzo addiction co-occurring with major depression or anxiety. Therefore, you can find the right level and type of treatment for any substance use disorder that you may be experiencing.

Find Freedom From Alcohol and Ativan

Substances like Ativan and alcohol may temporarily help you feel happier and more relaxed, but using them to get through your daily life is not sustainable. However, addiction can make you feel like you have no other options. Luckily, that’s not the case. Through treatment at Granite Recovery Center, you can reclaim your life from substances like alcohol and benzos.

At Granite Recovery Centers, we want to provide accurate information about health and addiction so that our readers can make informed decisions.

We have credentialed medical doctors & clinicians who specialize in addiction treatment review the information on our website before it is published. We use credible sources such as government websites and journal articles when citing statistics or other medically related topics.