5 Devastating Effects of Mixing Benzos and Alcohol
People who combine benzos and alcohol are up to 55% more likely to experience serious outcomes such as hospitalization or death than those who only use benzos. Benzos and alcohol are central nervous system depressants that when used together, can slow down bodily processes like breathing and heart rate to the point a person can experience organ failure, coma, or death. The practice of mixing benzos and alcohol — known as polydrug abuse — carries numerous risks, but a benzo detox can help you overcome addiction and lower your odds for poisoning and a deadly overdose.
Here are five devastating effects of polydrug abuse involving benzos and alcohol, and how a benzo detox can help you get clean and achieve better overall physical and mental health.
Mixing Benzos and Alcohol
Polydrug abuse is dangerous due to the way this practice intensifies the effects of the drugs being used and increases the risk for overdose and fatality. Alcohol is involved in many of the most deadly drug combinations, and is especially dangerous when paired with cocaine, opioids, and benzos. People who abuse benzos normally abuse these drugs in combination with other substances like alcohol. Recent data shows benzodiazepine use is on the rise in the U.S., with benzo overdose deaths having multiplied sevenfold between 1999 and 2015.
Of the 2.1 million drug-related visits to hospital emergency rooms in 2009, over 14% involved the use of alcohol in combination with other drugs. In roughly 44% of those cases, alcohol had been mixed with sedatives like benzos. Though not all cases of benzo and alcohol poisoning are fatal, mixing these two drugs can lead to the development of serious lifelong health problems including slow motor activity, dementia, gastrointestinal issues, and suicidal tendencies, among countless other side effects.
A study examining polydrug abuse among undergraduate students found that over 12% of students reported mixing alcohol with abusable prescription drugs like benzos during the past year. But combining alcohol with benzos can be dangerous even when practiced occasionally.
Why Do People Take Benzos and Alcohol Together?
People combine benzos and alcohol for many different reasons, such as to experience greater euphoria and achieve more intense effects from one or both substances — also known as a synergistic effect. Alcohol often makes for an ideal companion drug in regards to polydrug abuse since alcohol is legal, easily accessible, and available at many parties and social events.
Tolerance to alcohol or benzos is a common reason people may decide to mix these substances — especially those who use the drugs recreationally, or who suffer from dependence and/or addiction. A person who uses alcohol or benzos regularly can become tolerant to their usual doses, and require higher amounts to achieve the drugs’ effects. Since alcohol and benzos are both central nervous system depressants and produce similar effects, people may combine these substances in an effort to boost the effects of one or the other.
Some use benzos and alcohol together to self-medicate for underlying health conditions like depression, or to escape feelings of stress. Many who suffer from alcohol addiction experience symptoms of anxiety and insomnia, and may use benzos in an attempt to find relief. Some people even combine alcohol and benzos under the impression this is a safe combination since benzos are legal and prescribed by doctors. Unfortunately, all these practices and misperceptions are extremely dangerous, since benzos and alcohol interact with one another in ways that produce deadly effects.
5 Devastating Effects of Mixing Benzos and Alcohol
There are no positive outcomes that stem from mixing benzos and alcohol. Doctors are advised to inform patients about the risks of drinking alcohol while using benzos, and to suggest avoiding alcohol for the length of treatment to prevent related complications. All benzodiazepine prescription bottles in the U.S. feature warning labels that caution against drinking alcohol while using the medication.
Before you or a loved one ever considers mixing benzos and alcohol, take a look at the following five devastating effects that can stem from combining these two substances.
When used alone, benzos and alcohol each carry a high risk for dependence and addiction. In 2015, an estimated 15.1 million U.S. adults were diagnosed with alcohol use disorder. In 2014, about 15 million people over the age of 12 reported past-year non-medical use of prescription drugs. Roughly 12% of that population were diagnosed with prescription drug use disorders, including benzo use disorder.
Benzos and alcohol are central nervous system depressants that produce feelings of calm, relaxation, and drowsiness. Both drugs increase the brain’s production of neurotransmitters responsible for producing these effects, including GABA, dopamine, and glutamate. Over time, this imbalance in brain chemicals can lead to tolerance, physical dependence, and psychological addiction.
Drug and alcohol addiction are caused by changes in brain structure that stem from regular, prolonged drug use. Addiction can completely take over your life, and interfere with your relationships, career, health, and overall well-being. The safest way to overcome addiction to these substances is to receive therapy and detox at a professional drug detox center.
2. Mental Illness
The changes in brain structure caused by using benzos and alcohol can lead to chemical imbalances that increase the risk for mental illness. Many of the same brain neurotransmitters affected by drug abuse are the same as those associated with mental illness. For instance, low serotonin levels are linked to depression, while low dopamine levels are linked to schizophrenia and ADHD. Low glutamate levels are also linked to depression, as well as obsessive compulsive disorder and schizophrenia.
Just like addiction, mental illness is a debilitating disease that interferes with your ability to enjoy life and perform normal everyday tasks. Mental illness itself offers its own set of health risks on top of those triggered by addiction. The lifespan of those with mental illness is shorter than that of the general population. Health problems including pregnancy complications, obesity, and sexual dysfunction are more prevalent among those who suffer severe mental illness.
Compared to the general population, people who suffer from addiction are roughly twice as likely to suffer from mood and anxiety disorders. If you’re abusing benzos and alcohol, your odds for developing a mental illness is greater than that of your peers. A person who suffers from both addiction and mental illness is known to have a dual diagnosis, which can be fully treated at many drug detox centers.
3. Heart Attack or Stroke
Taking benzos and alcohol together slows down all major organ functioning — including your heart rate — to damaging and fatal levels. A slower heart rate can lead to blocked arteries and the development of blood clots that increase the risk for a heart attack or stroke. Abusing either of these drugs on their own also increases the risk for these fatal events, though the risk becomes significantly higher when the substances are mixed.
Alcohol abuse can lead to higher blood pressure, which can damage artery walls and put undue stress on the heart. Drinking high amounts of alcohol can also result in higher blood triglyceride levels, which are linked to metabolic syndrome, obesity, and the risk for heart attack and stroke. Alcohol abuse can even have an indirect effect on your health by contributing to an unhealthy lifestyle that lacks quality sleep, regular exercise, and good nutrition.
Anyone who mixes benzos and alcohol is putting themselves at great risk for coma caused by the direct toxic effect of this drug combination, and the indirect effect of side effects and accidents that can stem from drug abuse. A coma can last for several weeks or indefinitely, depending on the cause.
Common causes of coma include stroke, traumatic head injury, and drug overdose. People who mix benzos and alcohol can enter a coma after suffering a stroke or heart attack induced by the drug combination. People who become extremely intoxicated or who blackout after using these substances can suffer falls and accidents, and experience serious brain injuries that cause coma.
Other events that can lead to coma are lack of oxygen and seizures. Lack of oxygen can happen on behalf of respiratory depression and stopped breathing, which is common among those who abuse central nervous system depressants. Though benzodiazepines are often prescribed to reduce and prevent seizures, combining these drugs with alcohol can actually increase the risk for seizures due to changes in brain chemistry, and lead to a coma.
5. Fatal Overdose
Mixing benzos and alcohol can result in a fatal overdose, especially since both drugs amplify one another’s effects. When you combine both substances, the amount of alcohol and benzos that can lead to an overdose is significantly reduced, which is why this drug combination is known to be deadly. Benzos and alcohol can stop breathing and cut off oxygen supply to result in death.
The human body metabolizes alcohol first before metabolizing substances like benzos. Some benzos can stay in the system for up to several days at a time — meaning a person who drinks alcohol and continues using benzos can accumulate high levels of benzos in the bloodstream that eventually contribute to an overdose death.
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Common signs of an overdose involving benzos and alcohol:
- Extreme dizziness
- Blurred vision
- Impaired motor function
- Loss of coordination
- Slurred speech
- Difficulty with breathing
- Tremors or seizures
- Low body temperature
- Loss of consciousness
Call emergency services immediately if you are witnessing an overdose, or suspect you may be at risk for an overdose. Saving your life or that of another who is overdosing on benzos and alcohol can give you or that person another chance to become sober and healthier, and receive treatment to overcome polydrug abuse and addiction.
How to Overcome Polydrug Abuse
Polydrug abuse can be treated at drug detox centers that offer medically assisted detox and therapy for dual diagnosis, also known as co-occurring disorders. Detox centers that treat dual diagnoses can help you overcome dependence and addiction to both benzos and alcohol at the same time, along with mental illness.
Detox is the first stage of addiction treatment, and helps you safely overcome physical dependence on benzos and alcohol. Those who suffer from polydrug abuse involving these two substances normally receive a benzo detox, since the risks of stopping benzos abruptly offer a higher risk for death.
Severe health effects caused by quitting benzos and alcohol abruptly:
- Severe confusion
- Respiratory depression
- Suicidal tendencies
A benzo detox can reduce the risk for these complications, and be conducted on a tapering schedule or as a medically assisted detox overseen by trained doctors and nurses. Tapering is when a doctor reduces your doses of benzos gradually over time until you’re no longer using the medication. Tapering can help reduce or eliminate the onset of benzo withdrawal symptoms. A medically assisted detox is when you withdraw from benzos and alcohol under the 24/7 care and supervision of medical staff who can give you medications to relieve certain symptoms and help reduce potential complications.
Rehab & Aftercare
A benzo detox can take place in either an inpatient or outpatient rehab environment, though a medically assisted detox usually takes place at an inpatient rehab center where you can stay for the duration of your alcohol and benzo withdrawal. An inpatient setting is ideal for those who suffer from a severe or long-term addiction, and who could benefit from constant, around-the-clock medical care. An outpatient rehab center is often more ideal for those on a benzo detox tapering schedule and who are currently balancing other obligations related to family, work, and school.
Following a benzo detox, you can receive therapy and aftercare that help you overcome the root underlying causes of your addiction, and that teach you important skills for how to stay sober. Some therapies focus on treating your mental health disorder, while others teach you skills that help you identify and manage common triggers that lead to relapse. Addiction treatment programs that last a minimum of 90 days are recommended for those who suffer from polydrug abuse, since these programs can give you or your loved one enough time in which to fully detox from alcohol and benzos, and learn vital skills that help you maintain your sobriety.
Call our 24/7 confidential helpline at 800-483-2193 to discuss all your available addiction treatment options with one of our caring drug abuse counselors. We’ll help you find the nearest drug detox center ready to guide you along the path to improved health and a more fulfilling, addiction-free lifestyle.