Alprazolam, more commonly known by the brand name Xanax, is an anti-anxiety and panic disorder medication. Alprazolam is part of a class of drug called benzodiazepines, which have the potential to be addictive.
Benzodiazepine medication is commonly prescribed to treat anxiety, panic disorder and occasionally alcohol withdrawal. Their mechanism of action ultimately slows the activity of the central nervous system and produces a subjective calming effect. When alprazolam is taken as prescribed, it can be safe and effective anxiolytic. When it’s misused or abused, dangerous detrimental side effects may occur and addiction may develop.
In a similar fashion, alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, and drinking in combination with alprazolam can result in fatal respiratory depression—or dangerously slowed breathing. Alcohol and alprazolam both potentiate the activity of the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. This neurotransmitter is responsible for muting widespread excitation in the brain and, when its actions are ramped up, can result in sedation. When these depressants are mixed together, over-sedation may occurs—a serious problem that can progress to coma or even death.
If you or a loved one is addicted to alprazolam and alcohol, there are many different recovery programs available to help achieve and maintain sobriety.
Alcohol and Alprazolam Facts
- Both are central nervous system depressants—slowing brain activity and physical reactions.
- Tolerance is built to both substances. Increasing consumed amounts to overcome this tolerance can hasten the development of dependence.
- The compounded or synergistic effects increase the risk of dangerous consequences.
Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol with Alprazolam
According to Pfizer, the maker of Xanax, users of alprazolam may develop dependence and can experience withdrawal symptoms similar to those experienced by alcoholics.
Alprazolam restricts the action of a certain population of inhibitory neurons in the ventral tegmental area of the brain, allowing more of the neurotransmitter dopamine to be released. These neurons typically limit the amount of dopamine released into the neuron, so without the inhibitory mechanism of action, dopamine levels rise, thus causing pleasure and reinforcing the behavior.
Both substances have a depressant effect on the central nervous and respiratory systems, leading to lower functioning, especially when the substances are used together. It is difficult for those intoxicated by one or both substances to accurately assess their current situations and environments, making them dangerous to themselves and others. When mixing alcohol and alprazolam, the user can become exceptionally intoxicated and even unresponsive due to the synergistic effects.
Signs of concurrent alcohol and alprazolam abuse include:
- Slow pulse.
- Slurred speech.
- Slow breathing.
- Memory problems.
- Impaired coordination.
- Unsteady gait.
- Weight loss and other signs of personal neglect.
- Problems urinating.
- Changes in sex drive.
If someone you know displays signs of concurrent alprazolam and alcohol addiction, call 1-888-744-0069 to speak to a treatment admissions specialist about rehab options.
Combined Effects of Alprazolam and Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol and alprazolam cause similar side effects. Abusing just one of these drugs has serious health consequences; it should not be surprising that when these drugs are combined, the risks are even greater and the depressant effects are amplified. Furthermore, long-term benzodiazepine use may impart persistent changes to normal brain functioning and may even increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Effects of Co-Use
- Increased risk for aggression and accidents.
- Shallow breathing.
- Memory loss.
- Decrease in school or work performance.
- Interpersonal problems.
- Cancer (mouth, throat, and breast).
- Increased risk of suicide.
- Quick pulse.
- Hand tremors.
Did You Know?
These drugs can have alarming effects on two of your body’s major organs: the liver and the heart. Those who abuse these drugs are subject to the risks below.
- Fatty liver.
- Alcoholic hepatitis.
- Cardiomyopathy / cardiomegaly.
- Weak heartbeat.
- Irregular heartbeat.
- Hypertension (high blood pressure).
Treatment for Co-occurring Alcohol and Alprazolam Addiction
Concurrent alcohol and alprazolam addiction is highly treatable. The most important thing is that you find a recovery program that best suits your needs and addiction. Someone suffering from a co-occurring addiction should seek out a rehab center that is experienced in medically managing the withdrawal process for both of these central nervous system depressants, as alcohol and alprazolam can have dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Treatment programs often include one or more of the following:
- Inpatient rehab programs: This program may be the best option for those suffering from a concurrent addiction to alcohol and alprazolam at risk for severe withdrawal consequences, as it provides intensive care in a monitored environment. Patients live in the facility and find support from staff members and others in recovery during the duration of care. These programs will typically help devise aftercare plans for those transitioning from treatment back into their normal lives.
- Outpatient treatment: This option allows people to live at home while receiving treatment a few times a week. This option provides a high amount of flexibility but may not provide the immersive care required by those suffering from severe concurrent addictions to drugs like alcohol and Xanax.
- Group counseling: Recovering addicts meet with a mental health professional in a group session designed to help them build sober socialization skills as well as coping strategies.
- Individual therapy: Clients meet independently with a therapist to improve upon negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors which influence alcohol and alprazolam use, while developing healthy coping skills.
- Dual diagnosis: Many facilities specialize in treating co-occurring disorders, such as addiction and mental health disorders like depression. For those abusing Xanax, anxiety is likely a major concern, so dual diagnosis care may be necessary to treat all of the patient’s needs.
- 12-Step programs: Pills Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous are two 12-step programs that are free to join, and the only requirement is that you want to stop using mind-altering substances. The support group setting thrives on camaraderie and encouragement.
- Alternative programs: Alternative approach programs, such as SMART Recovery and Secular Organizations for Sobriety, utilize evidence-based practices rooted in scientific research to treat addiction.
Statistics for Alcohol and Alprazolam
The following are statistics associated with alprazolam and alcohol abuse in the United States:
- Approximately 95% of patients entering treatment for benzodiazepine addiction also suffer from a co-occurring substance addiction (Gage et al., 2014).
- About 1/4 of people prescribed benzodiazepines take them long-term (SAMHSA, 2011).
- At least 16 million people had an alcohol use disorder in 2013 (CDC, 2015).
- Nearly $60 billion is spent on impaired car accidents each year, and almost 30 people die of alcohol-related motor accidents per day (Olfson, King, & Schoenbaum, 2015).
- Almost twice as many females use benzodiazepines than males (SAMHSA, 2011).
Teen Drinking and Alprazolam Abuse
Frequently obtained from friends or a parent’s medicine cabinet, teens might not regard alprazolam as a dangerous drug—or one that might quickly lead to tolerance and addiction. They may use it as a casual party drug or with the goal of getting very high, sometimes crushing up the pills to snort and other times simply taking far more than the recommended dose.
Teen alprazolam abuse is problematic in and of itself, but even more dangerous when combined with alcohol. More than 33% of 15-year-olds have reported alcohol consumption at some point in their lives, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Many teens lack the knowledge of the harmful effects that alcohol and alprazolam can have on the mind and body. Oftentimes, alprazolam is mistaken for a safe drug to take since it is legal and prescribed to patients, but this is a major misconception. Teens should be educated on the dangers of abusing drugs they weren’t prescribed.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) asserts that 3% of adolescents are addicted to a sedative (the broad classification which includes the benzodiazepines). Additionally, the NIH found that:
- Nearly 5% of teens have reported abusing prescription depressants (such as alprazolam) in the past month.
- Almost 9 million people age 12 to 20 have reported alcohol consumption in the past month.
- More than 5 million underage drinkers have reported at least one binge drinking episode.