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Xanax and Alcohol: A Dangerous Combination

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.

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.


Side Effects

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.

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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.


Mixing Xanax and Alcohol

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. 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.


Why 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 quickly break down in the body when in small doses, but when people begin increasing their doses of alcohol and Xanax, the body is 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 feel “spaced out” or “fuzzy” at lower doses. Their movements, speech, and train of thoughts become visibly labored.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Increased potential for liver and kidney damage: The liver and kidney are remarkable organs that metabolize and alleviate toxins from the body. Adding a concoction of Xanax and alcohol is asking too much of the liver.
  • Increased risk for overdose: Alcohol usually metabolizes first before any other toxin, so individuals may 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.


Final Thoughts

Alcohol has some other issues where the patient becomes so sedated, they eventually have vomitus. Their gag reflex is inactive, and the alcohol travels to the right mainstem lung. They then essentially choke themselves to death. When you take two sedative-hypnotics together, 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 you must deal with the underlying issues.

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.