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Dangers Of Mixing Xanax And Alcohol

Authored by Granite Recovery Centers    Reviewed by James Gamache    Last Updated: August 27th, 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.

What Is Xanax?

Xanax is one of the most prescribed psychiatric medications in the United States, and it’s the brand name for alprazolam, a drug used to manage anxiety and panic disorders. Xanax has also been used to treat depression, PMS, and chronic pain. When used as prescribed, it can be very beneficial. However, because of its calming effects, it is often misused to achieve a tranquil high. And taking more than the prescribed dose, taking it more frequently, or taking it with alcohol can be fatal.

In just the first half of 2008, this class of drugs accounted for the second-highest number of overdose deaths in Florida. Of these 392 deaths, Xanax was responsible for nearly 300 of them. The number of people admitted to addiction treatment facilities in the U.S. for Xanax use has rapidly increased. From 2006 to 2012, this number went from around 5,000 to about 29,500. And according to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the abuse rate in those between the ages of 18 and 25 is nearly twice as high compared to people over 26.

Xanax is a member of a group of medications called benzodiazepines. These drugs affect the central nervous system — the brain and nerves — to decrease abnormal excitement in the brain and create a calming effect. They do this by increasing the chemical activity, called gamma-aminobutyric acid or GABA, that inhibits brain activity. This creates less of a restraint on the brain’s dopamine producers, resulting in more dopamine, which controls the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. The result is increased feelings of pleasure and decreased feelings of panic or anxiety.

There are many potential side effects of mixing this medication with alcohol, ranging from headaches, drowsiness, and nausea to more serious ones like hallucinations, loss of coordination, and suicidal thoughts. Prolonged use can lead to dependence, and if stopped abruptly, patients can experience withdrawal or seizures.

Dependence occurs when your body builds up a tolerance for the drug’s effects, requiring a larger dose or an increased frequency of use to achieve the same effect it had when you started taking it. This can develop into a physical dependency where your body doesn’t function properly without it.

Dependence can often lead to addiction or a substance use disorder, which is generally defined as compulsive drug use despite the harmful consequences. If you think you have an addiction or know someone struggling with the problem, contact Granite Recovery Centers. Granite Recovery Centers has made an enormous contribution to changing the lives of drug-dependent adults. We have been in the industry for over 10 years, growing into an authoritative center to alleviate addiction.

Our New Hampshire-based addiction treatment centers ensure you get a unique blend of facts and evidence-based clinical psychotherapies. We boast of a comprehensive 12-step curriculum.

Our curriculum consists of the following programs:

  • Sober living featuring discharge planning and setting recovery goals
  • Extended care, including recreational and cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Primary residential treatment for Neurontin, codeine, alcohol, cocaine, and benzos addiction
  • Intensive outpatient counseling
  • Medical detox at Green Mountain Treatment Center
  • Medication-assisted treatment

Be safe and consult a doctor before taking any medication. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, taking prescription stimulants for reasons outside of treating ADHD or narcolepsy could lead to adverse effects on your health, like heart problems and psychosis.

What Are Bars?

The term “bars” is the street slang often referred to for Xanax, because the 2-milligram bars are tablets shaped like a bar. Another term people use is zany bars. A zany bar is a benzodiazepine. Other benzodiazepines you may be familiar with are Klonopin, Valium, Ativan, temazepam, and a few other long-acting ones.

Benzodiazepine falls under the general class of drugs called sedative-hypnotics, and these sets of drugs include barbiturates, benzodiazepines — which Xanax is one of — and alcohol products. Structurally, many of them are somewhat different.

What Makes Mixing Xanax and Alcohol So Unique and Risky?

A Xanax and alcohol concoction is not a short-acting drug; it can get into your system and cross the blood-brain barrier rapidly and reach peak serum and blood-brain barrier concentration quickly. That’s what makes the concoction a problem.

Something like Xanax and even Klonopin or Ativan, in terms of their half-lives, are almost the same. But what’s happening with Xanax is it’s packing a punch of getting to its delivery address quite rapidly, much more rapidly than Klonopin or Ativan. A perfect analogy: Sugar is a carbohydrate. You can have simple, pure white sugar or a chocolate bar, a simple carbohydrate. On the other hand, you can have a complex carbohydrate like a piece of bread.

What happens with these carbohydrate types of molecules is that there is an extensive amount of processing. The speed and kinetics with which it reaches its receptors are much slower than something like an extremely simple carbohydrate, like a can of soda or a candy bar. The theoretical idea, which has proved to be entirely accurate to a great extent, is that the faster something gets to its address, the more it wears out that system. In the case of addiction, it also creates addiction much more rapidly, or it has much higher abuse potential.

Let’s go back to our analogy no one talks about. In general, when you eat complex carbohydrates, you become more prone to type 2 diabetes; but when you start feeding children from early on basic sugars like candy or soda, they can quickly develop adult-onset diabetes type 2. Doctors have started to see that younger and younger children are getting it because of these rapidly acting simple sugars.

Now translate that analogy into benzodiazepines and alcohol, a class of sedative-hypnotics that includes alcohol and barbiturates. In this case, Xanax is one of the benzodiazepines. Xanax and alcohol, in particular, rapidly get to their destination in the nervous system. You can think of this as a simple way to imagine blowing out your receptors pretty quickly and desensitizing them. The result is that you end up needing more and more.

Why Do People Drink Alcohol and Take Benzos at the Same Time?

Benzos are nothing but alcohol in pill form. Even though alcohol is a much more complex set of systems, its principal place of action hits the GABA receptors, which are the inhibitory receptors.

Both of these are in the general larger class of sedative-hypnotics, so we can assume they have some additive effect. There might be minor variations for different people. For example, taking many Xanax tablets and drinking alcohol might smooth out the alcohol’s high and euphoria. Maybe it helps people get to a drunken state quicker, or it might help their generalized anxiety and panic disorder quicker. The reasons are many, but essentially you are having an additive effect by taking these two together.

When people use a small dose of both alcohol and Xanax, the probability for fatal interactions is minimized compared to chances of severe interactions that could happen with copious doses. Both substances are quickly broken down by the body when in small doses, but when people begin increasing their doses of alcohol and Xanax, the body is put under immense strain. Folks who overdo both Xanax and alcohol suffer from pretty severe anxiety and panic disorders that can be difficult to treat.

Dangers of Mixing Xanax and Alcohol

  • Cognitive issues: People who use a combination of Xanax and alcohol eventually get dogged by some cognitive issues. These cognitive issues depend on the doses taken; people feel “spaced out” or “fuzzy” at lower doses. Their movements, speech, and train of thoughts become visibly labored. When taken in higher doses, these effects become more pronounced.
  • Aggression and irritability: Studies are revealing that people who consume a combination of benzodiazepines and alcohol are at higher risk of becoming angry, irritable, and aggressive compared to individuals who consume either alone. Alcohol and Xanax by themselves tend to calm and relax people, but they also prevent an individual from self-monitoring.
  • Lightheadedness, lethargy, and fatigue: As a result of decreased blood pressure (caused by the lethal combination of Xanax and alcohol), individuals report feeling drained and unenthusiastic with life. Lightheadedness is a severe effect when an individual is getting up from a lying position. Lethargy and fatigue are common side effects following the ingestion of alcohol and Xanax together. Users report feeling tired, experiencing concentration problems, memory lapses, and impaired motor functions.
  • Relaxation and euphoria: Administering alcohol and Xanax concurrently has an immediate effect. Individuals report mild feelings of euphoria, a significant reduction in anxiety, and an increased feeling of relaxation. Sedation is a result of individuals deciding to take copious amounts of both drugs concurrently.
  • Increased potential for liver and kidney damage: The liver and kidney are remarkable organs tasked with metabolizing and alleviating toxins from the body. Adding a concoction of Xanax and alcohol is asking too much of the liver. Individuals who choose to use the drugs singularly don’t overburden these two organs as much as those individuals who mix the drugs. Detox is one of the best ways to undo years of damage caused by alcohol. Granite Recovery Centers offers expert detox programs and packages. 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.
  • Increased risk for overdose: Alcohol and Xanax, when used singularly but in large doses, could be potentially fatal. Now imagine using these two drugs in combination; it’s a recipe for disaster. In the human body, alcohol usually is metabolized first before any other toxin, so individuals might still harbor dangerous levels of Xanax in their bloodstream for several hours.
  • Increased potential for psychosis or neurological effects: Delirium, anti-social behavior, hallucinations, delusions, depression, and psychosis have been reported in individuals who have a history of mixing alcohol with Xanax. The neurological effects are hard to detect as they develop slowly over time. Individuals gradually spiral into a state that can only be described as hellish if immediate action is not taken to rehabilitate them. Granite Recovery Centers offers excellent mental health rehab.

Final Thoughts

Alcohol has some other issues where the patient becomes so sedated, they eventually have vomitus. Their gag reflex is gone, and the alcohol goes down to the right main stem lung. They then essentially choke themselves to death. When you take two sedative-hypnotics together, and you take the drugs in large amounts or large enough amounts, you increase your chance of overdose.

Addiction and acute withdrawals can kill you or send you off into a seizure. In addition, long-term withdrawal symptoms are a nightmare to tackle. Withdrawal symptoms include steep sleep disturbances, tactile disturbances, visual disturbances, dysphoria, anxiety, depression, and panic attacks. Dealing with this combination is extremely difficult; it needs a lot of immediate care, and at the end of it, you still need to deal with the underlying issues that led you to where you are.

Fortunately, help is readily available. Contact Granite Recovery Centers today, and let us accompany you along the road to recovery. Our active and ever-growing community is proof that we are the best at what we do.

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.