Facts on Alcohol and Xanax
- Alprazolam (brand name Xanax) is an anxiolytic prescription medication.
- Xanax is used to treat anxiety and panic disorders.
- It belongs to the benzodiazepine class of drugs and is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant.
- CNS depressants slow brain activity and produce a calming effect but can also have harmful effects when misused or abused.
- These negative effects are enhanced when Xanax is taken with alcohol, which also acts as a CNS depressant.
- The combined sedation from these two addictive substances can lead to life-threatening respiratory depression and coma.
Video: Xanax Addiction
Credit: American Addiction Centers (AAC)
Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol with Xanax
There are several signs and symptoms of concurrent Xanax and alcohol abuse of which users should be aware. When abused, Xanax can cause feelings of intense relaxation and even a euphoria. This feeling of euphoria acts as positive reinforcement for Xanax abuse and increases one’s risk of developing an addiction. When taken with alcohol, the effects of both Xanax and alcohol are amplified.
Individuals taking both drugs at once are at risk for:
- Syncope, or fainting.
- Slurred speech.
- Unsteady gait.
- Impaired coordination.
- Slow pulse.
- Slow breathing.
- Impaired memory consolidation.
Xanax and alcohol increase the effects of the inhibitory neurotransmitter known as gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA. Heightened GABA activity leads to widespread inhibition of a number of neural processes and results in sedation. When combined, over-sedation can occur and can result in a complete shut-down of several vital functions.
At the top of the list for potentially fatal effects is profound respiratory depression, which is commonly experienced by concurrent benzodiazepine and alcohol users.
Combined Effects of Xanax and Alcohol Abuse
When taken together, the effects of each drug compound and build upon one another, leading to an increased risk of dangerous consequences.
Alcohol and Xanax work independently yet interactively to reduce overall activity in the brain. They affect the same type of inhibitory brain communication chemical, effectively reducing signals in the central nervous system (CNS). This is why both drugs have a relaxing, sedative effect on users. When taken together, the effects of each drug compound and build upon one another, leading to an increased risk of dangerous consequences.
Reduced activity in the CNS can lead to dangerous side effects, and drinking while under the influence of Xanax heightens the risk of overdose due to the dangerous, synergistic effects of each drug.
Signs/symptoms of CNS depression:
- Memory problems.
- Shallow breathing.
- Lower blood pressure.
- Faint heart beat.
Signs/symptoms of overdose:
- Extreme drowsiness.
- Problems with coordination.
- Loss of consciousness.
- Respiratory arrest.
For those who concurrently abuse Xanax and alcohol consistently and for an extended period of time, risk increases for experiencing a number of detrimental long-term effects, such as:
- Mood disorders.
- Increased risk for accidents and aggression.
- Interpersonal problems.
- Noticeable declines in school or work performance.
- Memory loss.
- Shallow breathing.
- Anoxic brain injury from repeated episodes of respiratory arrest.
- Lower blood pressure.
- Faint heartbeat.
- Liver cancer.
- Alcoholic hepatitis.
- Mouth and throat cancer.
- Breast cancer.
- Increased risk of suicide.
The combined effects of the drugs are extremely dangerous, and patients taking either are advised against using the other. Find out how to help a Xanax addict.
Treatment for Co-occuring Alcohol and Xanax Addiction
Treatment for co-occurring alcohol and Xanax abuse often necessitates an initial period of medically monitored detoxification. When a person co-abuses these drugs over an extended period of time, they may become dependent on them. When physiologic dependency develops, the body behaves as if it needs the substances in order to function normally.
Without the presence of Xanax and alcohol, the user may experience symptoms that range from mild discomfort to dangerous medical conditions. Withdrawal from either substance can be risky, but the combined effects can be even more life-threatening. Complications can include:
- Psychomotor agitation.
Attempting to quit a period of long-standing alcohol and Xanax abuse without medical monitoring is never advisable. Medically assisted detox and withdrawal helps minimize the risk of experiencing potentially dangerous symptoms. A medical team, which may include physicians and nurses, will monitor the patient’s vital signs and administer appropriate medication if necessary.
Completion of detox is essential for recovery to begin, yet many fear going into it because of the risks. Medically assisted detoxification can help allay these fears, ensure safety, and minimize discomfort.
There are many different programs for patients suffering from concurrent alcohol and Xanax addiction. These addictions can be treated in a variety of recovery settings, such as:
- Inpatient treatment: Patients suffering from a severe addiction often enroll in inpatient or residential programs as they provide 24/7 supervision and care while you reside at the center for the duration of the program.
- Residential rehab: Residential treatment is a type of inpatient treatment, but generally foregoes the hospital setting sometimes seen there. Here, patients reside at a facility for a designated period of time based on their status and the recommendation of the treatment team. While living in the center, the patient will receive a range of mental health and physical health treatment efforts to assist in their recovery process.
- Outpatient treatment: Outpatient treatment is a blanket term for all professional treatment options that do not occur in an inpatient or residential setting. Treatment may consist of one hour per week or several hours daily. Outpatient treatment is most successful for those who have a strong support system at home since established triggers will confront the individual each day.
Teen Drinking and Xanax Abuse
Nearly one in five high school students reports alcohol use in the past month, with 14% of them binge drinking—these are alarming numbers, especially when considering the dangers of mixing alcohol with prescription drugs like Xanax.
The use of prescription drugs by teenagers is a big problem, and teens that abuse prescription medications recreationally run the risk of lasting brain damage.
The widespread abuse of prescription drugs by teens may stem from the manufactured nature of prescription drugs, as many feel they don’t carry the same dangers as illicit street drugs such as heroin or cocaine. However, prescription drugs can be extremely dangerous, especially when mixed with alcohol. Below are some statistics associated with teen and underage drinking as well as prescription drug abuse.
The NIH states that:
- Nearly 9 million people between the ages of 12 and 20 have consumed alcohol in the past month.
- More than 5 million people of this same population have reported binge drinking at some point throughout their lives.
Additionally, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) found that 4.5% of teens have reported abusing prescription depressants (such as Xanax or other benzodiazepines) in the past month.
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